ASG’s election season heated up on Monday evening with the presidential and vice-presidential debates in Swift Hall. Before vice-presidential candidates Ronak Patel and Erik Zorn squared off, Weinberg juniors Julia Watson and Alex Deitchman took the stage.
In their opening remarks, the presidential candidates introduced ideas that would be built on throughout the debate. Going first, Watson highlighted the vibrancy of extracurricular life and student body.
“I really found that within student groups I’ve built real connections, real friendships with people," she said. "It’s really nice to go to a group meeting and also have it be really fun. For me, it’s just real exciting to see people on campus with all sorts of different perspectives than mine.”
In his opening, Deitchman criticized the decrease in campus-wide elections, presenting the campaign as a choice between the status quo and increased transparency.
Previously, the Academic and Student Life vice presidents were elected by all undergraduates, but are now appointed by the incoming president.
“If you feel like ASG is on the right track, then there is a ticket for you that’s been endorsed by pretty much the entire sitting executive board,” Deitchman said. “If you feel like ASG should be giving power back to the students, then that’s why me [sic] and Ronak are running.”
Moderator Mark Silberg’s opening questions centered on reforming the structure of ASG Senate. While both Watson and Deitchman acknowledged the need for reform, they differed on how to achieve change.
“The only feasible solution and the only solution that is appropriate for the whole of Northwestern is to hold a referendum once we get four or five solid ideas,” Deitchman said. “Put them to a referendum and let students decide how they want to be represented. Ideally, I feel like most students would want to vote for more positions and not fewer.”
Watson argued that reform can be achieved from within Senate, but that Senators’ self-interest is preventing meaningful change.
“One of the ideas that we had for past Senator reform is not for it to become in effect this year but next year,” she said. “That way it wouldn’t be voting to remove your position potentially, it would be for next year.”
When asked about ways to change alcohol culture and policy on campus, Deitchman drew upon his military service. The Marine Corps veteran said as bad as alcohol culture is on campus, it is even worse in the military.
“You want to start with a place that has a toxic alcohol culture, you can’t find anywhere better than the military,” he said. “When we got back from Iraq, there were at least two or three marines who lost their lives, in the United States … because of a night of drinking that went horribly wrong.”
Watson argued for resuscitating Fitzerland as well as Wildcat Watch, an idea for student-led risk management for off-campus parties that was never implemented.
While debating campus transportation and food, the candidates went back-and-forth over how to effectively work with members of the administration. Deitchman stressed that his age could be a benefit in administrative meetings.
“I’m an older guy. I don’t look like an undergrad,” he said. “That has been a liability for me in a lot of ways, particularly on this campaign, but this is one area in which I feel it’s an advantage….They don’t immediately see an undergrad, they see someone who is older and who can talk to them.”
In response, Watson said that maturity can overcome age gaps with the administration.
“It’s how you present yourself, how you carry yourself,” she said. “Are you willing to listen to others? Are you willing to respect others? Are you willing, at the end of the day, to get stuff done?”
Preceding the Watson-Deitchman debate, Weinberg juniors Zorn and Patel established a foundation for their ticket's respective messages. In particular, the vice presidential candidates emphasized their involvement on campus.
Zorn, president of the Residential College Board, highlighted his experiences with the residential college system. “It’s been my goal to make sure that the residential college system still feels inclusive while keeping them engaged,” he said. “I’ve been trying to improve that residential college system to make ensure that you do feel included at Northwestern.”
Patel discussed how his work as a senator in ASG helps him maintain perspective in student government. “My experience as a senator over the past year has given me a good look at how the senate looks. We’d like to give the senate more power to do things,” he said.
Patel and Deitchman’s campaign has focused on how to unify the campus.
“It’s not the vision of us individually, but the vision of the student body that matters,” Patel said. “We feel that many individuals have their own vision, and we want to bring it together.”
Likewise, Zorn and Watson want to ensure ASG reflects the diversity of the student body.
“I truly value diversity among the people that I’ve encountered,” Zorn said. “I only come from a limited perspective, and it’s important to get as broad a view as possible.”
The two candidates discussed the distinctions in their platforms.
Patel explained the campaign's focus on transparency in government. “We want to create a more transparent, easy to access system,” he said. “ASG has a lot of great resources that students need, but [they] don’t get to everyone in the student body.”
Zorn also discussed the need to acquire student input into the performance of ASG. “We want to make sure that ASG effectively represents other organizations,” he said. Patel explained his philosophy on government, discussing the necessity of matching student leaders with important groups.
“My leadership style is based on team-building,” Patel said. “I like to find where individuals who otherwise would be working separately can work together to achieve even more.”
This collaborative effort would include more of a focus on the elected student leaders within ASG and areas of campus that are not always represented.
“We want to arm students with the tools they need to succeed,” Patel said. “When you arm people who work with the issues on a daily basis, [you] can accomplish the most.”
Patel clarified how a Deitchman-Patel administration would put this plan into action. “Our idea is to create forums. They’ll act as lobbying bodies to give us an idea of what these groups want,” Patel said. “It’s about coming up with that unique central vision that everyone can buy into.”
Zorn and Watson’s platform identifies eight key values that unite all wildcats and uses that attitude to lay the groundwork for responsible governance. “The values based approach allows us to reflect on the entire northwestern community,” Zorn said.