At the first debate of this year’s Georgetown University Student Association election season, three of the vice presidential candidates discussed the need to create a more diverse and inclusive GUSA while increasing affordability for students.
Habon Ali (SFS ’18), Jessica Andino (COL ’18) and Nick Matz (COL ’18) participated in Wednesday evening’s debate, which was organized by the GUSA Election Commission. Vice-presidential candidate Jack McGuire (COL ’18), whose ticket entered the race Saturday, did not attend the debate.
The debate featured questions from campus media, including The Hoya, The Georgetown Voice and The Georgetown Heckler, as well as the GUSA senate’s Financial and Appropriations Committee and the audience.
Each candidate introduced their core platform in their opening statement.
Ali and Garet Williams’ (COL ’18) are running on a platform focused on building a more inclusive and transparent GUSA and increasing access to resources, while Andino and Kamar Mack’s (COL ’19) campaign focuses on entrepreneurship, affordability and health and wellness.
Matz and John Matthews (COL ’18) have a 10-point platform focusing on reducing the cost of attending Georgetown.
In her opening statement, Ali said that her and Williams’ ticket is looking to ensure GUSA is engaged with students from different populations, rather than just appearing diverse.
“Georgetown is really good at providing inclusivity for inclusivity’s sake, for the sake of tokenization, for the sake for checking off that box, that I have a Muslim girl, I have a black girl, I have someone from the Latinx community in a specific organization. Therefore, I have engaged with the community,” Ali said. “We are looking to more engagement, and under each pillar, we’re looking for not just aspects of resources.”
Andino said she and Mack hope to leverage GUSA’s resources to support underrepresented populations on campus.
“The central role that GUSA plays is to connect students and student organizations to administrators because GUSA has those connections,” Andino said. “In doing that, we want to bring in people from all different perspectives to fairly represent Georgetown and provide opportunities for students to grow and advocate for an issue that they are really passionate about.”
Matz said he and running mate Matthews are looking to make GUSA more effective by reducing costs for students.
“For years now, GUSA has promised to advocate, and we will continue to advocate. But advocating is not enough. We will bring something that GUSA has never seen before, and we will bring change,” Matz said. “As GUSA outsiders, John and I will have the chance to see what many GUSA representatives have not been able to see before.”
According to Andino, the best way to support students is through “policy coalitions,” where GUSA coordinates with other student groups to advocate with the administration.
The candidates then clarified their proposed budgets for GUSA, after the Election Commission released the budgets Tuesday evening.
The Williams-Ali ticket proposed cutting funding for the online peer support service Project Lighthouse and voter outreach service GU Votes, which operates under the Institute of Politics and Public Service. According to Ali, her ticket proposed to cut funding for Project Lighthouse because the Student Activities Commission already funds Project Lighthouse.
“GUSA should not be funding an organization that is already funded by SAC,” Ali said.
Andino, who works with GU Votes, raised concerns about the potential effects of cutting fund for the group.
“I am involved in GU Politics and GU Votes is under us. It’s an initiative that was in collaboration with GUSA. I am surprised that it is not going to be funded because there are plans to continue working and make voters sign up to vote,” Andino said.
According to Ali, GU Votes will be able to access funds in the GUSA Fund, which would see an increased budget from $15,000 to $25,000 under their administration.
“GU votes can look to the fact that we increased funding for GUSA fund as well so there is resources for them there so they can get the funding that they need within GUSA,” Ali said.
Matz said GUSA has failed to be inclusive of different populations on campus.
“I think GUSA serves a great purpose and on paper it’s very representative of Georgetown, but I know for a fact a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking with a GUSA representative,” Matz said.
According to Matz, decreasing the size of GUSA would help make GUSA more efficient and more affective at serving the student body.
“I think it is wrong to assume that just because you are decreasing the size of an organization that you are somehow cutting down diversity. It’s possible to represent everyone on campus with a smaller GUSA,” Matz said. “Not only do I think it’s possible but I think it would benefit the impact GUSA has on its students.”
Ali said a smaller GUSA would limit GUSA’s ability to be inclusive.
“I don’t think that a small GUSA is going to be effective and it’s not going to be inclusive,” Ali said. “It’s just going to feed into what GUSA was in the past, which is elitist and exclusionary. By opening up to different voices to be heard it’s important and then at the same time I do agree that there needs to be efficiency within that advocation of voices.”
According to Andino, it is the work of individual members of GUSA that matters most.
“I think the way you work most efficiently is if you have students who care about the issue because the issue is not what the size should be of GUSA but should be which individuals can you identify that will work for those issues and give it their all,” Andino said.
All three candidates discussed the need to expand mental health resources for students returning from a medical leave of absence.
According to Matz, Counseling and Psychiatric Services can expand its staff while remaining cost effective.
“Just looking at the current staff that is there, there’s a dozen clinical psychologists and psychiatrists and there’s only one licensed clinical social worker and one licensed independent clinical social worker,” Matz said. “What that means is that those two social workers provide a very comparable level of treatment to the psychologists and psychiatrists at a fraction of the cost.”
Andino said Georgetown must introduce cultural competency training for all health staff, to ensure that students from underrepresented populations can feel comfortable returning from medical leaves of absence.
“If you come back to the university and staff aren’t there to address your needs or they don’t understand you, you’re not going to integrate back to the Georgetown community,” Andino said.
The Williams-Ali platform is centered on ensuring that students can avoid having to take a MLOA in the first place, according to Ali.
Pro-abortion rights group H*yas for Choice asked a Facebook Live question for the candidates on whether they would support Students of Georgetown, Inc. if it were to seek to sell contraception on campus.
Matz said he would support the initiative if students indicated their support.
“It’s really not GUSA’s job to take a side on these things, but if it’s what the students wanted and the Corp saw it as a good opportunity I’d definitely be behind them,” Matz said.
Ali said GUSA must ensure students have access to contraception on campus.
“I think at the end of the day we have to focus as the way between having the creation of income and also the creation of safety on this campus,” Ali said. “Our emphasis is on the ability of students to have access to contraception and condoms on this campus, but at the end of the day it has to be again, I’m in support of H*yas for Choice, and allowing them to distribute free condoms to the student body.”
Andino said she and Mack would be open to the idea.
Ali said Georgetown must ensure students remain involved in the campus master planning process. The university, neighbors and GUSA reached an agreement in September on a new 20-year campus plan, which enables the university to develop new residence halls and student spaces.
“The role of GUSA is to actually get the student body to be engaged with the new campus plan. Our job is to involve students in discussions about sustainability and the creation of new academic buildings and dorms that are going to be built,” Ali said.
Andino suggested further integrating with the greater Georgetown community through GUSA-sponsored events.
“I think it’s really important for Georgetown students to be engaged with the neighborhood and maintaining a good relationship with the people who live blocks away from us,” Andino said. “We want to engage in conversation with them and if a way to do that would be a service where both students and neighbors clean up or organize events where we could learn neighbors I think that would help relations.”
Matz cited fiscally rational ideas to resolve the current tension between administrators and neighbors. The Matthews-Matz ticket has suggested ending the 3-year on-campus housing requirement, a commitment that was retained in the recent campus plan.
“I think what I would bring to the table when negotiating anything like a campus plan is fiscally rational ideas. I think the administrators or neighbors could be very receptive with ideas that can be obtained fiscally,” Matz said. “If we get to a place where we can propose an idea and act on it immediately, I think Georgetown students would be more willing to give their input.”
About 75 students attended the debate. Candidates ended the debate with two-and-a-half minute closing statements to wrap up the hour-and-a-half-long event.
The presidential debate will take place in the Healy Family Student Center at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Election day is Thursday, Feb. 23.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.