Note: SGA Vice Presidential Candidate Natalie Yaeger is employed by The Cluster as the Lead Lifestyle & Opinion Writer. This does not contribute to or impact our coverage of her relating to the race.
As the SGA Presidential election approaches, the organization’s debate Wednesday allowed candidates to answer questions about their ideas and policies. The debate also let students submit questions to the candidates. Here are the highlights from the debate.
The debate format
The debate featured the candidates taking turns answering questions from the moderator, The Cluster’s Managing Editor Mary Helene Hall. The candidates were typically given three minutes to respond, with the opposing candidate answering afterwards. The candidate that went first was decided by a coin flip prior to the debate.
All candidates were able to answer questions within the time limit. Here are their answers to some of the more important questions and issues of the evening.
What are your campaign platforms?
Rylan Allen and Natalie Yaeger talked about their three main campaign platforms: diversity, mental health and communication and transparency. These three points for Allen and Yaeger led to discussions on having more diverse texts in the Mercer Integrative Studies and Great Books programs and helping students obtain better counseling from Counseling and Psychological Services.
The four platform ideas for Ashton Bearden and Caleb Mills are transparency, sustainability, accountability and health and wellness. The duo addressed the problems with Mercer’s lack of recycling as well as creating a way to spread awareness about mental, physical and sexual health by creating a committee to work with Mercer facilities and administration on those areas.
What is the job of an SGA officer?
Both campaigns answered this question swiftly and passionately, largely agreeing on the role of an SGA officer. Bearden and Mills emphasized the importance of communication and advocating for the student body. Allen and Yaeger reiterated this point in their own response.
“That is our job: to help all of you and to represent all of you,” Yaeger said. “We are only good if we work together (...) That’s the only way we are going to make a stronger Mercer and stronger community as a whole.”
Both campaigns aligned on this issue, stating that the job of SGA members is to represent the student body and fix issues within the university.
How will you communicate with administration? What if you disagree?
A key part of being an SGA president or vice president is addressing student needs and problems in discussions with the Mercer administration. In response to this question, Bearden and Mills made their dedication to persistence clear on the topic of discussion with administration.
“Something that’s very important is not just telling someone, ‘Oh, I want you to do that,’ but actually following up,” Mills said. “If they don’t really want to do something that we’re proposing, just asking, ‘Hey, do you have a solution,’ just wearing them down to make sure we’re getting some response and getting something done."
Allen and Yaeger leaned more towards addressing the communication part of the question, emphasizing keeping students informed. Allen mentioned the mural that was removed from Mercer Village last year as a clear example of administration not communicating with students, as many students did not know why it was removed. Allen says that acting as a link between students and administration will lead to better communication between the two.
“A lot of students didn’t know anything about (the mural), but the administration told us that it was a contracted mural and it was not supposed to stay,” Allen said. “But it would have been nice for students to know about that so they could have expressed their disliking for the removal of that. What we want to do is create clear communication channels between administration and ourselves to you so that way you feel that SGA actually represents you all.”
How do we know you aren’t running just to build your resume?
Both candidates acknowledged that the office might be a resume booster, but said that being president is not about the title.
“My intention for this position is not my resume. I was vice president last year,” Bearden said. “When I was thinking about running for this position, I didn’t want to do it this year (…) but I had already spent three years on SGA. I felt that I should use that experience to bring up new leaders and advocate for the students.”
Allen had a similar response, citing his status as class president for the prior two years and his use of that position to connect with students in the past.
“If you are sophomores in here, you’ve probably gotten dozens of emails from me, and I’m sorry, but hey, the reason why I’m doing that is to make sure you know what’s going on around campus and what’s going on with administration,” Allen said. “I also make sure that under my email signature is my phone number, and I use social media a lot.”
What can you do that your opponent cannot or is not willing to do?
This question gave the candidates an opportunity to explain why they are unique, and both campaign teams took advantage of that.Allen stressed the importance of his campaign team’s diversity, specifically citing his ability to connect with students of color and LGBTQIA+ students at Mercer.
“There's only been two Black SGA presidents on campus,” Allen said. “I believe that when students elect the president, they want to make sure that they elect the presidential and vice presidential candidate that they feel will be able to advocate for them, go through the same life experiences as they do so they understand what students want.”
Allen backed this point by highlighting his ability to represent those groups.
“Being a Black man, I'm also a gay man. I believe that students on this campus that come from the LGBTQ and minority community are able to resonate with the wider view of the person, which means that they think I can actually advocate for one as well,” Allen said.
Bearden and Mills emphasized their goal of representing everyone, particularly women, by creating a more diverse staff of SGA members.
“You look at us, and you see two men. And you wonder, where is the representation for women,” Bearden said. “That’s why we want to implement the executive board to the president and vice president to be predominantly women, as well as create a student cabinet that would have 24 different backgrounds around campus that would communicate directly with us.”
Bearden says that the diverse student cabinet would meet once a month and talk to the president and vice president directly before they meet with University President Bill Underwood and Dean of Students Doug Pearson.
After the debate, it is clear that both campaign teams place a large emphasis on the topics of mental health and diversity. The candidates also acknowledged the importance of communication and transparency, being sure to promise students that their concerns would be made clear to university administration.
As the March 29-30 election date draws near, students will decide which of these two campaign teams to vote for. Students can vote online through their MyMercer and CourseEval accounts.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.