Today is the final day of the university’s 2020-21 elections which will decide who the new senators, executive and administrative vice presidents and the student body president for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona will be for the coming school year.
To kick off the elections and finish off almost a month-long campaign season, the presidential debate was held in the Kiva Room of the Student Union Memorial Center on March 2.
The two candidates who made it through the primary elections, Tara Singleton and Rocque Perez, were asked by a panel of qualified moderators questions about their platforms and larger problems that they have encountered throughout their campaign as well as ones they will encounter if elected.
There were 21 questions asked, including opening and closing statements. Most questions were asked of both candidates, but some were asked of just one of them. The candidates each had three minutes to respond for opening and closing statements and two for the other questions. The candidate that was given the first response to the question also had the ability to respond in a minute’s time.
The opening statements consisted of the candidates talking about their general background and time at the university, as well as what motivated them to take their platforms.
Perez opened with explaining his background as a first generation student and Tucson native, as well as his passion for all things involving the university. He highlighted his time spent as senator at large, working for financial aid and the community work he has partaken in.
Singleton opened by giving her statement on how she would like to wrap up her experience at the university, as well as her credentials such as serving on the Freshman Class Council her freshman year, as a senator at-large for ASUA her sophomore year and finally as chief of staff for Administrative Vice President Kate Rosenstengel this year.
You can read more about their platforms here.
Multiple questions were raised about ASUA, but the one that summed up the entire point was the question of how the candidates would support ASUA’s mission.
Singleton’s overall mindset regarding this seemed to be pushing ASUA as an avenue for students to get access to resources. People know the programs like Wildcats Event Board and Spring Fling well, but she wanted students to feel this way about resources as well.
Perez felt that pursuing ASUA’s mission with students at the forefront can be accomplished by being in service to students that they want to aid, underlining that students already have a voice. It’s just ASUA’s job to engage with them and have representatives present in outreach.
There were also specific student interests brought up that had to do with their platforms including student wellness, civic engagement and tuition/fee increases.
Singleton argued that “student wellness is a holistic picture” and addressing the entire picture and working to consolidate it is the goal and that student engagement and reaching out will have the biggest impact.
Perez argued that ASUA’s focus on mental student wellness needs to tie into the other forms of student wellness, specifically safety with the rising incidences and concerns on campus. He believes that ASUA should collaborate with other resources so that students feel safe, both mentally and physically, which will overall improve student wellness.
In regards to tuition increases, they both agreed that no matter what everyone wants lower tuition.
“If you could change tuition, what would it be? It would be lower,” Singleton said.
But the fact of the matter is, it is just not that simple. The student body president’s seat at the table while discussing tuition is important. They can be a voice for students, but it also can be compromised if they are unreasonable. While there are a huge multitude of other factors that play into tuition increase, communicating the fact of the matter and really advocating for things that students want from their tuition while also establishing what is beyond reach is the most crucial part to Singleton.
Perez agreed with this while also stating that making sure a student’s starting tuition stays the same all four years is crucial. Being able to negotiate and benefit as an entire university from the rising tuition so students feel they are reaping the benefits is how he believes best to manage tuition increases.
Some of the most important questions had to do with specialized student groups that need support and the resources available to them.
One of the questions addressed transfer students and how they would support transfer students on campus. Perez said that to the best of his knowledge there are not a lot of resources available to them, but the best course of action for ASUA would be to engage with transfer students the same way freshmen are engaged with and ensure they are aware of the resources available for them.
Singleton countered that there is a transfer student orientation that she helped put on as chief of staff for AVP Rosenstengel and how it is utilized and who is directed there is what is most crucial. Showing students what they are buying into and the positive experiences they can get from the school is the best way to support them.
Perez responded by adding that ASUA and the entire campus needs to work collaboratively with marketing and management to make resources seem more accessible, not just for transfer students but all students.
Both candidates made it very clear that they understand there is a gap, something Perez spoke many times about working to close. When questioned about the “disabling environment” and how we don’t pay enough attention to it, Perez said that working with students who are in the gap and working with administration to make up for it, bridging this gap, is what will help students succeed in this “disabling environment.”
Singleton spoke on how the environment “should be something that adds, not takes away.” The ability to get students out of this disabling environment is by recognizing communities that are not able and focus on how they reach people.
“Environment should look the same across the board for everyone," Singleton said. "Our environment is this university and our culture."
Adding onto this, diversity and inclusion in programs like alternative spring break and study abroad were was up.
Singleton’s believes there are a lot of things to add — not just equalizing — that will increase experience, like study abroad. The biggest issue is the financial barrier, but it brings up an important point that it’s not always the things we think of that people want. It’s about moving beyond having people falling on the same page and doing more than just “closing the gap.”
Perez said that we should focus on all these programs and ensure that students have the resources to engage in the opportunities on our campus.
There were personally directed questions asked of the candidates that were important points to be raised.
“As senator you recently proposed an amendment to the ASUA constitution to create the position of vice president of equity and student wellness. However, after committee investigation, it was discovered that you received little input from on campus communities when designing this method. How will this reflect on your approach in presenting and supporting students as ASUA president?” one of the panelists asked Perez directly.
Perez responded in agreement that there wasn’t a wholesome conversation, but wanted to acknowledge that every time he has engaged with these communities it has been pleasant. He admitted that he failed in engaging students in their entirety but believes it goes into a bigger discussion of who they go to and have these discussions with.
For the future, he hopes ASUA is headed in a more inclusive direction with the new constitutional changes and hopes to work in building up to them being implemented.
Singleton was directed the question of what makes her qualified to speak for marginalized students on campus, which she responded to by making clear what she feels qualifies her to be a leader. She believes her job as president would not to be a translator, but to let students speak for themselves by elevating and amplifying the voices of people who have had certain experiences and to speak on them.
When asked about what she would do different this time when working with cultural centers as opposed to her time as a senator, she pointed out that one year is not always enough time to make drastic changes. But something that was an inspiration to her was the transgender individuals resolution that she worked to pass while serving on senate.
Perez countered this with saying that it is not a matter of writing resolutions, but to “humanize the discussion of students.” He stated multiple times that he often hears the students on campus referred to as “the students,” but each of them are individuals and he hopes to work to individualize the student population more.
To close the debate, they were both asked the question on all of our minds: Why they were the best candidate for the job?
“It’s being open to the conversation, that discussion starts with the bureaucracy in ASUA. It’s not something I would be able to carry out as an individual. … I think for me, vulnerability is something that is very important for me and being able to put myself in these very uncomfortable positions because I think discomfort does enact change and promote one’s individual growth and I think that’s something I’ve been able to experience within the last year,” Perez said. “So, I think being able to one, apply that to the way I operate ASUA and empower others to operate ASUA, but also in how we engage our student communities. … Ultimately, I think I definitely have been complacent in this in some instances, but I think remembering that students put me here for a reason and it’s my duty to do that for them.”
Singleton focused her answer on how to start a discussion and her qualifications.
“I’m a big advocate in my personal life that discussion starts with discussion. I think that there are things that might need to be brought to the forefront of that discussion, however, I think that my role as president would not to be a facilitator and passing along ideas, but elevating platforms and driving the channels. Being the vehicle for those other individuals,” Singleton said in her closing statement, “Why do I want to run? Because someone’s going to do it and probably do it great, but why should it be me as an individual? I think it speaks to my experience that I’ve had here and wanting to create that for other people, giving back and fixing things that we have been hearing. I felt I couldn’t just sit back and felt an immediate call to action … At the end of the day it’s not the office that’s the conduit for this change, it’s the individual.”
You can vote for who you think should be the next student body president here until 8 p.m. on March 4.
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