Candidates for Georgia Southern University’s Student Government Association 2019-2020 president seat presented their plans for the university’s future in a debate Wednesday on the Statesboro campus.
Zean Lopez, Juwan Smith and Keyshawn Housey answered questions from an SGA moderator and students in the gallery concerning pressing issues on all three GS campuses, campus projects each candidate supports, how to help commuting students feel welcomed and allegations of inappropriate behavior leveled at candidate Lopez.
At the start of the debate each candidate was afforded a short time in which to give an opening statement and lay out their respective platforms.
Housey pledged to run on a platform of inclusion, advocacy and stability, and to end the divides between all three GS campuses.
“We’ve been through a lot this year,” Housey said, “not just as an SGA, but as a university. We can work together for a better Georgia Southern. Not just for this campus, not just for the Savannah campus, not just for the Hinesville campus, for all of us. Because we are Southern.”
Smith also laid out the idea behind his campaign, centered around the phrase ‘Family Matters.’ Smith also pledged that as president he would tackle the issues of consolidation, diversity, inclusion and campus safety using a three step process.
“The first step is finding out why we want to do these type of things,” Smith said. “And then the second step is to develop our mission through the year, and then execute it is my final step.”
Lopez emphasized his platform’s focus on renewing the relationship between students and administration through communication, as well as advocating for more student projects.
“On renewed relationships,” Lopez said, “this focuses on fostering a stronger bond between students, SGA and administration. How? Through communication. Everybody knows that communication is key for a good relationship, and this university is no exception. I will advocate for more student based projects and see to not only their completion, but sustained success.”
The debate itself began with a series of prepared questions posed to each candidate by an SGA moderator. Later, students in the gallery also had the opportunity to ask their own questions of the candidates.
One question an SGA moderator asked candidates was, “What kinds of projects and ideas would you want to implement granted you are elected president of the student government association?”
Lopez said, “First I’d like to continue and endorse successful projects like the campus safety walk. Furthermore, I do fully support Senator Housey’s diversity and inclusion resolution. I would like to push the idea of renewed relationships by encouraging my fellow executive members to foster a greater relationship with faculty, staff, and also their counterparts than what currently exists.”
Housey said, “I cannot move as president without knowing what the people want. How can anybody make any type of policy without knowing what your constituency wants? How can you do anything without the people? I’m going to encourage my senators to actually go out and talk to the students. Have every college host town halls so we can get a more clear view of what you guys need and what you guys want.”
Smith said, “A couple projects I want to implement is to try to solve some of the concerns that are already on the SGA’s table. I want to create a consolidation task force with representations of people from all three campuses, try to get Eagles for Eagles on both campuses because it’s currently only offered on the Statesboro campus, and then I want to put a graduation task force together.”
Another question from the moderator was, “What is the most pressing issue on each campus right now and how can you ensure to represent each campus equally?”
Housey said, “On the Hinesville campus they are not represented, truly. They have a student council, but their votes do not count towards anything we do here. They don’t even count towards convention. So number one, it’s to restructure their SGA. On the Armstrong campus it’s the lack of culture. I am going to register for a class on the Armstrong campus. Why? Because they need their president. On the Statesboro campus the biggest issue is racism.”
Smith said, “Like Keyshawn said, Hinesville doesn’t have a voice and Armstrong had their identity ripped away from them and Statesboro has the commencement issues and I feel like the overarching theme is [that] commencement is the biggest concern right now, and I feel like the graduation task force is needed.”
Lopez said, “I agree with Senator Housey with what he stated, however I feel as though what he stated are mere symptoms of a deeper ill that faces our university today, and that is disconnection. There is a disconnection between students and administration. It’s because of this disconnection that there is commencement issues. The students nor SGA were made aware of the exchanges. I would like to foster a more transparent GSU through proper communication.”
A student from the gallery, SGA senator Brett Kohler, asked a question concerning campus commuters.
“What will you do to make commuting students such as myself,” Kohler said, “and a lot of other people like myself that feel like they are not a part of Eagle Nation, not included in on-campus events, and they just feel like they come to school here and they go to class and they go home. What will you do to solve that problem?”
“Number one, as far as making you feel a part of the community, face-to-face communication is key. It’s what starts and builds relationships,” Housey said “I could just pop in a couple classes, just to see how everybody’s doing. As far as SGA, there’ve been complaints all year long, why are our meetings not live streamed? People want to know what the good work is. So make sure all of our meetings on all three campuses are live streamed.”
Smith said, “I feel like we have to be direct in our programming. So you know, commuters can’t have late programming, so maybe form some type of events for them. Make sure like, every student matters. It ties back into my platform of ‘Family Matters,’ that each student matters here. So if we put that intention and make an intention that every student matters and they are loved and they’re a part of the eagle nation, then they’ll be more inclined to do things and be a part.”
Lopez said, “I’m going to have to agree with both of these guys. One, communication is key, like I said before. Face-to-face communication is a big deal. Secondly, keep in mind that there are students who will have to go back and forth from their location to the campus. We need to first ask them, ‘Why do you commute?’ So Brett, why do you commute?”
“I feel like that’s a personal question to ask,” Kohler said.
Lopez said, “Understandable. So in that sense, right, it’s a one-on-one kind of thing. It’s not an up here kind of thing. It’s not supposed to be a public question. I’ll be discussing with him what is he doing and why does he feel like other people commute.”
Later, junior political science major Elisabeth Malloy asked a question related to the recent allegations against Lopez of making unwanted advances towards female SGA representatives.
“I have a specific question for candidate Lopez,” Malloy said. “After the last candidate debate on the Armstrong campus you were quoted as saying, Mr. Lopez, ‘My professional background should not come together with my personal background.’ I ask how you plan to represent Georgia Southern on a national and sometimes international stage. How do you plan to hold your weight with such allegations made against you?”
Lopez first responded by apologizing for his comments.
“I have to apologize because this question got me kind of shocked, because I was not expecting, right?” Lopez said. “So I was kind of stumbling, and I said, ‘Professional and personal lives should remain separate.’ And now I strongly urge everyone who is able to look me up on social media. What do I do, where have I come from? If there are any inconsistencies please feel free to reach out to me. Certain topics, though, I would like to keep private. I’m sure you can understand that. This isn’t to say that the allegations are true, but rather I urge those who have such allegations to talk to me, albeit I prefer a more private setting and maybe a specialist, a counselor, present.”
The next question, also concerning the allegations against Lopez, came from Mary Kate Moore, VP of academic affairs on the Armstrong campus.
“My question is specifically for Mr. Lopez,” Moore said. “In terms of wanting to set up a particular meeting with someone who has an allegation against you, why would you want that meeting to be in private when you’ve specifically put yourself in a public eye?”
“As I’ve mentioned, these private matters, I would like a counselor or a specialist there,” Lopez said “There are certain events in circumstances in which we need to first respect them as a person before we give them the title of president, of VP. Let’s give them the respect that they deserve. I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about the students. Even myself and the students, actually. I do urge people to find the truth about me.”
An email with a link to the ballots for each candidate will be sent to the GS community April 8.
Nathan Weaver, The George-Anne News Reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org