Candidates face off in Student Assembly Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates

The Student Assembly presidential and executive vice-presidential candidates sat in Weill Hall on Wednesday evening, joined by seven viewers, awaiting when they would be called to the stage for the official spring 2022 presidential debates. HER.

In the debates, moderated by Cornell Speech and Debate Society President Ben Feldman and CUSDS Vice President of Intern Carson Taylor, cIn the debates, moderated by Cornell Speech and Debate Society President Ben Feldman and CUSDS Vice President of Internal Carson Taylor, the nominees shared with the Cornell student body — which was primarily in attendance via Zoom — why they were the strongest candidate to represent the voice of the Cornell community.

There were two candidates per position: Duncan Cady ’23 and Valeria Valencia ’23 for president and Amari Lampert ’24 and Benjamin Luckow ’24 for executive vice president.

Many issues were at stake for all four candidates, as students had long been frustrated with the Assembly’s apparent lack of ability to effectively implement change.

Executive Vice Presidential Debate

Luckow started the 30-minute debate by saying that even though he has only been a member of the SA since November, the six months have been enough to see that there is a need for new logistics.

Luckow said the Assembly’s overriding flaw is that the organization can only really offer suggestions to the Cornell administration, rendering it powerless. He concluded his opening address by advocating a better campaign to pressure the Assembly on the University to achieve student goals.

Lampert, a two-year Assembly member and currently liaison for women’s issues, focused on physical and mental health, listing the policies she would support as the Assembly’s executive vice president.

Lampert highlighted Cornell Health’s understaffing and advocated for fundraising that would support off-campus therapists and dietitians, stressed the importance of equal access to mental health support regardless of status financial and emphasized the need for university-provided menstrual products throughout the debate. .

When the candidates were asked about their qualifications and strengths as a potential executive vice president, Lampert highlighted his two years of Assembly experience.

“… [I have] served as chair of the student assembly infrastructure fund committee for a few years,” Lampert said, noting how she worked with professors to fund the design of environmental sustainability projects, including a rain garden.

Luckow, with just six months on the SA, responded by saying he had plenty of experience outside of the Assembly that would qualify him for the position of executive vice president.

“I’ve worked in project teams, engineering labs… I’m currently working on two campaigns externally, and I know how to work with [people]”, said Luckow. “It’s what I bought since high school and all my life.

Throughout the debate, Luckow repeatedly mentioned the shortcomings of the Assembly, citing the disjointed nature of committees in recent years, and said he would unite the Student Assembly to achieve the goals as executive vice president.

Luckow explicitly pointed to SA’s success with the natatorium, where the Assembly—combined with the unwavering support of the student body—was able to secure enough funding to keep the pool used by the Cornell Water Polo team. Future efforts should follow a similar student-led movement, Luckow said.

Lampert also agreed with his opponent that community organization was key to AS’ future success.

During the debate, Lampert said committees should be held more accountable for whether they meet, as well as whether they have substantive conversations, saying this would improve transparency between committees.

Although the two candidates had different campaign goals, they were not actively at odds on key issues, which Luckow noted.

Presidential debate

Valencia, like Lampert, has also been part of SA for two years. Currently, she is the First Generation Student Representative, Chair of the Academic Policy Committee, and Vice President of Finance.

In its opening statement, Valencia divided its platform into six main principles: transparency, health, accessibility, sustainability, advocacy and diversity.

In his opening statement, Cady said he came to the SA to advocate for students with disabilities who were not adequately supported by the Cornell administration.

Cady was quick to distance herself from her opponent.

“I’m not running on a long list of principles…I’m running on honesty. I don’t think the Student Assembly has [a] place to really have all the impacts that we…wish we could,” Cady said.

Cady said contestants have made deceptive promises in the past — such as free gym memberships — that the school administration has repeatedly denied. Valencia is campaigning for the elimination of gym memberships, alongside increasing the sustainability of dining halls and the number of gender-neutral restrooms.

Valencia spoke about her qualifications as vice-president of finance to indicate her presidential ability. In this role, she claimed to have worked with 30 campus organizations.

In an apparent response to Cady’s reference to free gyms, Valencia explained that it would be difficult to promise to achieve so many goals in a year, but what she could promise was that she would try.

Cady disputed Valencia’s claims that she had worked with 30 different campus organizations during her tenure as vice president, as she took the role in the middle of the fall 2021 semester.

Cady also challenged Valencia on her initial voting record for funding mental health organizations, such as Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service and Cornell Minds Matters. Notably, Valencia later changed their vote and worked with Cady to ensure EARS would receive proper funding.

Valencia explained that she was just the chair of the committee that decided to take down Minds Matter and she didn’t vote in that decision.

The candidates each gave several examples of concrete policies they hoped to put in place. Valencia said it will work with the financial aid office to reduce the student contribution fee, a fixed fee charged to undergraduate students that cannot be significantly changed by financial aid.

“For some students, it’s nothing. For others… it’s a lot of money,” Valencia said.

Cady said the biggest issue facing Cornellians is mental health. He gave examples of how he had previously worked to help maintain the pillars of mental health support during his time in the Assembly, including leading the coalition to stop EARS being funded by the committee of credits.

Prompted by moderators, both candidates also admitted to the SA’s perceived crisis of legitimacy, exemplified by the mostly empty room in which the debate took place.

Valencia also noted how in past elections many seats had been vacant for so long that elections had to be extended to fill them. Valencia said a lot of people don’t know what SA is. She said the solution is more partnerships.

“We should try to reach the committees, the clubs, the students [and] departments and collaborate more with them,” said Valencia.

When asked what the relationship between the Assembly and the Cornell administration would look like, the candidates did not shy away from the challenges that come with such negotiations.

“I’m not going to take a no for an answer about things that students care about,” Cady said.

However, Cady said he’s had some tough conversations to get students to express their desires, such as extending the Veterans Day vacation to students.

Valencia echoed her response, citing her meetings with Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and President Martha Pollack and said she found the administration difficult to approach and often unwilling to listen. , as Cady silently nodded in agreement.

The student assembly election will take place on April 26 and 28. All students can find additional information about the election on the Student Assembly website.

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