Before concluding the hour-long debate, the three parties had called each other names, questioned the others’ motives and addressed hot topic issues like traffic safety, budget management and diversity on campus.
The UF Student Government Spring Executive Debate took place Tuesday night. Three parties’ executive ticket candidates discussed topics such as UF COVID-19 guidelines, UF’s contract with food service provider Aramark and challenges in cabinet.
The Change Party’s Student Body presidential candidate Wynton White, vice presidential candidate Matthew Rodriguez and treasurer candidate Amy Nicholas attended the debate in person. Similarly, the Gator Party’s Student Body presidential candidate Cooper Brown, vice presidential candidate Faith Maniti and treasurer candidate Giovanna Mompremier attended in person.
Keg candidates attended via Zoom because presidential candidate Michael Ackerman and treasurer candidate Benjamin Haut were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, Braeden Allen, Keg vice presidential candidate, said. He also attended via Zoom.
Presidential candidate Wynton White said Change plans on meeting with the United Faculty of Florida-UF to give faculty representation in decision-making and ensuring the safety of students and faculty through the GatorSAFE app.
White said Gator has done next to nothing to help students deal with the COVID-19 pandemic despite having adequate funds to do so. He said SG could have provided more money to students during the pandemic, as it only designated $500 to 1,000 students through rent relief even though SG had over $4 million in reserves at the time.
Gator presidential candidate Cooper Brown said SG’s role during the pandemic is to enhance the student experience. He applauded SG’s role in doing this by providing virtual and hybrid events for students such as Accent speaker events and virtual performances. He said he would be an advocate for transitioning to more in-person programming once vaccines become readily available because he believes in-person events are an important part of the student experience.
Gator’s vice presidential candidate Faith Maniti said the cabinet’s biggest challenge has been abiding by UF’s COVID-19 guidelines while also serving the Student Body. She said each cabinet director is currently required to program at least one event per semester and usually expected to organize more, but she would work with the cabinet to program less frequent, more relevant and financially efficient events with virtual and in-person options. Event safety guidelines will be implemented, she said, but she didn’t specify what guidelines.
Braeden Allen, Keg vice presidential candidate, said Gator hasn’t been doing enough to help students during the pandemic. He cited Keg’s personal experiences with SG as its members were starting the party. He said the requirement to collect 300 signatures in person to start Keg was unsafe because of COVID-19.
Brown said he plans to address students’ issues with Aramark, UF’s food service provider. If elected, Gator’s presidential candidate said he will do this by appointing individuals to UF’s Food Service Advisory Committee, which is a group of students and staff who give input for UF’s food service program, who will advocate to prohibit prison labor in the next contract. Brown also promised to stand up for this issue when speaking to UF’s administration and Board of Trustees.
Change’s vice presidential candidate Matthew Rodriguez said he wrote a piece of legislation Summer 2020 calling to end prison labor for UF’s agriculture that was shot down while Brown resided as Senate Pro-Tempore.
Michael Ackerman, Keg’s presidential candidate, said the issues should be the responsibility of the university administration, but he and his running mates do not condone Aramark’s practices of prison labor.
“I understand the importance of cutting cost, but this is not something we can do that for,” he said.
When asked how their party would support Black students and students of color at UF, Keg members said they have a responsibility to give back to all students on campus. They said their first step would be to listen to minority students’ challenges by interacting with them on campus, something they said the current government hasn’t been doing.
White of Change said Gator failed three bills regarding civil rights during Summer 2020. He said Change will work to increase diversity and inclusion on campus by advocating for minority voices with the Board of Trustees and advocating to fund diverse courses and a multi-year and multi-million dollar diversity and inclusion program.
Keg and Change both said they would aim to rename buildings named after racist and homophobic people, such as the Reitz Union — named after former UF president J. Wayne Reitz, who supported segregation and the anti-LGBTQ+ John’s Committee — and the Stephen C. O’Connell Center — named after Stephen C. O’Connell, a former UF president who enforced segregation at the university.
Gator treasurer candidate Giovanna Mompremier said she understands the needs of marginalized communities as a Black woman at UF. She said Gator will advocate to make UF’s campus equitable and inclusive for all students through awareness of petitions and representation in the Dean of Students’ Office, the Counseling and Wellness Center, and Student Affairs.
Maniti said it was the responsibility of SG to actively look for diversity and representation. She said Gator would like to partner with organizations such as Students Taking Action Against Racism to plan diversity and anti-racism events.
Student organization funding and tuition
Change treasurer candidate Amy Nicholas said her party will ensure all student organizations are equitably represented through funding.
“I know what it’s like to not have equitable funding,” she said. “I know how to sit and change that.”
Nicholas said Change needs to make sure student organizations accurately report attendance and SG maximises its funding resources. She would also like to eliminate funding requests for amounts that ultimately go unused and focus that excess funding on more equitable distribution. Nicholas didn’t give previous examples of unused funds.
Brown said Gator would fight against base tuition hikes but also wants to raise the student health fee, which currently costs $15.81 per credit hour, by $15 to hire more counselors at the Counseling and Wellness Center.
Allen said one of Keg’s priorities is to give stimulus checks to students.
“The number one thing we're advocating for: those stimmy checks," he said.
Mompremier of Gator said she will use her experience as the Black Student Union treasurer to transform Docutraq, the system where student organizations request funding, to improve accessibility. She also plans to disseminate information by creating a calendar of important dates and deadlines for organizations.
On the topic of traffic safety, Change vice presidential candidate Rodriguez agreed with Brown that immediate changes can and should be implemented. They said it was important to support advocacy groups such as Florida Not One More, a student-run traffic safety advocacy organization, to improve UF’s campus and the surrounding community.
Keg’s treasurer candidate Benjamin Haut said his party would use UF’s capital to implement solutions beyond the resolutions already passed, but didn’t say what their solutions would be.
Change presidential candidate White said he would lobby for the state of Florida to transfer jurisdiction of University Avenue to the city of Gainesville.
Brown said Gator will focus on amplifying student voices and advocating to make University Avenue a Complete Street, which is a street that is accessible to all travelers regardless of mode of transportation, according to the U. S. Department of Transportation.
During closing statements, Maniti called Change unqualified liars and Keg a joke. Keg said although all parties were working to improve UF, they won’t stand for past administrations’ lack of action. Rodriguez said Change plans on giving a voice to every student and building a movement.
“Gator Nation, the choice is now yours,” moderator Marna Weston said. “The power returns to you this election.”
Contact Sofia Echeverry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sofecheverry.
Sofia is a news assistant on The Alligator's university desk. This is her second semester at paper, where she previously worked as a translator for El Caimán.