Undergraduate Student Government presidential and vice presidential candidates referred to their platforms and personal experiences Monday night to address how their administrations would handle and support diversity.
The assemblies of USC Program Board organized the USG Candidate Diversity Forum to urge candidates to address important diversity issues, such as transgender housing and racial profiling on campus.
The forum was moderated by Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center.
The candidates emphasized increased communication from student organizations to USG officials as an essential action going forward.
When addressing a question posed by the Women’s Student Assembly about how the candidates plan to support women’s issues, presidential candidate and current USG Director of University Affairs Christian Kurth said that conversation is crucial to change.
“Opening up lines of communication is the biggest thing for me,” Kurth said. “We don’t understand what you guys go through and what you guys need. And I think that if you can be honest with us, we can be honest with you, and we can work together to help you guys in whatever you need.”
Candidates also drew on their own backgrounds and personal experiences to convey that they can relate to students’ problems.
Vice presidential candidate Ryan Park, currently a Greek senator, said that his racial background has taught him how to accept himself and how to help other students embrace their ethnicities.
“I’ve learned what it means to let go of things you can’t change, to be proud of them, to move forward and to understand this is who you are,” Park said. “I want to make sure that students feel that same pride, regardless of what they look like. I want students to understand that being who you are is the most important thing about you.”
Presidential candidate Matt Arkfeld, current USG Senate speaker pro tempore, reached out to LGBT students on campus by saying that he can personally identify with them, promising to take a strong stance against gender discrimination and to push for gender-neutral housing.
“We are huge supporters of LGBT, a group that I myself identify with,” Arkfeld said. “I plan on taking a strong stance against [injustice] and pushing transgender rights into the future. Their needs haven’t been met — what’s going on right now with gender-inclusive housing and the rainbow floors is taking a problem and not really solving it … the fact is, we need to push for true gender-neutral housing to exist.”
The forum uncovered a difference between the candidates’ ideologies when they were asked what they would do to improve the college experiences of international students. While Arkfeld thought that it was most important for international students to learn how to adapt to the culture of USC, Kurth was most concerned with helping students from abroad network after college.
“We want to bring out employers who can really understand the issues international students face,” Kurth said. “If we can add a career fair for international students, after these students leave USC, it could help them kickstart their lives after college in America.”
Vice presidential candidate Alex Cascante, currently a Greek senator, believed that none of these changes could be made without the student body’s voice.
“In order to do anything else, the first thing we must identify is a problem,” Cascante said. “If there’s no problem, there’s nothing to fix. It’s important to open communication channels, to talk to students to find out if there was an issue and to ask, ‘how can we make this process better?’”
The new campus security measures, the disparity between lower-class and wealthier students and racial profiling on campus were also discussed.
The Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, the Black Student Assembly, the International Student Assembly, the Latina/o Student Assembly, Women’s Student Assembly and the Queer and Ally Student Assembly held the forum.
Kaya Masler, executive director of the USC Women’s Student Assembly, said that the forum was a beneficial way for the candidates to hear different opinions and learn from them.
“I feel like all of the candidates got a chance to learn, and it was a growing opportunity for everybody in the room,” Masler said. “There was a little bit of contention, but I think out of contention is an opportunity for us all to come together.”