SGA presidential,VP candidates debate ahead of next week’s elections

Moderator Lance Poston makes closing remarks during the President and Vice President Debate on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, at UK College of Law Grand Courtroom in Lexington, Kentucky . Photo by Luke Taylor | Staff

Natalie Parks

The candidates for president and vice president of UK’s Student Government Association gathered on Wednesday night for a debate ahead of the student body elections next week.

Three tickets are running in the election: Courtney Wheeler and Bilal Shaikh; Kayla Woodson and Edward Lo; Chandler Frierson and Sukruthi Yerramreddy.

Wheeler, Woodson and Frierson are the candidates for president; Shaikh, Lo and Yerramreddy are the candidates for vice president.

Voting for the SGA presidential and vice-presidential elections open on Monday, March 2, at 9. a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. on March 3. Students can vote on BBNvolved.

The event was moderated by Lance Poston, executive director for inclusive health and campus partnerships. To begin the debate, each platform gave an opening statement of two minutes.

Wheeler and Shaikh’s statement introduced their goals such as improving parking, supporting reading days and creating testing accommodations for ESL students.

Woodson said that she wanted to run because she felt that SGA could do more, while her running mate Lo said his goal was to build a coalition between undergraduates and graduate students so that more progress could be made on shared issues.

Frierson spoke about his grandfather, who worked as a custodian at UK but could not attend the school. He said he would be dedicated to amplifying the voice of every student. Yerramreddy opened with a story about how she first heard about UK after moving to Lexington from UK.

The first question was how the candidates’ experience in SGA prepared them for their potential offices.

All of the candidates have held a position in SGA; Woodson and Lo both serve as senators-at-large, Wheeler most recently as chief-of-staff and Shaikh as a senator, Frierson most recently as director of inclusion and outreach and Yerramreddy as assistant director of inclusion and outreach.

Frierson said that as the director of inclusion and outreach, he has seen the importance of interacting with students on a personal level.

Wheeler said her experience as chief-of-staff gave her the collaboration and conflict management skills to be the liaison between student government, the administration and the Board of Trustees.

Woodson and Lo spoke about their experience on past committees.

In the second question, candidates were asked what strategies they would employ in the use of student fee money.

Frierson said student fee money would be used for equity of resources and sustainable programs in mental health and education training.

Yerramreddy continued on that theme, saying money should be used to level the playing field with initiatives such as free printing.

Wheeler said that fee money should go to student organizations and programs like WildCab. Additionally, because the vice president leads student allocation committee, that role should consider the wishes of students.

Lo said increasing retention rates was important, and that student fee money should build programs that empower students.

Woodson said they would focus student fee money on outreach and a president’s council; outreach because organizations are the lifeblood of UK, and a council to give a voice to student leaders.

The third question asked candidates what new initiatives they would introduce and how that would differ from previous years.

Wheeler spoke about mental health.

“This campus has continually made progress, but we see that this progress is just a start,” said Wheeler.  She suggested that visits to the VIP Center and counseling center be excused absences, as well as instituting a “wellness check” on myUK before students could register for classes.

Shaikh added inclusion as a goal, such as student accommodations for Ramadan, which will fall during finals week next year.

Woodson said responsiveness was her main goal.

“It’s not enough to say that our doors are always open, because our doors are always open – it’s about making sure people want to walk through those doors,” said Woodson.

She also proposed a one-stop shop for services on campus.

Lo thanked the other candidates for their initiatives, but noted that mental health needs are different for professional and graduate students.

Yerramreddy spoke on one of the tenets of their campaign, which is all-encompassing safety. She suggested instituting self-care days so that students feel secure and supported to make decisions about their health.

Frierson said SGA should be more mindful of its time and do internal work and internal trainings for executive boards.

In the rebuttals for this question, Shaikh said mental health days were idealistic and Woodson rebutted mental health days as “un-policeable.”

Yerramreddy responded to these rebuttals with a defense of mental health days as something that goes to the roots, instead of being a “band-aid.”

“Certainly, I think things are getting a little more lively,” said Poston after the third round.

The fourth question asked candidates how they planned to involve non-traditional students.

Woodson said her plan is to advocate for their needs, but also to “give them the mic when they need it.”

Lo said student survey questions should be re-designed to reflect the graduate experience.

Frierson focused on two principles of advocacy and equity.

“The only person that’s an expert on your story is you,” he said when speaking about representation.

Shaikh said that SGA should do a little bit less talking and a little bit more listening. Wheeler suggested using BBNvolved as a way to get in touch with organizations who are not sure what resources SGA offers.

The fifth question for the candidates was “how will you ensure transparency of SGA?”

Frierson said that there cannot be true advocacy without transparency and suggested updates through agendas or newsletters.

Vice president candidate Yerramreddy said she thinks SGA should change its reluctance to put out work until it’s perfect.

“I think people respond to genuineness and seeing that we are working and making the steps along the way, instead of just the final solution,” said Yerramreddy.

Wheeler responded to the prompt with three suggestions: writing a monthly article in the Kernel to update students, live-streaming Senate meetings and updating the SGA website, where she would post meeting minutes, to be more user-friendly.

Woodson and Lo said they would be available to their constituency with monthly meetings.

“It’s time that we are going over and asking them, how can we do things better?” said Lo.

He suggested updating the SGA website and using public records, which are difficult for students to access.

Rebuttals for this question focused on the frequency of updates for students and the effectiveness of medium.

For the final question, the tickets were asked to choose two words to describe their campaign.

Wheeler and Shaikh chose “working together”

Woodson and Lo said “proud and collaborative.”

Frierson and Yerramreddy used their campaign slogans, “it’s time.”

After the questions were over the candidates were given a chance to make closing statements. final statements:

Woodson said her decision to run was not made lightly, but that she was motivated to run because of her younger brother.

“I want an SGA that’s everything we deserve and better,” she said.

Lo spoke on the importance of civic engagement in this election year.

“This is the most important thing, is to participate, is to vote,” he said.

Frierson said that he and Yerramreddy had “done the work, shook the hands” and reiterated their campaign goals of transparency, advocacy and safety. He asked the audience to dare to consider what SGA could be.

Shaikh opened his statement with his experience as a minority student.

“You know that going to college is not a tradition, it’s a privilege,” he said, and said that minority students are told to leave university politics to legacy students.

Wheeler spoke about her passion for student government, which she said is driven by the death of her friend, Taylor Nolan, and the need for mental health resources. She closed by saying that her campaign is not just about her passion, “it’s about every Wildcat’s passion.”