UPUA Presidential Debate Highlights Candidates’ Plans, Policies

The University Park Undergraduate Association’s second executive ticket debate between presidential candidates Erin Boas and Zach McKay took place Thursday night ahead of the organization’s upcoming elections.

The two came together for two hours to discuss their campaigns, issues such as tension within UPUA, and plans to improve the student body should they be elected.

Both candidates began by introducing themselves and their involvement around campus. The first question of the night had Boas and McKay share their perceptions of the presidency.

“I think one of the main things that the president does is they communicate to administration and to other students, students’ needs,” Boas said. “But it’s not just about communication, and it’s not just about translating what the students want. It’s about unedited, unabbreviated, students’ needs and real, raw, student stories…I think a place that the student body president can really enhance is becoming a leader not only to the student body and to the university, but to the organization as a whole.”

McKay spoke on how he thinks the president needs to take responsibility for the organization and ensure trust within the student body.

“I’ve always come to view the role of student body president or frankly any head of an organization, captainship, whatever it may be, as the sole person in charge of maintaining total and complete responsibility of that organization and those who serve in it,” McKay said. “I think there needs to be a greater understanding and trust in the student body president on behalf of the students that the concerns that are voiced to them are not going to be dismissed.”

Next, the two described what they would do to handle internal disagreements within UPUA.

McKay believes it’s important for the student body president to bridge the gaps within the organization and listen to every voice within the assembly.

Boas hopes to implement a proactive approach and find better ways to foster meaningful relationships within UPUA. According to her, it’s important to advocate for each other and listen attentively.

The candidates then described one specific issue they would solve if elected. Both acknowledged that it was hard to focus on just one issue.

Boas spoke about how she and vice president Kyle Larson are working to fix issues surrounding food and housing security. She believes food and housing should not be something students worry about.

McKay and running mate Lexy Pathickal wish to address sexual assault issues on campus. He stressed how students should feel safe on the campus that they are studying and sexual assault and misconduct need to be stopped at their roots.

The candidates then spoke about how they plan to build and maintain relationships with elected officials at the university, local, state, or federal levels.

Boas believes more collaboration both within UPUA and out could be beneficial.

“Something that I’ve seen UPUA do in the past is we sit down and hear from representatives and we hear from chairs on what they would like to see and we hear from students on what they would like to see,” Boas said. “Advocacy is great when you have a group of individuals do it, but it’s even stronger when you have the whole entire community doing it.”

McKay spoke about how valuable his experience within UPUA has been and how it’s given him the opportunity to interact with different levels of government on behalf of students.

“There’s a level of advocacy that’s got to be there in terms of building the relationship before the ask comes,” McKay said. “That’s where I’ve been the most qualified working with the Lion Caucus and Capitol Day, helping to build those relationships with Harrisburg legislators, as well as in the federal government realm too.”

Candidates then spoke about how they’d try to get the university to prorate tuition for students in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Both Boas and McKay voted in support of a resolution that UPUA passed during the end of their 14th Assembly that encourages the university to explore prorating tuition.

McKay helped sponsor the bill and believes student government leaders need to ensure students’ voices are heard. He supports changing the language of the resolution to commit to prorating tuition.

Boas emphasized not settling for an answer. Instead, she believes the conversation can include affordability in general as well.

Next, the candidates discussed other ways they’ve gotten involved to inform themselves of students’ struggles.

McKay spoke first and candidly acknowledged how he has always tried to show up for communities that have often been overlooked by UPUA, create community group seats within UPUA, and attend events to try to better listen to students.

Boas is involved with homecoming, THON, and her sorority Omega Phi Alpha. She believes hearing how UPUA and she as an individual can help students has been very important to her.

The following question had candidates discuss how different organizations, including on-campus secret societies, may have influenced UPUA in the past and how they plan to curb such efforts.

“Kyle and I are attacking a zero-tolerance policy to this,” Boas said. “We’re all adults and we all have a task to advocate for each and every single student no matter if you’re in an organization, no matter if you’re there for strictly academics, no matter your story, no matter what. Every stater is important, and every stater’s story is important.”

McKay challenged Boas on the zero-tolerance policy she and Larson would adopt since a point of controversy during the vice-presidential debate sparked from a conversation surrounding this very topic.

“I think it’s hard to talk about maintaining honor and perhaps integrity when even the greatest concern of the organization probably being referenced is the one which a certain running mate wasn’t able to answer the question to,” McKay said. “I’ve spoken to members directly of that organization about my concern that I’ve had with its influence within the organization…That is something that you need to be honest and transparent about and it’s hard to foster that culture if you’re unable to answer the question.”

Boas countered, stating she believes she and Larson’s campaign is run with honesty, integrity, and transparency. McKay responded again, echoing some of the points he had just earlier stated.

“It is hard to tackle that level of honesty of respect towards those people who have the greatest concern when you’re unable to answer a simple yes or no question,” McKay said. “We’re not talking about revealing anything in-depth or anything like that, it’s just an honest answer that you should come to expect from a student leader.

As a follow up to the original question and some of the discussion that was sparked following it, Boas and McKay were then asked if they were part of any special interest groups or secret societies and, if not, if they would pledge to remain unaffiliated if elected.

“I am not a part or affiliated with any of those organizations, and I don’t plan to be. I’ll answer the yes or no question that Zach had posed, my campaign and administration has not and will not be affiliated with these societies,” Boas said.

McKay spoke next and echoed the same sentiment.

“I am not affiliated with these organizations, nor is my campaign,” McKay said. “I wish that and I would expect that from an executive of this organization, or any organization of that matter, to be able to speak for themselves and to be able to represent themselves fully and as transparently as possible.”

During last week’s vice-presidential debate, Boas’s running mate Kyle Larson seemed unable to fully answer the same question, which sparked controversy on social media.

Boas and McKay then described what they believe is the most important part of their platforms how they’d carry them out.

McKay’s platform centers on transparency. He spoke specifically about the role of the executives in shaping the organization and how they’re committed to increasing transparency regarding budgets and journalists.

Collaboration is a large part of Boas’ platform. She acknowledged that while her campaign has 72 initiatives, they’ve all been created through working with students and administrators. She carries around a notebook and highlight wherever she goes to take notes and write down students’ ideas.

Next, the candidate discusses working with university administrators.

Boas was appointed in Academic Affairs as a UPUA faculty senator and also sat on the Committee of Education. She has worked in faculty senate the past couple of weeks to accommodate the challenges of Penn State’s remote period. Within UPUA’s Governmental Affairs committee, Boas has worked with Penn State’s Board of Trustees.

McKay has served as a faculty senator and academic representative for the College of Arts and Architecture. He’s worked with the director of the Center for Character Conscience and Public Purpose to promote civic engagement events. McKay also highlighted his work with the Office of Government and Community Relations, as well as Lion Caucus and the Governmental Affairs Committee in UPUA, of which he was the chair.

Next, both candidates spoke candidly about the importance of working through these disagreements and being a strong and united team.

“We are in many ways very independent thinkers and have very different views of the world and of initiatives and the ways to better the university, prior especially to this campaign,” McKay said. “But it’s important to note that we have continuously just sat down and aired out our differences whether it be in the direction we want to take the university or the organization because we truly do have the best intentions at heart.”

Boas, on the other hand, spoke about how she appreciates the fresh perspective Larson brings to the team.

“I cannot speak higher about Kyle, both professionally and personally…This campaign period is definitely one that tries a relationship with it being as long as it is and with having to be as creative as we have to be you definitely learn a lot about a person,” Boas said. “I think the greatest thing that Kyle brings to the table is two things that I was looking for when finding a running mate was somebody who has a fresh perspective…and a strong leadership experience.”

McKay took the opportunity to directly ask Boas how she and Larson met and how he’d fare with no prior UPUA experience. While Boas shared that she and Larson have only known each other for three months, she is confident that his experience as a veteran and as an adult learner would bring a unique perspective to UPUA.

Next, the candidates discussed how they will work toward making all branches of UPUA feel equal and respected within the organization.

Boas believes it will take strong leadership to address this issue. She stressed the importance of getting to know members and also learning who they are as individuals. Boas believes that creating a community within the organization is crucial to success.

McKay believes the divide lies in the judicial branch’s separation from the executive and legislative branches. He thinks this is because the judicial branch justices don’t feel like they’re welcome within the organization and rhetoric between the branches only adds fuel to the fire.

Per tradition, the candidates spoke about what they believe to be their biggest mistakes so far at Penn State.

“A lot of the times, we lose sight of the things that are important to us. We come up with things like finding as many friends as possible or joining as many orgs as possible, and we can sometimes lose sight of the things that as a person are really important to you,” Boas said. “I think something that I’m continuing to work on is finding a balance…Making sure that not only am I trying to do my best at school, but also checking back in at home.”

Three small mistakes stand out from McKay’s freshman year. The first? Taking a challenging 300-level econ course. The second was not brining his bike to college at first.

“The third which I think is probably what ended up being one of the best decisions of my life but started from one of the worst, and that was I didn’t come to Penn State as an ROTC midshipman, I didn’t come to Penn State for ROTC, I didn’t intend to serve in the Navy or anything like that,” McKay said. “I think living a life of service is one of the greatest things you can do… What ended up being one of my biggest regrets in life was not getting involved earlier, ended up being one of the greatest decisions of my life.”

To wrap up the debate, the candidates transitioned into some lighthearted questions. First, they discussed their favorite places on campus.

McKay is fond of the Alumni Room in Old Main or some spaces in the Nursing Building thanks to its proximity to Panda Express in the HUB. Boas prefers the HUB, as it helps her get in touch with students.

Next, the duo rattled off their favorite Creamery flavors and Pennsylvania gas station preference.

Boas went with Death By Chocolate, while McKay stuck with Peachy Paterno. Both candidates sided with Wawa (Editor’s note: correct).

During their closing statements, the candidates thanked viewers and the opportunity to share their ideas with the Penn State community.

This spring’s UPUA elections will take place online on Wednesday, April 15 from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Do your part and vote!

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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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