Mercer’s Student Government Association held its 2021 Presidential Debate in the Connell Student Center Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The event featured discussions between presidential candidates Rylan Allen and Ashton Bearden and vice presidential candidates Natalie Yeager and Caleb Mills.
Bearden, current SGA vice president, is running with SGA Senator Caleb Mills, while Sophomore Class President Rylan Allen is running alongside SGA Senator-at-Large Natalie Yaeger.
The Allen and Bearden campaign teams were each asked questions about their campaign platforms, how they aim to help represent the student body to Mercer’s administration and the role of SGA officers. Both candidates said they were satisfied following the debate.
“We were able to get all the platform ideas out there and express them,” Bearden said. “It was a little tough for me personally, because you’re in a room full of people and really pouring your heart out, trying to express themselves and present what you’re about. Overall, I loved it. It was a great experience.”
Allen said he agreed with Bearden on the success of the debate and also expressed gratitude for the student turnout.
“I think the debate went really well. We saw a big turnout of students. Students were actually coming out and trying to understand what all the candidates were running for,” Allen said. “There were not too many to prevent social distancing, and it gave us an audience to directly talk to about our platforms.”
According to SGA President Savannah Lackey, about 75 people total — both in-person and over Zoom — were in attendance.
The debate was moderated by The Cluster’s Managing Editor Mary Helene Hall and consisted of two sections of questions. During the first phase of debate, Hall asked both candidates questions that they were to answer in the given time frame. Candidates were typically given three minutes to respond to questions.
The second phase of the debate featured Hall asking questions submitted by students prior to the debate. These questions ranged from inquiries about Mercer’s campus safety to the university’s ongoing fire alarm and wifi problems.
Both candidates said they appreciated the student body’s questions.
“I think they were all important questions that needed to be asked — students really do care about what goes on around campus, and they really do want to know who they’re voting for,” Allen said. “They were vetted really well and allowed us to fairly and accurately respond.”
Bearden said he agreed with Allen on the importance of the student questions.
“I think the questions were fully fleshed out and they allowed us to express our viewpoints,” Bearden said. “It allowed us to correctly communicate between everybody. I’m glad people came and were able to hear us.”
The debate began at 7 p.m. and lasted until around 8 p.m., and featured in-person attendance in the Connell Student Center as well as the option for students to attend via Zoom call. The debate also marked the first SGA Presidential debate since 2018, according to the organization.
The SGA Presidential Elections will be held Mar. 29 and Mar. 30. Students can vote online or in person at the Connell Student Center.
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.