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SGA hosts presidential debate as election deadline nears

SGA hosts presidential debate as election deadline nears

SGA hosts presidential debate as election deadline nears
March 30
00:33 2022

With the end of election week just days away, the Student Government Association held a presidential debate in a third-floor Matthews Hall classroom for students to hear directly from the candidates.

“The student government was founded in 1949 on the premise to be an advocating hub,” said Jermaine “JT” Turner, presidential candidate and current SGA Intern Program Director said. “That has since been lost.”

Turner and his running mate, vice-presidential candidate and College of Education Senator Aalyhia Shillow, have been campaigning under the slogan “It’s Now or Never,” emphasizing an urgent need for change within the organization and from university administration.

SGA vice-presidential candidate Aalyhia Shillow speaks to the crowd during the presidential debate on March 29, 2022. Photo by John Anderson

“We’ve had a disconnect between our student government and everyone else,” Turner said.

While previously thought to be running unopposed, Turner and Shillow were prepared to have new competitors to debate against. Kumail Syed and Hamza Faisal, presidential and vice-presidential candidates respectively, are write-in candidates whose ticket was recently announced on Tuesday via the SGA Twitter page. Minutes after the debate was scheduled to begin, debate moderator and SGA Election Commissioner Bakhtawar Yasir announced the write-in candidates would not be able to make the event.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Yasir said.

The announcement came as a surprise to some attendees and an unidentified audience member shouted out that it was “very telling” about their campaign. Yasir declined to comment on Syed and Faisal missing the event but did say they are still able to campaign outside of SGA events.

With only one set of candidates present, the debate then became a town hall with Turner and Shillow sitting at the front of the room to answer questions from Yasir and the audience. Questions varied from the importance of understanding Robert’s Rules of Order, the SGA’s guiding document for its meetings, to the candidate’s plans for representing their thousands of constituents and ideas for the future of the organization.

“Are we as efficient as we can be?” Shillow said. “The answer to that, if you’re a good leader, is almost always ‘no.’”

Turner and Shillow’s answers continuously stressed the need for SGA continue growing and to represent the university’s marginalized communities.

“There is a disconnect between the people who represent the 40,000 and those actual 40,000,” Shillow said.

If elected, the candidates stated they would fight for students to feel accepted on campus. As a first-generation college student and Black man, feeling accepted was something Turner said he had struggled with himself.

“We are a Minority-Serving Institution, we are a Hispanic-Serving Institution, yet when we get in these rooms, we are always denied access,” Turner said.

SGA presidential candidate Jermaine “JT” Turner answers a question during the presidential debate on March 29, 2022. Photo by John Anderson

Steps toward inclusivity would include requiring sign language translators at all university events. After one attendee brought up a need for translators on campus tours, Turner thanked them for bringing it up.

Other campaign goals included raising student employee minimum wage to $15 an hour, creating an emergency fund for students and confirming the university police would not criminalize students for possession of marijuana if a similar ruling is made by the Denton City Council.

“We are asking for the bare minimum that our administration needs to uphold,” Turner said.

While fighting for inclusivity on campus, inclusivity within the SGA is also a priority, said Shillow.

“The culture of senate as a whole has to change,” Shillow said. “In the past it’s been elitist, it’s been sexist, it’s been racist, and there are still aspects of each of those ‘-isms’ that are in senate today.”

While students can select Turner and Shillow as an option while voting on Campus Labs, students voting for Syed and Faisal will have to type their names in the separate write-in section.

“Your vote is your voice,” Shillow said. “When you sign onto our campaign, when you say, ‘I’m going to vote for Turner and Shillow,’ you’re holding us to the contract that we’re giving you.”

The SGA election period will end at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Featured Image: The “It’s now or never” campaign answers questions during the SGA presidential debate on March 29, 2022. Photo by John Anderson

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Alex Reece

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