Four candidates for president of the Georgetown University Student Association pitched themselves to voters Monday night in this year’s GUSA presidential debate, which focused on the question of GUSA’s shortcomings and its role on campus.
Logan Arkema (COL ’20), Hunter Estes (SFS ’19), Sahil Nair (SFS ’19) and Josh Sirois (SFS ’20) discussed policy issues including sexual assault on campus, mental health initiatives, inclusivity and affordability. The election is set for Thursday, Feb. 22.
The GUSA Election Commission organized the debate, which was hosted in the Healey Family Student Center. Representatives of campus media, including The Hoya, the Georgetown Voice and the Georgetown Heckler asked questions, along with Christopher Holshouser (MSB ’18), chair of the GUSA senate’s Financial and Appropriations Committee, and members of the audience.
Arkema, a satirical candidate who has campaigned as Batman and wore a Batman costume at the debate, began his opening speech with more comedy than policy. However, he later discussed his work as a member of the GUSA senate and his hopes for a GUSA that is less inwardly focused.
“As a GUSA senator, I have been fighting for this campus and for students, and I am proud of that track record,” Arkema said. “Anyone can succeed on campus, and real campus change can come when we focus on the issues and make them a little bit less about ourselves.”
Arkema’s running mate, Jonathan Compo (COL ’20) is a former cartoonist for The Hoya.
Throughout the debate, Estes, a former GUSA senator and head of Georgetown’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, promoted his campaign’s ambitious tuition and cost-cutting platform, which he said covers issues that unite all Georgetown students irrespective of their ideological differences.
“It’s too often that GUSA can be in this position where people decide to run for president to build up their resume, build up their egos,” Estes said. “We’re running because we legitimately love this community. I love Georgetown; I love being here.”
Nair, a director of outreach at Innovo Consulting who has not previously worked in GUSA, cast himself throughout the night as a “GUSA outsider” who could bring a new perspective to student government. He also emphasized a campaign theme he and his running mate Naba Rahman (SFS ’19) have pushed: a commitment to listen to a diverse array of student voices.
“My running mate and I are running together because we believe so deeply in this school, we are so grateful to be here,” Nair said. “But we also believe that this school can serve our students better if our student government goes and engages and connects with the student groups on campus, with communities that are not generally included or represented in student government.”
Between Arkema, Nair and Estes, the debate focused heavily on GUSA’s perceived shortcomings. Nair characterized GUSA as insular and unrepresentative of the student body, while Estes said GUSA leaders promise too much and are too self-serving.
Sirois, a two-term GUSA senator who served on FinApp, embraced his label as a “GUSA insider.” He said GUSA does good work and noted that his experience within student government has given him the tools to effect positive change, while acknowledging the association’s flaws.
“If you look at our platform, you’ll see a team of people who have done their homework and a team of people who care,” Sirois said. “I get a lot of flack for being a GUSA insider, but I am proud to be a GUSA insider. I recognize GUSA’s flaws but want to go forward and make positive change.”
Sirois opened his remarks by apologizing to “anyone who has been affected” by “any negative discourse that may have gone on over the course of this campaign.” The apology was the product of a pre-debate conversation with Nair, in which Nair raised objections to comments Sirois had made earlier in the campaign that Nair and Rahman viewed as insensitive.
Responding to a question about the most significant shortcoming of the current GUSA administration, Estes said past administrations have failed to advocate fiercely on lowering tuition.
“We have to be able to have this difficult conversation with the administration about tuition,” Estes said. “Year after year the administration will continue to take advantage of us if we do not have a student government that is willing to fight back and push back on these issues that the students care about.”
Student engagement is a continuous problem that every GUSA administration has yet to resolve adequately, according to Nair.
“Year in year out each GUSA administration comes in with the incredible challenge of engaging our campus around an institution that, frankly, the vast majority of Hoyas will not engage with during their time here,” Nair said. “That’s, I think, a challenge that Naba and I are really passionate about tackling.”
Sirois said that communication between GUSA and the student body was a weakness under the current administration of GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18).
“I would argue that it is valid that there could have been more community and collective student engagement from the GUSA executive administration,” Sirois said. “However, I think if you don’t have a very consistent and operating body as GUSA, we won’t have methods to reach out to other student organizations.”