With $519 charged to the nearly 15,000 Western students through annual tuition and allocated to the service and activities category, one of the recipients of this fee is the Associated Students administration. Each year, students have the opportunity to vote on representatives and can learn about these candidates through posters covering high traffic areas on campus, speaking with candidates in Red Square and the debates.
Thursday, April 25, the four students running for AS president participated in the 3rd Annual AS Presidential Debate. Speaking in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room, candidates Cody Brower, Carly Roberts, Patrick Stickney and Glen Tokola discussed six predetermined questions relating to higher education, improving relations between the AS and university administration, supporting the six different vice presidents while balancing their own duties, reaching out to non-traditional and graduate students, being inclusive to all student voices, and having one tangible outcome to achieve in the position. The audience was able to make inquiries at the conclusion of the prepared questions.
The presidential debate is “an opportunity for the community to come and get to know their candidates in a way that they may not be able to just by walking around campus and seeing posters,” Roberts said.
“I’ve been doing my preparation for this debate for the last three years because I don’t believe that you have to work extra hard to represent yourself or your ideas if you’re getting to this place of running for the AS President.”
Stickney explained, “When we’re just out in Red Square, you don’t have the ability to actually come up and talk about issues, and having a debate and having people directly asking you questions makes sure that those are really flushed out so the student body is able to know what each candidate is about.”
Organized by AS Elections Coordinator, Graham Marmion, roughly 50 audience members attended the debate and were treated to refreshments and snacks while the contenders stood before their podiums. Current AS President Ethan Glemaker and AS VP for Academic Affairs Victor Celis moderated the debate. Each candidate opened with a three-minute statement and had two minutes to respond to each question.
“I think this event is important for students because it’s a possibility and a great way for students to become more civically engaged on campus,” Brower said.
“Several friends of mine came to this room to support me tonight, but the second thing I told them was to be aware of the other candidates, what they are representing. It’s much more important to have a well-informed vote,” Tokola said.
Roberts started her statement by sharing that she has been working in the AS for the past three years and hopes to continue that service. She referred to herself as a “cooperative communicator and proactive problem solver.”
Following Roberts, Brower spoke about his two years of experience serving as a student leader within the resident hall institution on campus and believes it has given him the confidence in candidacy for the president position.
In Tokola’s opening, he described what he participates in: student senate, dance, Humans vs. Zombies, the International Affairs Association and Model U.N., and emphasized his level of involvement on campus as community service, not defined by a job description.
With Stickney’s introduction, he discussed his familiarity with Western and the AS by talking about being a committee member, club leader, work study student, regular student, KUGS disk jockey and VP of governmental affairs for the past year. He said that representation was a value of his and aims to ensure the student body voice is heard and represented.
Brower started the debate with the first topic regarding advocacy for higher education. “Education should be a universal right to anyone regardless of their background,” Brower stated. He touched on lobbying in Olympia, Wash. to prevent rising tuition. Because of Brower’s involvement with resident halls, he devised a plan to increase the number of students participating in the AS by hosting programs in the residential halls and giving on-campus residents awareness about their resources. Being part of the Resident Hall Association, Brower shared that he had contact with administration frequently and cherished the concept that better relationships can be created through stronger communication lines. In order to represent many student identities, Brower believes in listening to students and better reaching out to associations and clubs. He aims to increase sustainability around campus.
Tokola’s said a student mentality needs to change from students with regards to the administration when dealing with particular issues so that students can have improved experiences, especially since “higher education is student life; it’s how you conduct your business on and off campus for as long as you are paying tuition.” He wants to create closer ties with administration to prevent programs from being cut and wants to make issues on campus become a priority to students. Despite the fact that Tokola has not worked for the AS, he stated that he was the most qualified candidate for the position due to his ability to understand where students are coming from at different levels. His tangible goal is to have a visible board of directors, and rather than having an open-door policy, he hopes, to bring that door to the students.
Stickney said he already had experience advocating for higher education and student rights when he travels to Olympia and administration meetings. He believes “we as students can make a lot of change on campus. We need to understand our power behind our voices.” Stickney admits to good university relations with administration, but does believe that organizing a group of committed people can make a difference. He has reached out to nontraditional students to understand issues they have. He would like to get a signed commitment from the administration to divest completely from fossil fuel companies.
When Roberts had the opportunity to speak, she said, “Going down to Olympia is not in my job description as the VP for activities, but I pursue every opportunity I’ve had to go on lobby trips to legislative receptions with our lawmakers and advocate for higher education.” She went into her goals to increase student involvement, “Student rights are human rights and should be advocated for as such.” In addition, Roberts said she values the ability to strongly and frequently communicate and believes it can develop the strong connections necessary for improved relationships between students and administration. Roberts took a moment to share the importance of listening and efficiency with how student dollars are utilized. Her tangible outcomes as the president would be to watch the changes in the board of directors go into effect and to have higher quality AS events and programs.
Once candidates had completed answering the questions by the moderators, several members from the audience asked about topics such as an increase in tuition to international students, wanting to know how the AS has already reached out to clubs, understanding diversity and how to represent 15,000 students, making meetings more transparent and connecting Western to the Bellingham community.