Three of the four presidential candidates for the Georgetown University Student Association executive office found common ground on the need to make Georgetown more affordable at last night’s debate.
Kamar Mack (COL ’19), John Matthews (COL ’18) and Garet Williams (COL ’18) participated in Monday evening’s debate, organized by the GUSA Election Commission. Candidate Jenny Franke (COL ’18) did not attend the debate.
Each of the three candidates offered varying solutions on reducing the cost of attendance. Williams suggested the university should incorporate greater student input within the budgeting process through a task force, while Mack pushed for the university to be more frugal when reevaluating its annual budget allocation. Matthews said he believes the university should hold professors accountable in ensuring that required textbooks are reasonably priced.
The candidates also proposed changes to make the structure of GUSA more representative of the student body. In addition, the candidates pledged to advocate for improvements to student health on campus.
The Healey Family Student Center, where the debate took place, packed an audience of 75 students, including many members of the tickets’ campaign staff. Energy in the room picked up during the question-and-answer session an hour-and-a-half into the debate, when GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) noted that several of the candidates’ proposals are already being worked on by GUSA.
In the span of three minutes, Khan listed a series of policies GUSA is already working on, including the introduction of a racial climate survey next Fall and expanded hours at the Student Health Center. Khan also said the Matthews platform promise to abolish the three-year housing requirement is not possible with the 2017-2036 campus plan, which mandates a 90 percent on-campus housing requirement for the university.
“What is one of your policy changes that is not already been worked on, is not already being worked on or is not impossible?” Khan asked.
The question prompted a fiery exchange between Khan and the candidates. Matthews claimed that Khan’s question was targeted against his platform, and criticized the success of GUSA’s efforts in the past year.
“I mean we can talk all day long until we’re blue in the face that GUSA is working on the issues for the people, GUSA is defending, GUSA’s doing this, GUSA’s doing that, but at the end of the day, what action has actually been happening?” Matthews asked.
In their responses to the question, Williams proposed the creation of a “hub” dedicated to developing innovation around college affordability, while Mack said he would emphasize targeted reforms to student health.
The debate also saw the first official cross-endorsement of the campaign, with Mack and running mate Jessica Andino (COL ’18) cross-endorsing with Matthews and Nick Matz (COL ’18).
In his opening statement, Matthews said his campaign is aiming to solve the frustrations of students toward GUSA.
“Matthews and Matz represents this frustration with Georgetown student government,” Matthews said. “We are committed do everything in our power to change GUSA and advocate what the average Georgetown student wants.”
According to Williams, who is running with Habon Ali (COL ’18), GUSA must look to develop opportunities for student engagement with the administration to create change.
“In a rare moment, GUSA actually did what it was supposed to do, which was connect the student who cared about an issue personally to administrators who could actually do something about it,” Williams said with regard to his becoming involved with dining issues his freshmen year.
Mack said his campaign’s main priority is making Georgetown more affordable.
The trio also offered competing visions for the future of GUSA. Williams said the executive policy teams — first established by Khan and GUSA Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17) to develop policy for individual issue areas — must be adapted to better serve individual student groups.
“What we’re looking to do is make sure that really when we’re saying GUSA’s inclusive at this policy team, with whatever they look like, depending on the structure,” Williams said.
The Mack-Andino campaign is proposing policy coalitions to join different student groups and GUSA together in advocacy.
“That means it’s not cookie cutter. That means we want to approach organizations like Startup Hoyas and say ‘What does GUSA need to do in respect to entrepreneurship?’” Mack said.
The greatest point of difference over how best to restructure GUSA came in discussion of the senate. This Friday, the Election Commission is set to release the results of the Dec. 1 referendum on replacing the senate with an assembly focused on making decisions for club funding, which have been declared invalid by the Constitutional Council.
Williams said the current senate is no longer serving a purposeful role.
“Within the senate, it shifts more and more towards the club funding process. The role of the senate has become more and more redundant with the policy teams,” Williams said.
Mack said he wants to further consult students before introducing another reform plan for the senate, but that he wants to further involve clubs in the funding process.
“We want to bring in more insight, and we want to bring in more understanding, into that allocation process,” Mack said. “But that doesn’t mean you have to completely abolish the senate, it doesn’t mean you have to completely revamp the way things are done.”
According to Matthews, the current club funding process, where club boards submit proposals to the Financial and Appropriations Committee of the senate to receive funding for their member clubs, is representative of a lack of transparency in GUSA today.
“Is that the transparency that we want in GUSA? That we just let these boards decide for themselves whatever money they have? You can talk about transparency but at the end of the day you have to have some type of plan,” Matthews said.
On the topic of improving student health and wellness, Mack said he wants the university to allocate resources to serve students in the Student Health Center more efficiently.
“We want to use data mining in order to makes sure that the student health center is staffed efficiently,” Mack said. “We are advocating that the university to use data in order to track who is coming into the student health center, what illnesses are they bringing and where they are living on campus, and using that to understand who needs to be on the staff and at what time.”
Matthews proposed introducing a new health insurance program in conjunction with other universities to provide better health care options for students.
“It would include working with large universities across the United States to form a collective ultra-low risk pool. Then negotiating a single contract with insurance companies using that ultra-low risk pool to get out-of-pocket payments even lower than they are today,” Matthews said. “With this you will be able to improve sexual health services, psychological services. Since we would be with public, large universities, contraceptives would be included in this plan.”
Mack said he and Andino will look to work with the Sexual Misconduct Task Force, set up by University President John J. DeGioia in July to help address sexual misconduct at Georgetown.
“We will work hand in hand with the sexual assault task force to make sure that the university listens to them, to make sure that the Title IX office responds to them in a timely manner when issues are upsetting because we want to streamline the entire investigation process,” Mack said.
Williams said he would look to increase participation in bystander intervention training by making it a part of the What’s a Hoya program for freshmen to receive housing points. He also said he would look to increase the availability of resources for survivors of sexual assault.
Matthews said he wants to require all incoming freshmen to receive bystander intervention training, as part of a series of actions to address sexual assault on campus.
“We want to increase the university and the officials with the police so we can put rapists or those who commit sexual assault to real jails and get them out of here so they can get the punishment they deserve,” Matthews said.
Candidates ended the debate with two-and-a-half minute closing statements to wrap up the hour-and-a-half-long event. Election day is Thursday, Feb. 23.
Hoya Staff Writers Joe Egler and Yasmine Salam contributed reporting.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Matthews suggested the university should subsidize textbooks. The Matthews-Matz campaign advocates for accountability in assigning required textbooks.