Zoe Terner counts the steps from her classroom to the blue light as she walks home at night. Fifteen steps, and then she’s safe, she said. Ten steps, and then she’s safe.
Nick Meyer said he’s been called a homophobe and a supporter of sexual assault by students on campus. He’s a member of an LGBTQ+ caucus and a sexual assault survivor himself.
“It’s pitiful that sitting here in this room, this is what we’re united by,” Terner said. “Our experiences of violence.”
Terner and Meyer are two UF Student Government Senate candidates from opposing parties, Inspire and Gator. They, and two other candidates came together Monday night to debate solutions to issues like sexual assault, financial hardship and the experience of minority students on campus.
The ten remaining liberal arts and science candidates – Inspires’ Christy Louis, Aren Singh Saini, Brianne Seaberg, Rebekah Shields and Joicy Chin Yan Xu; and Gator’s Audrey Wikan, Evan Begley, Gabi Zlatanoff, Lauren Traycik and Simon Lee – did not participate in the debate.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Council, a group that advocates for students within the college, hosted and moderated the debate between Inspire’s Terner and Emma Sanchez and Gator party’s Meyer and Alexandra Mattia. All four are running for the position of student senator as candidates within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
About 40 students attended, a majority of whom wore Gator party T-shirts.
In response to how the candidates plan to tackle the issue of sexual assault on campus, Terner said Inspire will compile resources from victim advocacy groups like GatorWell and STRIVE (Sexual Trauma Interpersonal Violence Education). The resources will be put into one Canvas page for students to access at all times.
“They're there to help when things go wrong, because we know that they will,” said Terner, a 20-year-old UF english and women’s studies sophomore. “That's the world that we live in. That's the campus that we live on.”
Terner also said that Inspire has consistently advocated for the expansion of blue lights on campus to combat sexual violence.
Meyer, a 19-year-old UF international studies sophomore, said that though he supports the blue light effort, it’s not enough to prevent sexual assault from happening.
“That's why we want to really work on prevention and protection,” Meyer said.
For the Gator Party, prevention comes in the form of the Green Dot Bystander Intervention program, an initiative that few students or professors have heard of.
Green Dot is an international program that provides training on ways to identify and respond to potentially harmful situations, according to the university’s website.
“With a bystander there, unwanted sexual advances decrease by 44 percent,” said Meyer’s companion Mattia, a 19-year-old biology and statistics freshman.
A special Green Dot training for Student Government was held in January. Only 30 members attended.
To combat insufficient mental health resources on campus, Terner said Inspire will work toward creating a new, centralized location for the Counseling and Wellness Center in the center of campus.
The current CWC is located on the outskirts of campus, near Lakeside Complex on Radio Road, and its distance from campus can be an inconvenience for busy or overwhelmed students, Terner said.
“You can go and be put on a waitlist, or go and be told that you can't see the same counselor,” she said.
An additional location could help solve some of these problems, and placing it in the center of campus will make it accessible, Terner said. She didn’t say how this will be achieved, or where exactly the new center will be located.
Meyer said Gator Party will help promote the roll-out of Kognito, a national online training simulation used to help identify the signs of a student in distress. The training was adopted by UF in 2009 and has been available to students since 2013, according to Alligator archives.
Gator Party plans to improve the training by pairing students with others who experience similar hardships, he said. He did not say how this will be implemented, or who will be in charge of pairing students.
In 2019, the UF chapter of Young Americans For Freedom brought a lawsuit against the UF Student Government that ultimately reduced the budgets of the “Big Nine” student organizations. Both parties discussed ways to uplift minority students impacted by the change, though neither mentioned the lawsuit.
Terner said Inspire will establish reservable spaces for multicultural organizations on campus. This would help dismantle the financial barriers that may prevent them from organizing and meeting, she said.
This is just one step toward implementing permanent places for these groups to call their own, she said.
“All sorts of clubs and organizations with all sorts of interests can really have a physical tangible home at UF,” she said. “That's something that really matters to us.”
She did not say how or where these spaces will be established.
Inspire will also work to expand Uber Safe Rides discounts to include early-morning weekend rides that are not currently discounted, Terner said.
Gator Party will partner with the Field and Fork food pantry on campus to host a parking ticket forgiveness day, Meyer said. If students donate food to the pantry, one of their parking tickets would be eligible for forgiveness by the university.
“Not only does it tackle the issue of food insecurity on campus,” Meyer said. “It also helps relieve the economic burden that parking tickets put on our students.”
Gator Party is calling this “Give to Forgive.” The idea is almost identical to that of UF President Kent Fuchs’ week-long initiative “Food for Fines,” announced during the week of April Fool’s, 2018.
Food for Fines provided one week for students to scrub their parking ticket history if they donated five food items to Field and Fork Pantry. Meyer did not explain how long Give to Forgive will stay in effect, or how the university will afford it.
He said the party will also work toward revamping UF’s financial literacy classes to assist students in applying for loans and scholarships. He did not go into detail on how the classes will be improved.
In addition, Meyer said they support full fee relief for graduate assistants.
“You should not have to pay to work at the University of Florida,” he said.
Inspire Party will work to expand free printing to all libraries, said Terner’s companion Sanchez, a 19-year-old UF international studies sophomore.
She referenced the Inspire senators who successfully introduced free menstrual hygiene products and rentable laptop chargers into campus libraries.
“We know that we can do it because we've had senators work to improve the libraries in the past,” she said.
Gator Party will extend the hours of Norman Library from 10 p.m. to midnight to allow students who live east of campus more time to study, Meyer said.
They will also ensure that “nap pods” for students to recharge in will be installed in Library West, Marston Science Library and Newell Hall, he said.
Additionally, Gator candidates will work together with a food delivery service to cover delivery fees during finals week, Meyer said. This initiative is called ‘Brain Food.’
“If you’re at the library studying late, and you want a coffee to work through to the morning, Student Government Gator Party is there to make sure you get that as cheap as possible,” he said.
This initiative is similar to a promotion Bite Squad offered last year, when UF students and faculty were given a code for discounted delivery during finals week.
After the debate
Maya, a 20-year-old UF psychology junior and president of CLAS Student Council, said the lack of consciousness about Student Government elections is what prompted her and her peers to host the debate.
“I don’t know if it’s apathy, or just general disinterest because it’s midterm season,” she said. “But I do think a lot of CLAS students don’t know who their candidates are.”
With the national presidential election approaching, awareness about voting and civic engagement is more important than ever, she said.
After the debate, Inspire Party’s Sanchez said she was unsatisfied with Gator’s platform points. She referenced Green Dot and Kognito, two programs that Gator Party endorsed after they were already adopted by the university, she said.
“It appears as if they’re almost just taking credit for things that are already being implemented by the university,” she said.
Trey Banco, a 22-year-old UF health education senior and Gator Party member, said he thinks Inspire is too occupied with the past.
“They’re talking about things that happened, like, two years ago. A lot of students don’t remember that or want to hear that,” he said. “We’re trying to actually give some stepping stones for students to believe in.”
Contact Hannah Phillips at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @haphillips96.
Candidates Emma Sanchez (left), Zoe Terner (middle) and Nick Meyer (right) deliver their closing remarks at a debate between Inspire and Gator parties‘ liberal arts and sciences candidates on Monday night.