Annenberg hosts annual USG presidential debate

USG presidential tickets Trenton Stone and Mahin Tahsin (left), Michaela Murphy and Meagan Lane (center) and Maxwell Brandon and Grayson Adler (right) spoke about issues like funding and student health. (Ling Luo/Daily Trojan)

Three presidential tickets discussed student health care, diversity and freedom of speech at the annual Undergraduate Student Government presidential debate Monday, hosted by Annenberg Media. Annenberg Media executive editor Charlotte Pruett moderated the debate between candidates Michaela Murphy and Meagan Lane, Trenton Stone and Mahin Tahsin and Maxwell Brandon and Grayson Adler, which nearly 150 students attended at Wallis Annenberg Hall.

The Trenton & Mahin ticket and Maxwell & Grayson ticket are both write-in presidential candidates, which announced their candidacies past the official filing deadline. Both tickets will be included on the official ballot when voting begins Feb. 5.

Murphy, a junior majoring in public policy, began her opening statement by discussing how the USC administration has “failed its student body,” with a lack of transparency from the presidential search committee and throughout the ongoing investigation into the behavior of former campus gynecologist George Tyndall, who was  accused of sexual misconduct.

“Our campaign is built not only on hope, but on proof,” Murphy said. “We have spent this entire last year as senators working not only to improve existing resources, but to create ones of our own.”

Tahsin, a junior majoring in economics and business administration, began her opening remarks by explaining that she approached Stone to run as write-in candidates after realizing the student body should have more options.

“After careful and extensive reflection, we decided to run as a presidential duo,” Tahsin said. “The undergraduate student body deserves an alternative choice in who best represents their interests.”

Brandon began his opening statement by emphasizing that both he and Adler have deep history as legacy members of the Trojan family. Adler’s father is a member of USC’s Board of Trustees.

“Our campaign slogan is ‘Bring Back Victory,’” Brandon said. “We want to restore the pride in USC. USC has a foundation of winning and quite frankly we don’t feel like USC wins anymore. Our traditions … [are] beginning to tarnish.”

Murphy and Lane are both USG senators and Stone and Tahsin both serve as USG funding directors. Neither Brandon nor Adler have been involved with USG, but both are members of the USC chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a group that brought conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to campus last October, prompting protests and backlash from several student groups.

In light of rising discussion regarding students’ ability to challenge USG funding for events like Shapiro’s, Pruett asked the candidates about their stance on the decision to bring Shapiro to campus last semester and what they would do for similar situations in the future.

Adler said he believes anyone has a right to speak on campus as long as their speech does not incite violence. He also thanked Stone and Tahsin for approving the funding for the event last semester.

Murphy said her campaign’s position is that the approval of campus speakers requires deeper analysis. Murphy has voiced concerns about the delegation of USG funds for controversial speakers at past USG Senate meetings.

“The positions of president and vice president are uniquely qualified, to not only serve the 19,000 undergraduates here, but you have a special task to protect the least protected on this campus,” Murphy said. “[You] certainly do not have … a constitutional nor intrinsic right to the student programming fee money of the communities which your rhetoric is further marginalizing. Full stop.”

Later, Pruett asked the candidates about the perceived crackdown on Greek life on campus and if they would work with fraternities and sororities during their presidencies.

“We do believe that Greek life is a fundamental tradition and is a tenet of the school,” Stone said. “But, in the end, we believe that Greek organizations deserve the same kind of respect and judicial process that other students receive … currently SJACS has some flawed measures in place.”

Lane said there should be a balance between student safety and well-being and due process for Greek organizations.

“As a member of a Greek organization myself, I understand the challenges that come with inherent risks of being attached to a name like USC,” Lane said. “Also balancing having fun and being a 20-something-year-old kid in a sorority, and sometimes things happen, … but we want to see a balance with that.”

Brandon said that from a safety standpoint, he does not see the benefit of the Department of Public Safety cracking down on Greek life and forcing such organizations to spread out throughout the community.

“I think that it is definitely more beneficial for the student’s enjoyment and safety to focus emphasis on containing parties to the Row by obviously having guidelines that do support safety,” Brandon said. “But also letting them feel that they could … promote brotherhood and sisterhood.”

Students had the opportunity to submit questions prior to and during the event. Calvin Carmichael, a freshman majoring in business administration (cinematic arts), asked the candidates about their plans to address the low percentage of black undergraduate students on campus, most recently reported by USC as 4.6 percent.

Adler said USC has better representation of black students on campus than UCLA and UC Berkeley, and Brandon spoke about the importance of outreach to children and teenagers who may apply to the University.

According to their respective websites, UCLA’s undergraduate population is currently 5.2 percent black, while Berkeley’s is 3 percent.

“Candidly, I’m very disappointed in that answer,” Murphy said. “[4.6] percent is a staggeringly low number … it doesn’t matter what top-tier institution we rank just behind … that’s horrible.”

After the candidates were asked about the problem of fake IDs in USC Village, the room erupted in laughter. While Stone said he plans to work with DPS as part of their general campaign platform, Brandon said he believes in students making their own decisions. Murphy said she believes there are “bigger fish to fry,” and Lane questioned the implication that USC Village caused a rise in fake ID usage when it has been an ongoing problem for the University.

All three tickets emphasized the need for reform in the Engemann Student Health Center, which the candidates said currently lacks resources for students. The candidates also discussed issues of funding in reference to mental health resources and on-campus counselors.

Adler said he and Brandon promise to donate their combined stipends, which add up to $18,000 per year according to the USG bylaws, to a cause of undergraduate students’ choosing each month. Lane said she doesn’t have the same ability to donate the paychecks she depends on.

“Michaela and I understand that not everybody has the type of privilege to [donate their stipend],” Lane said. “If I didn’t get a scholarship, I wouldn’t be at USC … [Being a senator] is the only job I have right now. I’m taking 20 units, and my last paycheck still wasn’t even enough for my light bill.”

Voting for USG elections will take place online from Feb. 5 to 7.

A previous version of this article contained an error. The article stated Lindsay Mahin was a sophomore Tahsin. Tahsin is a junior. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.