Candidates for the Associated Students president position discussed the problem of “inherently violent institutions,” the events surrounding Western’s potential mascot change last November and limited student input during the AS Presidential Forum.
The three candidates, Stephanie Cheng, James Molyneux-Elliot and Marco Morales, fielded questions from the moderator and the audience at the debate held Wednesday, April 20.
The candidates took the opportunity to speak about the November 2015 threat against current AS President Belina Seare. An audience member asked candidates their stance on “inherently violent institutions such as The Western Front,” and how they would address the needs of marginalized students.
“At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that we work for the students.”
Candidate Marco Morales
The question prompted candidates Cheng, who wrote an article about Western’s potential mascot change, Molyneux-Elliot and Morales to confront issues regarding the article.
“I think we need to be cognizant of the way we write things, because I think language is also very racially coded, and when people are reading, it might skew their perception one way or the other,” Morales said. “That particular story [had] been edited so many times, because when it was originally written by [Cheng] it had tons of errors. So, as a result of that, it really made the campus really hate particular students on the AS Board because they were misinformed.”
Cheng responded to these allegations.
“It would take me forever to dismantle the problems surrounding The Western Front, but one of the biggest problems is that students don’t necessarily have a choice in what stories they write, as well as they don’t have a choice whether or not they take the course,” Cheng said. “The Western Front doesn’t necessarily train their reporters on how to write stories or what are the ethics The Western Front has, if they have any.”
Molyneux-Elliot said that Western Front reporters need more training to accurately report on campus issues.
“If [the AS] can work with [the Western Front] and make sure they aren’t putting out something that is, in some ways, nonsense, then we can work with them and they can actually advance the issues on campus,” Molyneux-Elliot said. “[They can] be a tool for the AS, instead of something we are combatting.”
Cheng also said her article was blown out of proportion via other media sources.
“I wrote a story that had to do with the idea of changing Western’s mascot and a lot of students reacted violently to it,” she said. “It shed light on the topic, but KIRO-7 blew it up and made it more of an issue that was attackable and, unfortunately, it resulted in violence against our AS President [and] against our AS Vice President of Diversity, and I wish that didn’t happen.”
However, Cheng said the article and the resulting response was inevitable.
“If I wasn’t assigned that story, someone else would have been,” she said. “So, it wasn’t necessarily me trying to start something on campus, it was me being assigned a story for a class I needed to take to get into my department.”
During AS vice presidential debate, the candidates addressed the issue of limited student input in university governance.
“Equally important is figuring out the best way to hear student needs, because a lot of times, students don’t feel safe talking about what they need. Having an accessible, anonymous, safe platform to do so is really important.”
Candidate Stephanie Cheng
“I believe there needs to be more students at every committee that decides where the money goes,” Morales said. “There needs to be an increase of student representation at all these committees. There might be one or two students, but those students are very tokenized.”
“A big problem with committees that a lot of students at this university serve on is that they walk into their committee hoping to be recognized as a colleague, and are instead recognized as a subordinate,” Cheng said. “Asserting that not only do student voices matter, but that you are here to represent them and that you are the face of 15,000 students is incredibly important.”
Molyneux-Elliot also expressed his desires for change in the AS.
“I think the first step is fully understanding what students want. That will come with some structural changes; making sure we have a senate, in some form,” Molyneux-Elliot said. “So, it’s not just the Board of Directors who are saying this to administration.”
Morales spoke on making the AS more accessible to those who do not have friends in the group, saying that students pay to attend the university and they have a right to participate in student government.
“In some ways the AS is very clique-ish,” he said.
The AS President is the chair of the Board of Directors, alongside six vice presidents. Candidates discussed how they plan to work with their future VPs.
“The way I see my role is really as a facilitator,” Morales said. “I think all the candidates that are running right now are exceptional candidates for VP, and anything I’d do, I’d try to do very hands-off. I’d trust my team.”
“I ran as president in order to facilitate the functioning relationship between all seven of us,” Molyneux-Elliot said. “Beyond just having our Board of Directors, we need to make our Board more available to students. That way, when we have discussions with the board, we’re getting more input than just us.”
“I think the first step is fully understanding what students want. That will come with some structural changes.”
Candidate James Molyneux-Elliot
Audience members were given time to bring their own questions to the table. Many of the questions pushed for substantive answers to issues about diversity and marginalized students’s needs.
Cheng addressed their concerns.
“Let’s be honest, a majority of the students on this campus are white, cisgender, heterosexual and probably feel safe every day while students of marginalized identities don’t,” she said. “Equally important is figuring out the best way to hear student needs, because a lot of times, students don’t feel safe talking about what they need. Having an accessible, anonymous, safe platform to do so is really important.”
Morales outlined his desires for change at Western.
“At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that we work for the students,” Morales said. “We should always strive to represent students, and every student needs to feel like they can thrive on this campus. … We really need to be doing is making sure people can be successful here.”
Junior Patrick McCready has been following the AS elections closely this year.
“The reason the AS is created is for the students, by the students, to represent their voice,” McCready said. “I think [the AS elections] affect every student here on campus, whether or not they realize it.”
Voting will open April 25 at midnight and last until 2 p.m. April 29.