Swans, letters and lights: UF Student Government 2019 debate

More than 200 students, watched as the Impact candidates — Michael Murphy for Student Body president, Sarah Abraham for Student Body vice president and Santiago Gutierrez for Student Body treasurer — and Inspire Party candidates — Chou, Gouthami Gadamsetty for Student Body vice president and Mackintosh Joachim for student body treasurer — debated.

Student Government’s tug-of-war in The Alligator’s opinion section became the forefront at a debate for executive ticket candidates Tuesday night.

The debate’s topics mirrored issues mentioned in several letters to the editor including whether Zachariah Chou, the Inspire Party Student Body presidential candidate, initiated more lighting outside Infinity Hall.

During rebuttal, Chou held up printed copies of emails from Deborah Leistner, the public works planning director for Gainesville, as proof. When the lights were brought up again at the end of the debate, Chou didn’t speak about the emails.

Instead, he folded the copies into a swan and wore it on his head.

“The first thing my opponent said was he did the lights outside Infinity Hall, but in fact that is a lie. Former Impact Student Body President Susan Webster did that,” Murphy said during the debate.

Questions pertained to Impact’s and Inspire’s platform points, party perceptions and the roles the parties had in several campus initiatives, including lights around Infinity Hall and mental health. These issues and more were discussed in the Reitz Union Rion Ballroom during the 2019 Student Government executive debate between Inspire and Impact party candidates. The debate was moderated by Marna Weston, a speech and debate coach for UF and Oak Hall School.

“When Gators get together great things happen. Although, sometimes in order to get where great things happen, we have little disagreements to determine how we get there,” Weston said.

Armed with Aquafina water bottles and microphones, the parties shot statements at each other question after question.

Although Weston told the audience to refrain from reacting during the debate, students snapped and laughed when their respective side made a clever remark.

More than 200 students, watched as the Impact candidates — Michael Murphy for Student Body president, Sarah Abraham for Student Body vice president and Santiago Gutierrez for Student Body treasurer — and Inspire Party candidates — Chou, Gouthami Gadamsetty for Student Body vice president and Mackintosh Joachim for student body treasurer — debated.

Letters to the editor were published by The Alligator this week from Chou, who first accused Impact Party of taking credit for initiatives they didn’t start. Student Body President Ian Green responded to that, then Inspire Party President Ashley Grabowski responded back to Green. Student Body Vice President David Enriquez also wrote about how Chou didn’t vote in a resolution in support of Juan Guadió as Venezuela’s interim president. Chou explained why he didn’t stand.

“The lack of being informed is not a conflict of interest, Mr. Chou. Do your research,” Murphy said in response to Chou’s defense that he did not vote on the resolution due to the complexity of the issue.

Both parties released campaign points Friday afternoon that addressed similar topics of mental health and resources for graduate and Asian American students.

Increased student mental health resources are a common concern among UF students. This can be seen in recent columns, a student petition with over 1,400 signatures and in both parties’ platform promises.

Murphy said Impact is responsible for the addition of eight new mental health counselors in 2017 without raising student fees. He said counseling kiosks will be brought to the Hub and Reitz Union and will hopefully generate student conversations about mental health stigmas.

Chou opposed Murphy and credited the increased mental health funds to student outcry after the Oct. 2017 rejection. At a Senate meeting on Oct. 17, 2017, following the decision by the local fee committee, over 15 students spoke out about their Counseling and Wellness Center experience.

Impact Party was asked how it would ensure graduate student voices are heard. Abraham said her party hopes to change the executive secretary of graduate, professional and family affairs to a cabinet director.

Gadamsetty said graduate student representation needed to be taken one step further than a director position. She said her party wants to add a graduate student seat on the local fee committee.

“Students shouldn’t have to pay fees when they’re working for the university,” Gadamsetty said.

Inspire Party was asked how it would act as a representative for the students to administration. Chou said the vice presidents know him on a first-name basis.

“One time I was at Pascal’s with President Fuchs and he was congratulating me on running for president. He asked me ‘Hey do you know who you are running against?’ I said, ‘Michael Murphy. He said, ‘Never heard of him,’” Chou said.

Abraham was asked about how Impact’s campaign is representative of all students. She said the party strives to meet with students through in-person and online office hours as well as addressing the Student Senate often on Tuesdays.

According to the Student Senate minutes, Green has addressed the Senate twice in Fall and Enriquez has addressed the Senate twice in Fall and once in Spring. There have been four meetings so far in the Spring and 14 meetings in the Fall.

Student Body presidential candidates Chou and Murphy may have exchanged criticisms and accusations during Tuesday night’s debate, but both agreed to bowl and play Super Smash Bros. together.

“He’s always been a person that I’ve been happy to reach across the aisle to talk to,” Chou said.

Taylor Girtman contributed to this report.

Hannah Beatty is a third-year journalism major and sociology minor from Jacksonville, Florida. She began at the Alligator in the fall of 2018 as a general assignment staff writer and now serves as the student government beat reporter.