On Thursday night, USC’s Undergraduate Student Government hosted a presidential debate discussing the possibility of achieving greater integration amongst student athletes as well as bridging the divide between USG and the student body and other campus issues, in anticipation of the USG election next week.
The event took place in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center at 6:30 p.m. and featured formal debates between the USG presidential and vice presidential candidates. Executive Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Dan Schnur and Rachel Scott, a senior majoring in broadcast journalism, moderated the program.
The presidential candidates, Rini Sampath and Providence Ilisevich, began with opening statements to the audience of primarily USC students.
Sampath emphasized her and vice presidential candidate Jordan Fowler’s experienced backgrounds with USG, as Sampath is the current vice president and Fowler is director of university affairs.
“We really do have a track record of working with real results,” Sampath said. “We would love another year in office to continue implementing change. We’ve seen firsthand the impact student government can have, and with your vote, we can make that happen.”
Ilisevich described her experience as a USG senator, which included passing a resolution that implemented an extension of the drop deadline from three to seven weeks.
“The unique thing with being a senator is that you get to see so many different projects,” Ilisevich said. “You can choose to get involved in groups, committees and assemblies. There have only been two resolutions passed this year, and I passed one of them.”
Sampath discussed her work on the resolution of the Black House initiative and her research on similar projects at other universities.
“I’d love to see it as a stepping-stone for future projects,” Sampath said. “At Stanford University, they have a black house, a Chicano house. That’s what we need at USC. As student leaders, we need to recognize the importance of a black house and the importance of talking about marginalized groups on campus.”
Both candidates had strong stances on campus sexual assault and described strategies they would implement in office.
“We were able to bring light to the conversation on what consent means, what sexual assault looks like on this campus,” Sampath said. “We’ve had a joint force working on this front, and we decided this would be nice for a social media campaign and empowering fraternities on talking about this issue. We want to bring that kind of bystander intervention program to all 900 organizations on campus.”
Ilisevich discussed her work on the Greek Task Force and conversations with the Center for Women and Men as evidence of her strong stance on sexual assault, one she would maintain if elected.
“Consent is such a complicated issue but also such an important issue that it takes more than just creating a Facebook page,” Ilisevich said. “Something we’ve discovered is it’s going to take a long time to get programming that’s really effective. It’s going to take an extra semester or so to make sure that’s as valuable as it can be.”
Candidates discussed improvements in the integration of USC athletes in the student body.
“They have this feeling that they’re left out of the conversation,” Sampath said. “We hope that will be a stepping-stone integrating them more in the community. That said, I think we don’t pay as much attention as we should to rec sports. We want to increase funding for rec sports, making it more accessible for all students to participate in sports, not just the varsity athletes.”
Ilisevich mentioned plans to add a position on USG that represented the voice of athletes on campus.
“I think there’s a lot of other aspects of the student experience for athletes that are underrepresented,” Ilisevich said. “Athletes don’t feel like they’re integrated with the student body. They’re here to have a well-rounded experience, and we want to create a position in USG that’s representative of athletics because it would help them to feel like they’re students here.”
During the vice presidential debate, Fowler cited successful projects such as the Uber-Campus Cruiser partnership, free LAX shuttle over spring break and water bottle filling stations on campus during her time as director of university affairs.
Vice presidential candidate Ehren Elder worked hard to implement LGBT programming in the Greek community. He has been involved in plenty of activities outside of Greek life as well, including being a spirit leader and orientation advisor.
As members of the Greek community, Fowler and Elder both responded to issues within the Greek system.
“There should be a conversation administrators have with students before sanctions or policies are implemented on The Row, so the Greek organizations are having a say,” Fowler said. “They live there, they go there the most, and so these conversations need to happen. I don’t think that is something most students want to take away from this university.”
Elder spoke to the tradition of the Greek community and how new policies have often stifled its purpose.
“This is more than just sanctions as well as policy changes,” Elder said. “We’ve seen an immense shift in the way fraternities are treated. There’s such a deep-rooted tradition of the Greek system here, and pulling that down with policy is unfortunate.”
Students in the audience reacted positively to the issues both tickets expressed.
“I liked both candidates’ responses to the questions about The Row and the athletes,” said Keith Keer, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering. “Incorporating the athletes into the student body is definitely something that the university should look into because no one really sees them in their classes or gets to know them; we only hear about them.”
“The debates represented both tickets and there were great overlaps, especially with regards to the sexual assault campaign,” said Katie Larson, a junior majoring in industrial and systems engineering. “Both are passionate and no matter who is elected, we are going to be in good hands.”