North Texas Daily

SGA presidential candidates debate accountability, affordability, concerns over candidate’s diversity, inclusion attitudes

SGA presidential candidates debate accountability, affordability, concerns over candidate’s diversity, inclusion attitudes

SGA presidential candidates debate accountability, affordability, concerns over candidate’s diversity, inclusion attitudes
April 01
16:40 2021

Note from the Editor-in-Chief:

As we begin our coverage of this year’s Student Government Association election, the North Texas Daily, in the pursuit of full transparency, would like to disclose the possible conflicts of interest with individuals involved in the election. Presidential candidate Jackson Sweet is a current opinion writer for the Daily. The campaign manager for Devon Skinner’s campaign, Casey Jimenez, is a personal friend of the Daily’s current editor-in-chief. Skinner’s communications director, Noah Hutchinson, is a former Dose and opinion writer for the Daily

The Student Government Association hosted the 2021-2022 Presidential and Vice Presidential debate Wednesday night, where the candidates discussed accountability, affordability, student access to SGA and concerns over candidate attitudes toward diversity and inclusion. 

Jackson Sweet, a former SGA intern and former chairman of the North Texas College Republicans, went against Devon Skinner, also a former SGA intern and former senator for the College of Liberal Arts, in a series of questions moderated by current president Michael Luecke.  

Sweet said his background as an ex-intern and outsider to the organization made him a suitable fit for the position. 

“I believe I have a very unique perspective on students and the issues facing them and how we can go about that,” Sweet said. “I’m looking forward to bringing my perspective to the halls of SGA.”

In contrast, Skinner promoted his own experience in SGA and as a general student.

“You may have already seen me, I tend to do quite a lot around here,” Skinner said. “My experience with UNT has been fantastic and I really hope to continue that experience for other students as SGA president next year.” 

Sweet said his major goal was affordability and suggested raising the minimum wage, negotiation with the administration to lower tuition and book swap programs. 

“I’ve been asked how we are going to pay for this,” Sweet said. “A few days ago, I talked to Dr. Melissa McGuire in the administration, going through each of these to see if they were doable things. She said, ‘Yes, all of these things are things the university can look into or is looking into.’ I think our biggest concern is affordability, I have a plan to tackle that and on day one I’m going to work to implement that plan.”

Skinner said his concern was to address what he felt was substandard communication and cooperation between the students and the university administration.

“Oftentimes, we talk about making these changes, whether it be minimum wage, open educational resources or something I personally believe is the alternative to what is expensive textbooks,” Skinner said. “When we have these discussions, they fall flat. So, I think we not only need to be holding the SGA accountable for its own actions but also making sure we’re holding the UNT administration accountable for doing what’s in the best interest of the student body.” 

Another question from Luecke involved the potential reallocation of funding to the UNT Police Department to other resources on campus. 

Skinner said his job would be to make sure students’ voices on the matter were heard and to make sure the faculty in charge of the UNTPD would hold them accountable.

“To that effect, that committee which was recently created as oversight on UNTPD, is actively involved and that communication is actively made to the UNT student body as a form of accountability, which is big for me,” Skinner said. “We need to make sure that these conversations are being had and being frank at the university’s admin level. UNT has always taken, I believe, a backseat to the ways in which our communities interact with UNTPD. I think we need to be much more active, we need to be a lot more purposeful in which way we as an institution are handling the UNTPD and making sure they are actually representing the public safety and well-being of the UNT community.” 

Sweet said he approved of the idea for officials to look over the budget and potentially divert funds where they’re needed, as well for police officers to gain student trust.

“I also think it’s a good thing to build a good reputation and communication between the university PD and BIPOC communities,” Sweet said. “I think that it’s very important that especially with the history between these communities and the events we saw last year, the PD knows what students are concerned with, coming from their organization and that they take that into account when they do their job. Ultimately, the job of the police department, on paper, is to protect and serve students on campus. It’s a very large detriment… to their job… if students do not believe the PD has their best interests at heart.” 

During the student-submitted question segment, one student expressed concern regarding deleted posts from Sweet’s Instagram, such as him holding a pro-life sign and wearing a “Make American Great Again” hat, and his past co-hosting of a Back the Blue rally in August 2020.

Sweet said he believed in the dignity of all human beings as a Catholic, regardless of their background. He also said his personal political beliefs were irrelevant to the debate as he believes SGA is not a political platform. 

“SGA is not about national politics[…] My job is not to talk about the issues of the day. My job is to tackle the issues facing UNT students,” Sweet said. “I believe I can do that because as someone with Erb’s palsy, which limits rotation in my right arm, I have had a lot of opportunities closed off to me[…] I understand what’s it’s like to have someone look you in the face and say, ‘You can’t do that,’ because of forces beyond your control.’ I want to fight for students who had that happen to them as well.”  

Election commissioner Ivalis Guajardo moderated the vice presidential debate between Noah Wyckoff, who is running with  Sweet, and David Muñoz-Sarabia, a senator for the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism who is running with Skinner.

Each provided a summary of their platform’s campaign goals. Wyckoff said his campaign would address mental health, giving back to students and sexual assault. Muñoz-Sarabia said his and Skinner’s campaign would focus on change and engagement of the student population. 

The first to attend the debate was social science freshman Forrest Whitford, who said he was getting more involved with SGA and wanted to get a better idea of the candidates’ policies.

“Most of my information has come from Andy [McDowell] or people I know,” Whitford said. “Word of mouth, too. I’ve been skimming through the platform themselves, both Skinner and Sweet. I’m not too familiar, that’s why I’m here.”

Whitford said while he enjoyed the debate, he would have to think about it further.

“I think both candidates did a good job of representing their issues,” Whitford said. “I think there was a fair amount of generalization from both, as things usually are. I think I’ll have to do further research and things to look up, so I took notes.” 

Jeramine Turner, an Honors College senator and speaker pro tempore, said he was not pleased with Sweet’s position regarding SGA and politics. 

“Even though SGA is not a political platform, it was created across the country to advocate for students,” Turner said. “So, saying he wants to separate us from politics is like saying he wants to separate us from advocating for students. We are dealing with these political issues every day. Being a Black man in this country saying my life matters at the end of the day is a political issue. So, it should’ve been addressed by him regardless.”

The streamed version of the meeting can be found on SGA’s Facebook page.

Featured Image: SGA Presidential candidates Jackson Sweet and Devon Skinner debate on March 31, 2021. Image by John Anderson

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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