Unlike last year’s IU Student Association debate, which presented little disagreement, candidates at Wednesday night’s debate in Hodge Hall had varying points of concurrence and controversy.
Questions in the debate, which was moderated by former IUSA president and professor of practice Paul Helmke, touched on policies regarding controversial speakers, student government funding and campus safety in the wake of recent school shootings.
When Helmke, a former chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, asked whether the candidates believed people should be able to carry guns on campus, they offered different views.
Unite IU’s presidential candidate, junior Kevin Mohsenzadeh, said it was his ticket’s position that more guns were not the answer. Voice IUSA’s presidential candidate, junior Alex Wisniewski, said his campaign had not yet spoken to stakeholders in the community, and therefore could not say what the student body wanted yet. Reform IUSA’s presidential candidate, junior Emma Coates, said she wanted to speak to various political groups on campus before making a decision at the executive level.
Helmke asked the candidates how students should respond to controversial speakers on campus, specifically mentioning protests surrounding Charles Murray’s appearance on campus last April and Elliott Abrams’ appearance on campus this semester.
Candidates from all three tickets agreed First Amendment rights were vital and advocated for freedom of expression for speakers and students who opposed them.
“It is moments like this that show how strong the student voice is,” said junior Maggie Hopkins, Voice’s candidate for vice president of administration.
Coates said student government should ensure students who feel hurt by specific speakers feel safe, but also encouraged informed dissent, as the other candidates did.
“The best way to show how you feel about that is to express your disapproval, but more so, what you believe in,” Mohsenzadeh said. “So when controversial speakers come to campus, the best way to respond is to show up and to say, ‘We don’t agree with you. This is what we believe.’”
Helmke raised questions about student government’s efficiency and whether the candidates felt the IUSA budget, funded by over $55,000 in student fees, was used effectively.
Coates, who is also speaker of the student body congress, mentioned how little IUSA has spent of this budget and said student government should be more efficient and be able to explain to students where their money is going.
Mohsenzadeh said it was important to look into whether IUSA really needed the money, much of which is saved, or whether student government could accomplish more with less funding.
Hopkins said she thought it was important to listen to what student organizations wanted to see when it came to student government spending.
Other points of contention occured when Coates suggested eliminating the vice president of congress position, which she called redundant, and whether parking on campus was an important issue.
Mohsenzadeh said having a car on campus opened up more opportunities in the surrounding area, which Wisniewski agreed with, but Coates said she thought there were many more important issues to tackle before limited parking.
"It was great to hear from all of the candidates running for office this year," the IUSA Election Commission said in a joint statement. "The debate serves as a platform for them to share their policy ideas, and it was great to hear them talk about how no matter who wins, they all plan on working together next year. The Election Commission works really hard to put on this event each year, and this was one of our best yet."
Candidates closed by talking about how they would work with whoever won the election to ensure their campaign’s staff didn’t stop being involved with student government.
Candidates from all three tickets said they were eager to either incorporate their opponents in their own administration or be involved in their opponents’ administrations if they were not elected. Mohsenzadeh said he told his staff they would never hear him say anything negative about his two opponents.
“Reform is committed to first making IUSA more efficient so that we can implement policies, like what we’ve all discussed up here, better in the future,” Coates said.
This story has been clarified to reflect Kevin Mohsenzadeh's correct academic year. He is in his second year at IU but will graduate next May.
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