Candidates pitch their case at MSSA debates

Students gathered Wednesday in the Heritage Lounge in the CSU for debates between the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for this year’s MSSA election scheduled for April 25.
What follows are highlights from the nearly two-hour-long event.

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Question from the gallery: “Former presidential candidate Aaron Eberhart wrote a letter to the editor in which he accused the Elections Commission of corruption. What were your roles on the Elections Commission?”

Abdul-Aziz (Mavericks Empowering Mavericks): “I played no role in the Elections Commission at all. I’m just a presidential candidate.”

Fred de Ruiter (Support Our Students): “I did play a role. I attended two meetings in which we went over the election rules and made some changes—those were presented to senate. I resigned from it because I felt biased against a particular candidate and I felt it was in the best interest, along with other people who provided me feedback, to resign. As you know, you don’t want bias in that. Ironically, the Thursday after I resigned the article came out with the allegations that there was corruption. So I resigned before any corruption was unsurfaced in that regard.”

Question from the gallery: “How will you promote diversity in your role as president?”

Fred de Ruiter: “I’m a supporter of Affirmative Action, that nobody gets overlooked, and that’s one of the key foundations of diversity, is that we all have our own differences but that should not make anybody more or less qualified for a certain thing. So really it’s about communication. When I was a senator my very first year here, there was talk about cutting the multicultural funds during the SAC presentation during the 81st Senate. I am a cis white male. It did not necessarily pertain to me, so what I did was I went out and there were people in our gallery who worked with CLASA and Latino Wellness and I asked them, what did they think about this? Why would they be against it? I made my decision, I made my vote based on what they wanted not necessarily because it didn’t pertain to me, it’s because it’s what they wanted.”

Abdul-Aziz: “I think in my role as MSSA president is to understand in life, no one’s the same, you’re not going to meet somebody who’s exactly the same as you. They make look the same as you, but they don’t have the same experiences as you. You’re all going to have different experiences, you’re all going to go through different things, and I think it really comes down to the part where I stated […] about communicating and sponsoring events with other cultural RSOs on campus, and we can promote those… But essentially, having more of those events on campus, sponsoring more of those event, and really, really working on outsourcing it to students that this is something they can come to.”

Question from the gallery: “I see that on the home page of the MSSA website, there was a mention about $22.6 million in student activity fees for 18 programs. I know the Student Allocations Committee spent a lot of time with hearing student senate spend hours deliberating that. So what happens, whoever wins, there’s still five weeks of the Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate—there’s a bill out there to destroy that concept of students getting involved with student activity fees. So what do you think about that House bill, and are you even going to be around this summer to help fight it?”

Abdul-Aziz: “Basically, what I understand about this bill is that it makes student fees optional. So Students United… they had delegates April—basically a while back they had a conference where there were more than one motion written about how we should take it… before the motion, prior to the conference, Students United didn’t take a stance on a bill that effectively threatened to defund them. But through these motions, basically they now passed and they are now taking a stance that this motion of course…it is making student fees optional, that they can opt out of them. It is making Students United, the student government obsolete. What I think about the bill, to me I just don’t understand, because essentially we use student fees to essentially power the resources on campus for these students to use. So, if the student did feel the need to opt out of them we wouldn’t have the adequate resources or funding to keep up with the necessary things we use, such as the CSU, the bussing system, the weight room. To me, it was just confusing…”

Fred de Ruiter: “So, I did my homework on this one… Now, from what I’ve heard, this bill is dead in committee. That this bill will not even be coming back to the floor. Now, I heard that from various contacts at the University of Minnesota who testified on behalf of that…it could come back, in which case I think we need to go advocate for it. We do have a lobbying organization in Students United, but I don’t think Students United can necessarily advocate for everything that Mankato wants or desires. It’s about taking it to our senators, and if this becomes an issue, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be calling Jack Considine and saying ‘as students, we do not support this,’ and making sure that our voices are heard in the legislature.”

Question from the gallery (President Rayani): “As president of Mankato State University, you will basically be serving on a board of directors for the statewide student government. So what are some initiatives that you plan to take on statewide and how do you feel about the appropriation model in the MnSCU system?”

Fred de Ruiter: “I am very skeptical about this directorship position; I have been ever since the controversy of two years back about the Minnesota Higher Education Illuminati. And it’s skepticism which I still hold about the organization and its intent. However, I think this is a very healthy skepticism that I am always mindful about what is going on with the organization. With specific initiatives, I was able to attend the meeting previously in April, and I got some motions, such as providing free hygiene products across all campuses, making sure it’s a more holistic and family environment for all students. And also trying to see what we can do to protect our students so ICE doesn’t take them away… To prepare myself for that position, I’ve actually read every piece of legislation that was going in the House as of April, and state Senate, in order to prepare myself and actually have a list of certain bills and such that we should support. I think that we’re here for Mankato first before the other schools and I think we should voice that we want specific things that may not benefit the other schools. Try to promote that ‘all for one and one for all’ kind of vibe so that we can support our own individualistic institutions and also supporting Minnesota as a whole.”

Abdul-Aziz: “I’m actually very optimistic about the next group of Students United. I think essentially when you have that many students getting together and collaborating on what they can do to advocate for seven campuses across the state of Minnesota, I think that’s great. I think we need to see more advocacy with that. That’s great. But overall, I think the collaboration is, the fact that we all get together and we do have all these different universities that do need different things but we can collaborate on it because if MSU has this and specifically needs this, in the motion that we’re writing, it may not pertain to Winona, but they go, ‘hey, it would also be great if you add this in.’ We didn’t think of that before. Collaboration will make the overall plan better. So I’m very optimistic in the way that Students United is headed and if I do get elected and I am on the Board of Directors I’ll be very happy, because once we get there, we can start talking about issues that maybe aren’t as prevalent on our campus but are very prevalent on other campuses. And we can… possibly address those and fix it. … As for specific things you want to work on, we also talk about accessibility resources… and I think that’s a huge one across campuses… so it’s taking that issue to a state level and specifically addressing the individual things that they need to happen on each campus.”

VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Question from the gallery: “What specific initiatives and projects would you undertake as Vice President to make MNSU more transparent and accessible to everyone?”

Kayla Cremers: “Transparency is very important to our students—a lot of the students don’t know what MSSA is and that needs to change. Things that I would like to do is improve communications and introduce Town Hall Tuesdays which Abdul had previously talked about, which is we would come down to the Hearth Lounge for a couple hours and make sure that we are available to our fellow students and make sure that we are hearing their concerns and how we can address them in the senate meetings and then invite them to the senate meetings and make sure that we are representing them efficiently.”

Jeremiah Kirch: “If I were elected as Vice President, I would be serving as the voice of students and not my own personal views—whereas I cannot make decisions right now on behalf of them because that would not be fulfilling my duties as Vice President of MSSA.”

“How are we going to engage the domestic student population? What is your party going to do to engage the domestic student population?”

Kayla Cremers: “I think international students, because I have a work study in graduate admissions and I know that what they have to submit is far more than what a domestic student would have to submit—as documentation and achievements and so forth. The point that I was just trying to get at is we hold them to a higher standard. We expect so much from them and if we do the same thing then for our domestic students, we raise the standard for them, and maybe that in turn will get more involvement and more engagement and more opinions and so forth.”

Jeremiah Kirch: “I actually do realize the issue with domestic students not sharing their opinions, I personally am one of those and they make up this campus. For some reason, they just don’t give their voice in as much as they should. And a part of our party is finding out how we can reach those students that aren’t as loud as any of the other students… that’s part of what our party is trying to do, is trying to figure out, even if they’re not trying to talk.”

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