Eighteen candidates discussed diversity efforts, administrative transparency and subsidized transportation at Thursday’s Undergraduate Student Government Senatorial Forum, which took place at the Tutor Campus Center. USG Director of Accessibility Affairs Gwen Howard and Black Student Assembly member Jaya Hinton moderated the debate.
Twelve of the candidates are running as six slates, or multi-party groups that focus on the same campaign platform and share election resources, as students prepared for the voting period to open next week. The debate alternated between general questions and targeted points for each candidate or slate.
Candidates began by discussing their respective positions regarding how to make USG more accessible to students and addressing how they plan to expand the USG Listens initiative, an online form through which members of the USC community can submit comments about USG services and campus concerns.
Several candidates, including Julian Lin and Vadim Trubetskoy, emphasized the importance of conducting meetings with students outside of the USG office and reaching out more frequently to campus organizations.
Senate aide and senatorial candidate Kevin Gutierrez said he plans to expand USG-sponsored town halls to a weekly event series that would allow students to interact one-on-one with USG representatives.
“These town halls shouldn’t only be where an important issue arises but an ongoing area where students know they can come in and talk with their representatives,” Gutierrez said.
Candidates also addressed the need for transparency between administrators and students. Similar to Wednesday’s presidential debate, several participants touched on the importance of student representation on the Board of Trustees to ensure student concerns are reflected in administrative policy.
“Everyone should be allowed to know what’s going on,” said Joshua Wigler, a senatorial candidate. “The student body needs to be involved in the system and I think … the Board of Trustees needs to release the millions of dollars of funding we utilize as a University and be transparent in what we’re spending and what we’re doing.”
Shreya Chanda, a freshman majoring in biochemistry and global health, said they want students to be included in more administrative decisions, including hiring new professors and determining tenure.
“A lot of the science department has student forums to decide whether professors should get to be on the tenure track or not,” Chanda said. “This is the kind of thing we need in the entire campus and in all levels of administration.”
Gabriel Savage, a junior studying philosophy, politics and law and narrative studies, said that events like the Environmental Student Assembly’s Divest SC Rally are important to draw the administration’s attention to student concerns on sustainability. Shortly after the Jan. 28 rally, USC disclosed that 5%, or $277 million, of USC’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels. President Carol Folt also met with ESA and Environmental Core the following week to begin facilitating discussions regarding actions the University can take to address its involvement in the industry.
“I think that making our voices heard as a student population is a really important step [to transparency],” Savage said. “Events like the [Divest SC rally] are important to force the hand of the administration and make it known that students care about what knowledge is out there.”
Savage and his running mate Ruben Romeo also said they would develop a peer counseling service in response to the growing need for mental health resources. Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling and Resource Center, which is currently in place at Washington University in St. Louis, would train pre-health students as counselors.
“It’s a 24/7 call service where they can call and talk to students … that are their same age, that are not intimidating because they’re not professionals,” Romeo said. “But these are also facilitators that will get you connected to resources, and that’s something we need the most.”
Senatorial candidate Trinity Moore emphasized the need to address the barriers that arise with transportation to unpaid internships, as students are expected to spend their own money to fund the trips to and from companies. Through the Career Center, they plan on establishing a stipend for students with unpaid internships and creating a free Lyft program for students that would relieve the financial burden of transportation.
“I think we should definitely have a system that pays for USC’s transportation for their students to and from their internships,” Moore said. “It’s hard enough if you’re working for free, but if you’re also having to pay out of pocket for your Lyft services there and back, that’s just unfair.”
The moderators also asked candidates to reflect on their personal blindspots regarding diversity. Candidates individually recognized their inherent privileges and emphasized the need to empathize with students from varying backgrounds.
Jonathan Kamanta spoke on differentiating between minority experiences.
“I think one of my main blindspots as a Black [man] is having this idea that there is a Black monolith … that just because we are minorities we go through the exact same experiences, but that’s not always the case,” Kamanta said.
During the audience questions, a student asked candidates how they would support Greek life on campus. Multiple candidates touched on the potential addition of a student liaison.
“I think one of the most important things is adding a student liaison and a student representative between IFC, Panhellenic and USG as a whole so that we have someone that represents all of the ideas of all three branches,” sophomore senatorial candidate Nate Manor said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled Vadim Trubetskoy’s name. It has since been updated with the correct spelling. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.