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Monday, August 10, 2020

AS vice presidential debates: different approaches, little disagreement

Bus routes, political polarization and the proposed Associated Students reorganization were among the issues discussed at the AS vice presidential debate.

Held in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room on Thursday, April 20, the debate drew around 25 people, while a Facebook stream of the event had drawn slightly over 1,000 views as of Sunday, April 23.

Candidates were given two minutes to respond to questions from the moderator, and while they laid out different approaches on some issues, there was little serious disagreement.

Voting will take place from April 24-28, and can be done at wwu.edu/vote. Below is a summary of the candidates’ positions on some issues:

VP for Academic Affairs

Candidates Hunter Eider and Julianna Jackson were asked about representing student positions they might not personally agree with, and making government processes more transparent and accessible.

Both agreed the core of their role is to represent students.

“I am here to represent the students, and if the students want something that I do not necessarily agree with, then I am here to learn,” Jackson said.

Eider suggested centralizing student input on academic matters to one committee as part of a transition to a student senate that would be implemented if the AS restructure passes.

“Centralizing all of the student input from one committee will allow students to hear each other’s opinions and create a common consensus,” Eider said. “I think voices tend to get lost if there’s too many committees to hear from.”

Jackson said information about board meetings should be distributed in a publication similar to Western Today.

She said in her three years at Western, she has served on four different committees, and feels there should be more information about the numerous committees students can serve on.

VP for Activities/ VP for Business & Operations Joint Debate

As the candidates for vice president for activities and vice president for business and operations are both running unopposed, they were combined into one conversation.

Julia Rutledge, who is running for VP for activities, and Alex LaVallee, who is running for VP for business and operations, were asked about the proposed AS restructure. If the restructure passes, it would involve dissolving their jobs and delegating their responsibilities.The restructure proposal is currently up for vote as a referendum in this year’s AS election.

Rutledge said she and LaVallee had been creating a template for clubs to provide instructions on how to start and what obligations they would need to complete, if the restructure passes.

“I want to ensure that when the VP for activities isn’t around, there are a lot of resources for clubs to not only start, but keep going,” Rutledge said.

LaVallee said he would work with other board members to ensure the VP for business and operations responsibilities would be delegated in the restructure.

He also wanted to ensure policies are documented, so they can be referred to by the positions that would replace the VP for business and operations.

VP for Diversity

The two candidates are Marquis King Mason and Erick Yanzon, who is the current vice president for academic affairs.

The first question was about supporting students of color and others with marginalized identities on campus.

Mason said as a queer African American, he has experienced firsthand what it feel like to not be represented or advocated for.

“One of my goals for the term would be to incorporate a diversity day every quarter in which we are fostering interaction between clubs on campus, social advocacy groups and student groups,” he said.

Yanzon said he would continue the work that has been done with the Multicultural Center, and ensure that the space continues to be inclusive for students of color and other marginalized identities.

Mason listed mental health as his most immediate concern on campus.Yanzon said his most immediate concern was creating more access for students of color politically, and connecting with students of color not involved with the Ethnic Student Center.

“We are here for students and we’re not here to comply with administration,” Yanzon said. “We’re here to be critical about, especially in this role, the diversity this campus strives for, but never really does in practice.”

VP for Governmental Affairs

Candidates Leanna Sauerlender and Ana Ramirez were asked how they would stay nonpartisan in the current, polarized political environment.

As an undocumented queer woman of color, Ramirez said she knows what it’s like to be marginalized and wouldn’t exclude anyone, regardless of their political beliefs.

“Human rights are nonpartisan, student issues are nonpartisan,” Ramirez said. “It’s not about supporting specific individuals as much as it is fighting for students and the needs of students.”

Sauerlender agreed the core of the role was advocating for students, which was not a partisan issue.

“There are students on this campus who need fundamental basic needs and they aren’t being met,” Sauerlender said. “We need state funding to fulfill those needs and the only way we can do that is by advocating for them.”

VP for Student Life

There are three candidates for VP for student life: Annie Gordon, Courtney Manz and Fallon Acosta.

They were asked about changes in Whatcom Transportation Authority routes, and what they would do to take community transportation needs into consideration.

“We shouldn’t have to adjust our schedules around what makes it more convenient for the WTA,” Acosta said. “We’re a big part of their revenue system so they should be able to work around our needs as well.”

Acosta said Western’s needs need to be balanced with those of Whatcom County.

Gordon said the transit fee can add up, but it isn’t much compared to how much WTA puts toward transportation. Gordon said she also has hopes for Western to continue to develop a real-time bus app for students.

Manz wants timetable changes to be better advertised, and for there to be easier access to bus stops. She also said she’s willing to talk to the WTA about analyzing student volume compared to bus frequency, and wants to encourage more students to ride bikes to class.

The candidates were asked about creating safer spaces for queer and trans students in the areas they oversee, including housing.

Gordon said she wanted to make gender neutral housing easier to apply for regardless of class standing, and raise awareness about the lack of housing options for non-binary students.

“If you’re an incoming freshman and you’re trying to find housing there’s this little blurb that’s like ‘If you want gender neutral housing, click here if you’re a freshman,’ and then it sends you to someone’s email, which is intimidating,” Gordon said. “However, if you’re an upperclassman you can automatically apply.”

Manz wants to work with the Queer Resource Center to make finding gender neutral housing easier, and to educate students and staff.

“I think it’s important to educate people on queer and trans rights, and what gender inclusive language looks like,” Manz said. “Educating people is how we spread awareness and how things get done.”  

Acosta agreed and said there should be more gender neutral bathrooms on campus.

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