The air was tense with apprehension. The six people seated at the back of room ANN 106 in the Wallis Annenberg building at 6 p.m. Friday made a precarious effort to avoid looking at the team sitting next to them, clutching their notes and consulting their partner on the details of last minute. Some checked their microphones, others took a deep breath. The stage was set for the Undergraduate Government Presidential Debate. The room filled slowly at first, then all at once, with everyone muttering about which team they were going to support in the upcoming elections from USG to USC.
There are three pairs of students running for President and Vice President of USG this year. Presidential candidate Hannah Woodworth, a young journalism student, and vice-presidential candidate Nivea Krishnan, a sophomore in public policy and economics, are the only candidates on the ballot. That’s because the other team, consisting of Weston Bell-Geddes and Erica Wang, withdrew from the presidential race on February 3. The other candidates are listed because they submitted their names after the December 17 deadline. Voters will have to physically list these candidates on their ballots. One of the other two writing teams includes Rachel Lee, a junior philosophy, politics, and law student, and vice-presidential candidate Collin Colson, a sophomore writing for screen and television. Kyle Valdes, a junior business administration major, and Safal Mengi, a junior real estate development major, are the other nominees.
Nathan Hyun, a senior journalism student and executive producer of ATVN, was the moderator for the evening. The debate was a collaborative effort between Annenberg Media and USG to help promote transparency between contestants and students. The debate questions were written by the editors of Annenberg Media.
The posts debated many divisive topics around campus life, such as campus safety, Greek life, COVID-19 protocols, student mental health, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives. ). .
The speeches, voice modulations and attires of each ticket team revealed idiosyncratic personality traits that other candidates picked up on during the debate. The Woodworth-Krishnan duo were dubbed by other members of the debate as “establishment candidates”, being the only candidates previously affiliated with the USG. Woodworth is the executive assistant to the current USG president and Krishnan is a senator in the USG legislative branch. They began their opening statements by emphasizing the need for transparency in the internal workings of USG and the administration of USC. Lee and Colson called themselves “progressive populists”, while Valdes and Mengi were seen defending controversial positions on COVID-19 protocols and Greek life.
“Our biggest asset here as a ticket is our experience because we can start from day one with the projects, policies and outlines,” Krishnan said during the speech. “Student governments should always be on the side of the students.”
Lee’s opening speech revolved around the USC administration’s handling of sexual assault cases related to Greek life. The Lee-Colson duo argued for a complete abolition of Greek life, mentioning that “USC doesn’t care about students”, nor does it view USG as a competent body with authority.
“Abolition of Greek life is not a radical notion,” Lee said. “We have seen firsthand the danger of the poses, unlike the other candidates with us today. We are not calling for reform. We are calling for abolition.
Lee claimed that no other candidate is willing to make the administration “uncomfortable” enough, as they would. Together they pledged to identify USC’s gentrifying footprint in South Los Angeles, defund the DPS which receives “$50 million a year from the university” and install communal refrigerators on campus. .
Valdes and Mengi introduced themselves, showcased their Cuban and Indian upbringing, and their previous experience in high school student government. They mentioned being “real people” advocating for a “real SC”. Their platform points include expanding the Fryft area, promoting school spirit, reforming Greek life, and better treatment of spring admissions and international students.
“We really want everyone to have the chance to continue their college experience without any barriers in place time and time again,” Valdes said.
The first question in the debate concerned the university’s handling of sexual assault cases, which sparked campus-wide protests and garnered national news attention last semester. Woodworth and Krishnan disagreed with the USC administration’s handling of sexual assaults at the Greek Life Holidays, particularly with the solution of putting guards near the rooms, saying it was more of a reactive approach than a proactive one.
“We want to create a more open platform for students to communicate through our administration to bring about the change we need to see to prioritize safety on campus, especially towards women who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence on campus and women in Greek life,” Woodworth said.
Valdes and Mengi want to reform Greek life, instead of abolishing it, arguing that when a sexual assault takes place in a student organization on campus, the organization remains while the person responsible and complicit is punished. Mengi advocated for a “Greek council”, in which a USG executive will play a role in resolving issues.
“Not every brother who wants to come forward and expose their brother feels the pressure to get revenge for [being] a snitch,” Valdes said.
Lee, at this point, turned sharply to him and exclaimed, “Snitch?”
The Colson-Lee team wanted to abolish the Greek system altogether, citing statistics and calling it an “emergency”. Colson argued that sexual assault always goes unnoticed on campus while Lee criticized the bureaucratic red carpet associated with Title IX proceedings.
“We know fraternities are a driver of sexual assault,” Colcon said. “So [Lee] and I’m not afraid to say that we don’t want them here and hope to abolish fraternities.
Krishnan refuted Lee, saying the administration is finally making the final call for the abolition of Greek life. While pushing for abolition would be ideal, they find that proactive approaches to reform are the way to make students feel safer.
Lee stressed the importance of maintaining hybrid classrooms, given how they benefit students with disabilities. Woodworth is committed to restoring pre-pandemic campus activities such as multicultural affairs, lecture series and concerts, while prioritizing general accessibility.
Valdes and Safal argued for banning Trojan horse checks, citing that people often use other students’ screenshots and schedule dates for weeks to circumvent security, and that once that Los Angeles County lifts its mask mandates, USC should follow suit. Other than that, they have pledged to bring food trucks to campus to support the “south-central community” and hold fairs to foster bonhomie among students.
Another major topic discussed was DEI initiatives, which elicited a variety of responses from the teams. Krishnan began by calling USC a “historically exclusive institution,” placing the responsibility for including “traditionally underrepresented” communities on student leaders. She advocated for more training for recognized student organizations to combat prejudice and encounters with cultural assemblies.
“DEI is not something that can operate in a vacuum. It must be intentionally integrated into all aspects of our school,” she said during her speech. “It is the burden and responsibility of us as leaders to reach out to those who are traditionally left out of the conversation.”
Meanwhile, Valdes and Mengi argued for the need for in-person DEI training so people “actually listen,” saying students often only complete classes to lift their enrollment suspension. As part of the initiatives, they suggested appointing BIPOC students to the RSOs for perspective. Mengi suggested creating an anonymous forum where students who experience microaggressions can report instances of systemic racism on campus.
“The difference between us and a lot of other candidates in the past and present is that people tend to just choose their friends to be part of the executive cabinet or their campaigns,” Mengi said. “But we want these people to be elected by these organizations [RSOs] so that they can have a person who represents and the most in our executive committee.
Lee spoke about structural issues like the DPS’s $50 million budget, calling it “just another of USC’s self-consoling performance policies” and criticized the “overcontrol” of South Los Angeles residents. . She proposed a democratically elected council of community members that would have control over these “budgets and practices.”
Voting will begin on February 23. The new USG President and Vice President will be announced in the USG Senate on March 1. Information on each candidate is available at USG website.