With less than a week until the Spring elections, Gator and Change party’s executive tickets sparred over student organization funding, graduate student resources and 24/7 library services in the Student Government debate Tuesday.
To the right of the stage sat the Change executive ticket: student body president candidate Faith Corbett, vice president candidate Kacie Ross and treasurer candidate David 'Jonner' Delgado. On the left was the Gator executive ticket: student body president candidate Olivia Green, vice president candidate Clara Calavia Sarnago and treasurer candidate Nyla Pierre.
Gator criticized what they said was the Change executive ticket's lack of experience, as Ross and Delgado have never held positions in SG. Commitments to growing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, reforming the student organization funding model and expanding graduate student resources commanded the party's arguments.
“We need action, and a party with no experience will require a learning curve we simply do not have the time for. ” Vice Presidential candidate Calavia said during Gator Party’s opening statement. “That party who's more concerned about making noise instead of making progress.”
Change's argument focused on Gator's failure to deliver on campaign promises and accused their opponents of using their power to sabotage Change initiatives. Reallocating funding from the ACCENT Speakers Bureau and Student Government Productions to other resources, like food insecurity efforts, and holding President Ben Sasse accountable were Change's primary stances.
“Our legislation has only ever faced one barrier — the Gator Party senators who abuse their positions and titles to strike Change’s innovative solutions,” Faith Corbett, Change’s nominee for Student Body President, said during her opening statement.
After a successful Fall election where Change Party won 27 senate seats, the party hopes to take its ideas to the executive branch, while Gator Party strives to hang on to its majority in the Senate and keep control of its executive power.
Roughly 170 people swarmed the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom at 6:00 p.m. to watch the hour-long debate.
Supervisor of Elections Ethan Halle kicked off the event by introducing the debate moderator Marna Weston, a 1994 UF graduate.
Concerning budgeting constraints, Pierre, who is also a member of the SG Budget and Appropriations Committee, spoke about Gator's current and future efforts to reform the student organization funding model: Green's formation of the Student Organization Funding Review Ad Hoc Committee and plans to expand funding request periods and limit the number of people allowed to submit requests.
“We want to make this as equitable as possible,” Pierre said.
Additionally, the Activity and Service budget, which makes up SG’s funding, cannot accommodate Change's proposition to raise base funding for student organizations, Pierre said.
Delgado, president of the student organization Liquid Propulsion, argued that funding from resources like the ACCENT Speakers Bureau should be redistributed to student organizations. He also highlighted how the ad hoc committee formed by Green has only met with student organizations once since its establishment in November.
Delgado is devoted to being a voice for student organizations, he said.
“Our student organizations are the backbone of our university, and we need to be able to fight for them,” Delgado said. “If we don't have people in office to be able to do that, then how do we have a student government we can rely on?”
When asked about graduate student resources, Corbett said SG has historically underfunded graduate class councils and Change plans to establish a secretary of labor who would advocate for graduate students' needs.
In response, Green asserted she is already in communication with the Graduate Student Council about graduate students' needs, which include increasing the number of SNAP buses going to the 13th Street and Tanglewood Village, an off-campus housing community, stops and expanded access to free research materials. The Graduate Student Affairs cabinet also serves as a valuable resource to streamline graduate students' needs to SG leaders, Green added later in the debate.
On the question about how Change would promote the academic ideals highlighted by UF President Ben Sasse, Corbett emphasized how as a representative of UF students, she would not vote against student voices, alluding to Student Body President Lemasters' vote to approve Sasse.
"I'm not afraid to vote no, and I'm not afraid to commit our university president to policy agendas," Corbett said.
Green, who disapproved of Lemasters' vote for Sasse, rebutted Corbett by stressing the importance of collaborating with the university president and how Gator is already working with President Sasse on efforts, including the LGBTQ+ Coalescence Fund.
Change plans to reallocate funding from Student Government Productions and ACCENT Speakers to fund the party's platform points — such as free printing in all academic spaces, a 24/7 Southwest Recreation Center and free meals for food insecure, on-campus student workers during their shifts, Corbett said.
Corbett added that as wages increase for students, Change Party would support a raise in Activity and Service fees to fund their proposed initiatives.
“A&S fees [Activity and Service fees] do have the probability of rising, and that is where that funding would come from,” she said. “So that student fees are going directly back to student assistance.”
Calavia defended ACCENT Speaker’s budget by highlighting UF students’ strong attendance at past ACCENT shows, with roughly 800 students attending the organization’s recent events with Giancarlo Esposito and Josh Peck, according to The Alligator.
“The past three ACCENT shows have been packed,” Calavia said. “Change Party might not like the shows, but students do.”
Calavia also argued that to address food insecurity, SG should focus on expanding the Field and Fork Pantry’s resources through donations and that not all on-campus student workers identify as food insecure.
As far as the recent discourse on DEI initiatives, Pierre spoke about her work with SG agency Students Taking Action Against Racism, which aims to tackle racism on campus with educational presentations and training on race relations. Gator also plans to establish LGBTQ+ and Asian American and Pacific Islander institutes that provide access to community bonding and other supportive resources, Pierre said.
“As a black woman, I deeply understand the need to have the DEI on campus,” Pierre said. “One of the main things I've loved about this campus is the ability to have a space like [the Institute of Black Culture] where I can see people who look like me.”
Gator is also committed to implementing further safety measures to prevent vandalism at these community spaces, Pierre said. Green added Gator is already working toward adding security cameras to the National Pan-Hellenic Council Garden, a tribute to the nine international Black Greek-letter organizations and their history at UF.
When asked about the upcoming 24/7 Marston Library pilot program, Corbett emphasized Sen. Grace Shoemaker’s (Change-Engineering) research regarding late-night library usage and how Change has continuously proposed using the SG budget to fund a permanent 24/7 library resource for students.
Green argued that it was the efforts of the current Gator executive administration that brought back 24/7 libraries as a pilot program.
“A survey is not action,” Green said. “A pilot program is to actually ensure if students are going to these 24/7 libraries because I can tell you in the past they haven’t.”
In Gator’s closing statement, Green said the stakes are too high to vote for Change. Platform points such as funding 24/7 libraries and gyms should not be prioritized with a tightening Activity and Service budget, she added.
“No matter what Change Party proposes, they either fail to recognize the major flaws or don't want to admit their platform is a set of empty promises,” Green said.
During Change’s closing statement, Ross said Gator has failed to heed student wishes and concerns, again referencing Lemasters’ vote for Sasse. Ross emphasized that Gator Party senators also only authored nine bills to Change Party’s 66 in the last five months.
“Gator Party should be ashamed and embarrassed by their failures to stand with our students,” Ross said. “Allow me and my running mates to show you what it means to value actual tangible change.”
The ballroom erupted with cheers and applause after the debate, with the executive ticket candidates flying toward their respective parties for congratulatory embraces.
Students can vote to elect 50 Senators and a new student body president, vice president and treasurer Feb. 28 and March 1.
Contact Amanda Friedman firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandasfriedman.
Amanda Friedman is a senior journalism major and the East Gainesville reporter for The Alligator. When she isn't reporting, she loves watching A24 movies, listening to Ariana Grande and reading books she found on TikTok.