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SGA presidential candidates make their case in digital debate

Candidates for SGA's top offices answer questions over WebEx from moderators Vice President Lyndi Rose and parliamentarian Kyle Walker during SGA's digital debate Monday, March 23.

Candidates for the highest offices of Central Michigan University’s Student Government Association took to videoconferencing service WebEx to make their case in a digital debate Monday, March 23.

For an audience of nearly 90 people, including CMU President Bob Davies, three presidential and vice-presidential tickets fielded questions from SGA Vice President Lyndi Rose and parliamentarian Kyle Walker in lieu of what would have been an in-person debate in the Bovee University Center auditorium.

Despite campus being closed to normal student activity for the rest of the semester due to the coronavirus pandemic, SGA is still tasked with electing new leadership for the 2020-21 academic year. Candidates have relied on social media to connect with the student body ahead of a five-day voting period beginning Monday, March 30 on Engage Central.

Press Secretary Kaitlyn Prebelich and Membership Director Brett Houle, running for president and vice president, pointed to their track record as proof of their commitment to improving student life. 

“Brett and I aren’t running because we want to have a good resume builder or because we want to use this as a stepping stone to something else,” Prebelich said. “What sets us apart is we’re passionate and determined, and we’ve already been doing the work to make our university better, and we’ll continue to do so when elected for next year.”

Houle said he would continue Rose’s Menstrual Hygiene Product Initiative, which places free tampons and menstrual pads in several campus bathrooms. Prebelich advocated for a town hall meeting on campus parking.

Senator and presidential candidate Brandon McDonald and his running mate, Senate Leader Josh Moody, designed their platform around connecting areas of campus, such as athletics and Greek Life, to SGA that otherwise don’t have much representation.

“Recognizing that we are the experts in all of our own lived experiences is tremendously important, and to be able to build others up and let them advocate for themselves is a huge part of (our) ticket,” Moody said. He added that he seeks to lift up “unique, marginalized or unheard voices at CMU.”

McDonald returned multiple times to the idea that many SGA representatives are primarily there to receive funding for their registered student organizations through the Student Budget Allocation Committee. An RSO must have a representative in SGA’s House to receive funding from the committee for trips and events. McDonald said he’d like to see students come to SGA to promote the needs of students rather than their own organizations.

Turning Point USA chapter president and presidential candidate Lauryn Gibas, alongside her running mate, Freeland freshman and Leadership Institute member Lauren Hendersen, frequently returned to a proposed mobile app targeted at CMU students. 

Such an app would show students their remaining meal swipes, Flex dollar balance, a campus map and other information. Updates concerning coronavirus could be displayed in the app as well. According to Gibas and Hendersen, CMU is one of the only colleges in Michigan without an app.

The disabled community is also central to Gibas and Hendersen’s campaign. The campaign supports adding American Sign Language classes to the University Program requirements and updating campus accessibility features.

“My sister has cerebral palsy, so she’s confined to a wheelchair,” Gibas said. “What I noticed going around campus is how difficult it would be for her to get to certain classes and get in certain buildings.”

The debate was originally supposed to be held in one location on campus and broadcast over Facebook Live, but recent developments in the expanding coronavirus restrictions forced them to switch to WebEx instead for more of a conference call format. 

Only Prebelich, Houle and Ogungboye were together in a single location. Rose streamed the WebEx conversation to Facebook Live to make the debate more accessible by pointing her phone at her laptop screen.

Nevertheless, Rose was “pleasantly surprised” with how the debate went.

“I feel that the debate went well under the circumstances,” Rose said. “Obviously the Facebook Live version did not have the same quality… We just did not have the time or resources."

An archive of the Facebook Live stream is available on SGA's Facebook page.

Next week, SGA will electronically vote on a resolution to extend the hours of several campus buildings, including the Bovee University Center and Student Activity Center, and another to support students' right to freely join registered student organizations. These two resolutions are the last that will be introduced to or voted on by SGA this academic year.