USM Student Government Association responsibilities include allocating a portion of the university’s funding, acting as liaison between USM students and faculty and collaborating with the university to create events and opportunities for students.
The SGA held its Executive Officer Debate on Feb. 24, during which candidates took the podium to convince students that each was worthy of their vote.
In line with the debate’s function, the candidate presented their platforms to voters, yet the event often wavered from the traditional format of electoral debates, foregoing point-by-point arguments. The candidates did however provide numerous ideas to benefit the university and USM students.
Greek life dominated the event in both the audience and with the candidates, all but one of whom is Greek affiliated. Among the students packing Union Room B in the largest turnout for a debate in some time, a significant portion represented their respective Greek organizations, wearing apparel that bore the letters and names of their houses.
Autumn Sobel of Tri Delta ran unopposed for re-election in her current position as attorney general. In her speech, she said she has worked to create fair ticketing and to change parking regulations to allow open zones during finals. After Sobel’s speech, the debate officially began.
First up for the position of election commissioner were candidates Breanne Dalton of Alpha Chi Omega, Christen White, unaffiliated, and Samantha Eshleman of Alpha Delta Pi. Each presented ideas to improve the SGA election process in the future.
Dalton argued for increasing transparency and accountability of the election process by using a mail-out system to give the positions of candidates to students before they reach the polls and offering incentives to vote.
White presented a plan to create a branch to train the polling staff for crisis training and echoed her opponent’s idea about creating voter incentives.
Eshleman said informing students was her highest priority. She advocated for the use of carpool services and buses to ferry students to the polls for national and state elections and spoke about holding voter registration drives to register out-of-state students here in Hattiesburg.
For the position of treasurer, which serves as head of the Philanthropy Commission and creates the SGA budget for the upcoming year, Franky Lopez of Sigma Nu and Nina Bellipanni of Tri Delta took the stand to debate.
However, as in the election commissioner debate, both spoke about the duties of treasurer and how they planned to work with the SGA, the Philanthropy Commission and the USM Foundation.
Though they both outlined their platforms, Lopez and Bellipanni each dedicated the majority of their time explaining the Philanthropy Commission to the crowd. Lopez said he would prioritize open communication with the student body in regards to the SGA budget and said he hopes to work seamlessly with other offices and branches of the SGA.
Bellipanni ran on the platform of facilitating student outreach and developing awareness of the Philanthropy Commission as well.
“If more students know about this branch of SGA and what it can do for them, more students can actively pursue opportunities through it,” Bellipanni said.
For vice president, Lakelyn Taylor of Alpha Delta Pi and Jesse Robinson of Kappa Sigma squared and debated their positions.
Robinson, the current vice president of finance for Kappa Sigma, ran on a platform of increasing student advocacy by senators. He said he wants to provide open opportunities for students to meet their senators at dinners or luncheons.
Robinson said he encourages senators to truly represent their constituents.
“I hope after tonight you can tell that I’m a passionate and dedicated individual who simply has a desire to serve you,” Robinson said in his closing statement.
Taylor said she wants to engage students with the SGA legislature by allowing students to write bills with senators address the issues of which they care.
“There is a disconnect between the senate and the student body,” she said.
Taylor said by having senators work with students on bills, the representative disconnect between the SGA and the student body can be repaired.
In the debate’s final face off, Jaylen Hackett of Alpha Phi Alpha and Caroline Bradley of Chi Omega energetically vied for the position of SGA president.
“It’s my turn to give back to this university,” Bradley said in her opening statement.
Bradley began her platform speech by outlining her plans to consolidate the Go Gold card with the student ID, a plan that is in use at other universities across the country.
According to Bradley, this system would allow students to use their card at local businesses and receive discounts.
She said she wants to keep the library open on a 24-hour schedule during midterms and finals and continue efforts to improve parking and make textbook more affordable.
She said she also wants to shift parking schedule at the Thad Chochran parking lot to allow open parking earlier in the day.
Hackett asked Bradley how she planned to fund the card system and pointed to ongoing budget cuts to the university. Hackett argued that the technology used in security and debit card encryption would presently be too expensive.
Bradley responded that due to the consolidation, there would be little, if any, additional cost.
“Things got intense real quickly,” said freshman double political science and economic William Thompson, who also says he is likely to support Bradley over Hackett. “It was more exciting than I had
expected it to be.”
“He had real figures, but she had the evidence to back her claims up.”
Hackett ran on a position of creating programs and initiatives to expand the student outreach and involvement.
He said he would prioritize coordinating the SGA and Career Services to create programs that would allow students to find jobs in their fields more easily after graduation.
As president, he said he would work to create opportunities for community expression around campus, including through twitter polls and suggestion boxes placed around campus.
Bradley argued that the Speak Up Southern Miss program fulfills Hackett’s purpose.
Hackett said that the whiteboards placed around campus as part of the Speak Up initiative are not enough.
Bradley ended her time by saying that Hackett had good plans, but they were too broad and vague to implement properly.
“I believe that you are selling these students dreams,” Hackett said.
Hackett concluded his time by saying that his plans and initiatives were detailed, and could be implemented should he become president.
“Let’s prepare our student body for a successful future,” he said.
The two candidates embraced with a hug and then the debate was over.
The SGA election will be held March 1 and 3. Students must have a student ID or a driver’s license with them order to vote.