MUSG debate heats up as elections near

The candidates for the Marquette Student Government presidential and vice presidential tickets participated in a debate Sunday at the Alumni Memorial Union, discussing topics including MUSG-to-student outreach, diversity on campus and the candidates’ own experience.

Both tickets (Arica Van Boxtel/Bill Neidhardt and Drew Halunen/Stephanie Marecki) were given three minutes to answer each question, along with a one-minute rebuttal. Each candidate is in the College of Arts & Sciences with the exception of Van Boxtel, who is in the College of Communication. Van Boxtel is currently MUSG’s communications vice president, while Halunen is currently the legislative vice president, and both Neidhardt and Marecki are off-campus senators.

MUSG-Student Outreach

Both tickets said they would work to further student knowledge and involvement with MUSG as president and vice president.

“When we talk about the issues – a diverse inclusive campus, tuition transparency, individual issues – it comes back to the same thing: refocusing the organization that is considerate of the entire student voice—outreach, and an open organization is what we really are going for,” Neidhardt said.

Van Boxtel also addressed the need for outreach to those not involved on campus.

“It’s easy for leaders to reach out to other leaders, but it’s also important to reach out to those not involved,” VanBoxtel said.

Halunen said that much of he and Marecki’s platform has come directly from students. Halunen also said the two of them have seen excitement from students about their platform.

“Every time we talk to students about the Marquette Online Course Evaluation System (MOCES) or the health and wellness center, they get excited, as if to say, ‘Yeah, you got it right,’” Halunen said.

Marecki, Halunen’s running mate, said she agreed that MUSG currently does not do enough outreach. Marecki also elaborated on their proposed student organization liaison program, in which a senator would be assigned 5-6 organizations from which he or she would field questions about MUSG resources for those organizations.

“(The senators) would be the point of contact, understanding that different organizations have their own issue niche, but (also) ask how can we help you?” Marecki said. Through the liaison program, organizations would get help with the SOF process, which can often be difficult for organizations to negotiate.

Some students raised questions about the plausibility of the program, but Halunen said the liaison process was a pilot program that would require testing.

“Marquette has over 264 organizations, of course every organization having a representative is not going to happen with 30 volunteer (senators),” Halunen said. “Not all the kinks have been worked out, but it’s a pretty big step in the right direction. … We will greatly increase MUSG involvement in student organizations, I’m confident in that.”

Halunen mentioned one possibility for managing the program would involve tracking the most active and influential organizations and assigning them liaisons, at one point mentioning assigning liaisons to the top 150 organizations.

In his rebuttal, Neidhardt said there would be deficiencies in Halunen and Marecki’s liaison program.

“You’re picking favorite groups even if they’re the most active. The fact goes back to the (114) groups that would be left in the same system as before,” Neidhardt said.  “In the ecosystem of organizations, all rules apply, organizations come and go, but favorites is not the approach we want to give.”

Diversity

Questions of diversity were also raised, including what a diverse Marquette would look like and how the candidates might implement changes.

Halunen says that he is unsure how to solve the diversity issues but says a diverse Marquette includes more cultural appreciation and not being afraid to talk about underrepresented minorities. He also cited diverse faculty with free rein over their opportunities for teaching and leadership as a key ingredient.

“Marquette has a single African American male on its leadership council. How can this University tell the student body to be more diverse when they don’t check in their own backyards? Once the University gets serious about retaining, hiring and really considering individuals from diverse backgrounds, that’s when the student body reciprocates,” Halunen said in a debate press release.

Halunen and Marecki also said they would revamp the diversity advocate program and that currently there are two different approaches within the program.

“One is the idea of helping students from underrepresented backgrounds to make themselves feel good. The other is helping to work with you to come up with a real answer to the issues. We need the right professors and right administrators to create a culture of openness, where students feel comfortable approaching all administrators if they have problems,” Halunen said.

VanBoxtel said the focus should be on inclusivity, and that learning from different perspectives forms bonds and relationships.

Neidhardt said he and VanBoxtel would advocate for a reporting process for students who have been discriminated against, more diverse courses and a more diverse faculty.

“You don’t want a president that says ‘I don’t know what to do,'” Neidhardt said. “You want a president that says ‘We have a lot to do, and here’s what we can do.’ There’s plenty of solutions, we just need the green light to go to make this a more inclusive campus.”

VanBoxtel elaborated on her proposed diversity task force, to be made up of 15 to 20 individuals passionate about diversity who would talk with students.

“We would sit down and share perspectives on how can we present this to administration,” VanBoxtel said. “Diversity is not a concept, it’s a lifestyle change. I think people get that confused, and it has become an uncomfortable topic. But diversity is celebrating identities, our mission reflects that, we need to act that forward.”

Tuition and Financial Aid

Other students asked the candidates about their stances on tuition and financial aid.

VanBoxtel and Neidhardt said they advocate for a tuition receipt detailing where money is going.

“The discussion (on tuition) needs to be honest and real,” Neidhardt said.

In a press release disclosed prior to the debate, Niedhardt described the tuition receipt as “a real idea that will provide an exact breakdown of where our money is going. This information is federally mandated to be made available and Marquette has all of this information on file.”

Marecki said she and Halunen are cognizant that increases in tuition are blocking people from attending Marquette, and would work to make sure tuition increases would not be as frequent.

Neidhardt said he supported and co-wrote legislation to support student financial aid in an attempt to help students struggling with ever-increasing debt.

While Marecki did not support that legislation, she said her reasons for not doing so were because the legislation was last minute and reflected greater trends in national politics.

Neidhardt said there is no place for national politics in MUSG and that the job of MUSG is to be the voice of the student body, and the student body supported student aid.

The candidates did agree on a number of topics, however. Both Halunen and Van Boxtel said they would support student organizations’ usage of CollegiateLink, an online hub of important forms related to event management and funding.

Both tickets also agreed the issue of minimal residential space on campus, stretched by this year’s large freshman class, must be addressed this year. Either ticket would work directly with the Residence Hall Association to collect data and work towards a solution.

The MUSG election is Wednesday, March 28, with online polls open from 12 a.m. to 10 p.m. at musg.mu.edu/vote.