Virtual UPUA Vice Presidential Debate Brings Candidates Together To Discuss Key Issues

The first executive ticket debate for the University Park Undergraduate Association’s upcoming election was held virtually Thursday between vice-presidential candidates Kyle Larson and Lexy Pathickal.

The two came together for two hours to address their campaigns, on-campus issues such as sexual assault and diversity, and the role secret societies should (or shouldn’t) play within UPUA.

Both candidates began by sharing what they think the role of UPUA is at University Park.

“UPUA is to represent the student body. That’s the most important thing, to be a voice for the student body and to get things done for the students,” Larson said. “I think it can easily get distracted into a political race, and it can be, it can turn into this political entity, and really that’s not what it is. I think UPUA is just a way that students can be heard.”

Pathickal spoke next and highlight advocacy as a major role for the organization.

“Obviously UPUA is the student government on campus, but it is also the student advocacy organization. With advocacy, it’s who are we advocating for? The students,” Pathickal said. “Those are our constituents, those are who we work for, and ultimately it’s understanding the student body needs and being cognizant of the current needs to implement change that benefits students overall.”

Next, the two described what the role of vice president means to them and how they believe they could best fulfill the role.

Pathickal emphasized how her experience in the organization for two years as director of outreach, an at-large representative, and as chair of outreach would help her run assembly meetings.

Larson stated leadership and collaboration are key to serving as vice president. He believes his time serving in the Marines has given him the experience necessary to properly fill the role and bring a breath of fresh air to UPUA.

Pathickal and Larson then spoke what issue facing students they’d fix if they had the power to do so.

“If I’m going to use one word, I think Penn State could be a lot more equitable…People have this misconception that equality is what we’re fighting for. Equality and equity are not the same thing,” Pathickal said. “That’s why when it comes to UPUA we use this phrase, ‘Oh but we’re helping all students.’…It’s different for each person and you’re fighting for each different story that someone has.”

Larson spoke about how he and Boas are committed to serving all problems that face students, but that the smaller problems are something that needs addressing as well.

“Every Penn Stater has a different experience. So, every Penn Stater is going to have different problems,” Larson said. “So that’s why Erin and I came up with our platform. We have 72 initiatives, and on those initiatives, and I guarantee no matter your background and experience as a Penn Stater you will find at least a couple initiatives that will directly help you and directly help better your experience…I think one of the ones I think would be really cool, is getting a functional fitness course around the trails at Penn State. That is one of the things we want to do.”

Larson then also spoke of a smaller goal of his and Boas’, which is to get students IDs loaded on to their mobile phone wallets.

He and Pathickal were then asked to describe what they think the biggest weakness is within UPUA, and how they fix that specific issue.

Larson shared that he thinks a lack of leadership and collaboration with other on-campus organizations is a current problem within UPUA. Pathickal also addressed the lack of leadership, but additionally a lack of cohesiveness between the branches within UPUA. She said that if she and McKay were elected, they would find it very important to have a good relationship with representatives and keep that relationship fluid and open for better communication.

Candidates then focused on one piece of their platforms and how they would get this piece enacted.

Larson began by discussing an initiative to help UPUA promote events sponsored by registered student organizations (RSOs).

He and Boas want to create a calendar through the Penn State Go app that would keep track of student organization events around campus. Orgs would also be allowed to add their own events to it and encourage students to come.

Pathickal spoke next about how she and McKay hope to tackle the many issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have to say that the Covid-19 pandemic that is currently affecting all of us, I can definitely say that for sure, is actually a crisis,” Pathickal said. “The first thing that we wanted to do on day one was address what students were going through in that moment, and addressing this isn’t a normal time for a campaign period.”

Pathickal added that students no longer have access to their jobs, on-campus counseling at CAPS, and the amenities offered on campus.

Candidates were then discussed diversifying the organization. Larson spoke about creating a dedicated seat for student veterans, while Pathickal shared that many students of color have not felt welcome within UPUA. She believes changing UPUA’s vibe and appointing the “right people” will help bring a different perspective to the organization.

The most requested question from the student body pertained to UPUA’s history of being influenced by special interest groups, including secret societies. Both candidates shared whether they are a part of any of these groups, and if not, whether they would be able to make a pledge to remain unaffiliated during their terms if elected.

Larson seemed unable to fully answer the question and said that he did not want to warrant the time to address this question when there were more pressing matters they could be discussing. Despite his claim, this was the most-requested question submitted by students.

“Two months ago I did not even know there were any secret societies on campus…I honestly don’t think they even merit the discussion and scrutiny that they’re typically associated with,” Larson said. “I think we’re wasting time when we came to talk about issues that affect Penn State students.”

While Pathickal was able to directly state that she is not involved in any of these special interest groups, she also agreed with Larson that there are more important issues that could be discussed.

“I’m going to say no, I am not a part of any of the three, or actually any at all,” Pathickal said. “Frankly, in UPUA I have to push back we are not creating the issues I think it’s been a problem of having this affiliation. It’s also not something that should be looked at as if you are in a secret society it’s like, ‘Oh you’re automatically a bad person’ because that shouldn’t be the perception at all either…I think it’s created a lot of toxic relationships within UPUA if I’m being honest, especially being in for two years and hearing it constantly.”

The candidates then discussed their endorsements and why they believe their ticket, as well as platforms, deserve the attention of students around campus.

The duo also took time to show viewers how they’re involved on campus. Pathickal is involved in Lion Ambassadors and spoke about how service and tradition within that group are aspects she would love to bring to her position. She is also the secretary for College Democrats and is involved in Lion Caucus.

Larson is a veteran mentor to students at Penn State, works with the Office of Veteran Programs, and is the president of the Penn State Veterans Organization. He believes this would help him better advocate for student veterans and represent them. He is also an outdoor adventure trip leader and works with Campus Rec.

The candidates were then asked to list the community group seats that currently have a seat within the assembly, the process by which a community group may reach out in order to get a seat, and what their current relationship is like with these groups or groups that are seeking a seat.

Larson spoke again about creating a seat for veteran members, while Pathickal discussed how she has gotten to work very closely with some community group members but acknowledged that it’s important to listen to as many voices as possible.

Next, given the news regarding the Department of Education announcing Penn State must make changes after failing to protect students and addressing their complaints of sexual abuse, Larson and Pathickal discussed what role student government plays in preventing sexual assault.

“Essentially, one of the issues that we wanted to point out [in our campaign] was that it’s not being addressed and that’s what the article did too,” Pathickal said. “I think one of our ideas is to actually create a task force primarily focused on sexual assault just because it is so prominent and that article just proves how much we do need to be focusing on that problem.”

Larson spoke about how working directly with administration to address these issues is critical and the need for confidentiality and commitment from Penn State when reporting. He and Boas are committed to creating a holistic wellness center where students could easily access resources to address these issues.

“It comes down to we are going to work with administration to really develop a concrete plan to make sure these types of issues will not happen again,” Larson said.

Following some other questions, Pathickal spoke about how her campaign’s colors, white, green, and orange, are chosen to fit her and McKay’s Irish and Indian heritages. Larson and Boas’ logo depicts the Allen Street Gates because one of their pillars is “opening the gates for success.” They believe it symbolizes the transition from college to the real world.

The final question of the night brought unison and smiles to the faces of the candidates. When asked to decide between Sheetz or Wawa, both answered Wawa (Editor’s note: correct).

In their closing statements, Larson and Pathickal thanked students and stated why they believe they’re most qualified for the job.

On Thursday, April 9, presidential candidates Erin Boas and Zach McKay will also debate via Zoom for the second executive ticket debate of this campaign period.

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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