Annenberg Media hosted the first Undergraduate Student Government presidential debate on Wednesday night at Wallis Annenberg Hall. USG Senators Debbie Lee and Blake Ackerman, candidates for president and vice president, debated against USG Director of External Affairs Mai Mizuno and Brianna Bozek, a junior majoring in business administration, who are also running for president and vice president.
The debate was moderated by Annenberg Media correspondent Brittany Hope.
Lee began her opening statement by explaining why she and Ackerman are pursuing these offices. Lee and Ackerman have a history serving together prior to their time in the Senate, as they served as president and vice president at Beverly Hills High School together, each occupying both positions at different times.
“This year, Blake and I had the opportunity to serve as senators and while continuing through this term, we’ve realized that our heart and passion to serve all students and listen to their voices and needs extended far beyond our duties,” Lee said.
In her opening statement, Mizuno cited the fact that she and Bozek had not served in student government prior to USC as positive traits, allowing them to have optimistic and different visions for their potential roles in USG.
Mizuno also noted that she entered USC as a spring admit, and that these students, along with transfer students, deserve a greater voice in USG because they are often treated as “second-class Trojans.”
“Prior to coming to [USC], I had never been in student government before,” Mizuno said. “And I found this to be extremely beneficial because, like Brianna, I didn’t know what student government was. I just knew what it should be.”
While Mizuno has three years of experience in USG under her belt, Bozek has no student government experience. Bozek referred to their ticket multiple times during the debate as an “insider-outsider ticket.”
One of the major issues discussed at the debate was tuition hikes at USC and overall affordability of college costs for students. Lee advocated for a pragmatic and moderate approach.
“Something that I’ve learned during my year as a senator is that a tuition freeze is just impossible, but something that we can focus on is increasing transparency in regards to tuition,” Lee said.
Ackerman broke down the specifics of how he and Lee view tuition. He also mentioned their idea for a resource that can help economically disadvantaged students navigate their financial troubles.
“Debbie and I believe that tuition can be broken down into two parts, and that’s transparency and affordability,” Ackerman said. “To encourage more affordability, we want to propose an economic crisis response team for students that are food insecure or housing insecure to make sure they are getting what they need.”
Mizuno invoked her record of activism and advocacy regarding affordable tuition at USC, specifically the $2,000 tuition hike in the spring 2016 semester.
“When I started out at USC, I was an activist and tuition hikes were what I cared about,” Mizuno said. “I was out on Trousdale every single day protesting tuition hikes.”
Another topic at the debate was mental health and mental health resources on campus. Lee mentioned the inaccessibility of the Engemann Student Health Center and proposed a way to increase mental-health oriented spaces on campus.
“I think, also, one of the issues that we face with Engemann is that it’s simply a little far and a little out of the way for most students to access,” Lee said. “And that’s why Blake and I want to highlight the establishment of resident meditation spaces on campus.”
Bozek brought up a personal anecdote, saying that she has experienced the lack of resources allocated for mental health issues on campus.
“I think that we need more counselors, and even though that’s a really expensive solution to the problem, I think it can be done if we take the necessary prior steps,” Bozek said. “I’d love to see a state of mental health survey at USC to see where we’re at and what USC needs.”
Another central topic in the debate was how to improve Greek life at USC. Ackerman noted a policy proposal on his ticket’s platform.
“Also on our platform are speed bumps for Greek Row,” Ackerman said. “We really want to ensure that safety on 28th Street is a big priority and we know that people drive fast on that street.”
Bozek advocated for more cooperation between students and the administration regarding Greek life.
“We would love to implement regular meetings between Greek life leaders, USG and administration in order to increase transparency on Greek-life sanctions and also to work with the community in order to better it as much as we can,” Bozek said.
Other topics discussed at the debate included recent changes to the Norman Topping Fund, diversity on campus and the creation of a new USG Director position that would engage students in state and federal politics, a motion proposed earlier this week at a USG Senate meeting.
The next presidential debate, called “The Inclusion Discussion,” will be on Tuesday at 7:45 p.m. at Wallis Annenberg Hall.