The 2019-20 campaign for Student Senate presidency has begun. This year, junior Craig Behnke, junior Annika Brown and sophomore Joe Hess are the candidates for Student Senate President.
According to the Student Senate website, the duties of the president are to “advise the Senate and report to other university councils regarding the condition of the Student Body.”
On April 9, a debate between the three candidates took place in Ballroom C of the Harre Union. The candidates answered questions from not only the present media but also students wishing to be informed.
Behnke has been on Senate for the last three years as a representative of the 2020 class, as well as served on the finance committee in addition to helping improve the discount card given out by Student Senate.
“One thing I believe is just as important as my qualifications is my intent,” Behnke said. “I want to make sure our university and community is the best it can be, and I want this to be a sustainable improvement and not just a flash in the dark, but a long-lasting light in the dark.”
Brown, who was video-called into the debate from Paris, France where she is currently studying abroad, has been a member of Student Senate for two and a half years.
“I’m running for this position because I want to take on more of an advisory role within Student Senate and to be able to guide new Senators if they’re entering in and to make sure they feel comfortable in the role. I also want to take on the responsibility of voicing the concerns that are brought to Student Senate to the administration,” Brown said.
Hess wants to make a difference in his community but believes the difference starts with the students, and that’s his motivation for running. Hess got his start in Student Senate as a freshman Senator but pursued alternative options during his sophomore year.
“I want to be the voice that brings the things you guys say to the administration to make your changes come true,” Hess said.
A majority of the conversation revolved around the Minority Seat ruling and how the candidates are planning to deal with diversity and inclusion, among other issues students feel are relevant. Due to the federal and university guidelines, Student Senate was legally required to abolish the Minority and International Senator Seats. The candidates were asked how they will ensure representation of the constituents who are not represented well with the removal of the seats and the addition of college-specific seats.
“I think the first thing we need to do is increase engagement with the seats we do have on Senate. We need to encourage people from all the different minorities to run for the seats that we do have,” Behnke said. “They may not be a Minority Seat or an International Seat, but they are other seats that hold just the same rank and privileges on Senate.”
Hess, who is an RA in a freshman residence hall, feels the freshmen are not fully aware of the existence of Student Senate and are even more unaware of what Student Senate does.
“I think being more present and talking about what this job is and what we do and this is why you should get involved is what’s important,” Hess said. “Of course we can establish committees but I think the best thing we can do is ask what you guys think. We can come up with solutions all we want [as Senate] but maybe those aren’t the solutions you necessarily want to see.”
“I think the Diversity and Inclusion Committee that’s being proposed is absolutely necessary and it’s a big step in improving connections with Student Senate and encouraging more people to apply for those positions,” Brown said.
“The tone of Student Senate starts off every year with how the president and vice president start off the first meeting,” Brown said. “I think it’s really important to start off that meeting in a very positive way and to have a conversation with the Senators about how they want Student Senate to look and what things they are really excited about and setting goals as a team.”
Krystal Pena asked the candidates to describe their experiences with Office of Multicultural Programming (OMP) and the Office of International Programs (OIP) events, not counting MLK Day experiences.
Behnke and Hess recall their experiences with the Gandhi-King Center. Hess, a tour guide, describes how on tours, he encourages students to get involved right away as the Center has a lot to offer.
Brown has more experience with international students and the OIP but hopes the next Student Body President and Vice President can attend more events to get to know better the people within those organizations.
In regards to the lack of transparency and communication the campus has been experiencing with Student Senate, students have felt expressed feeling uninformed not only during the debate but in the forum of concerns during Student Senate meetings. The only information regarding the removal of the Minority and International Seats came from one Senator’s personal Twitter account.
“I think that we need to have a lot more documentation on our website, possibly have a better website design, so that the students can go find that information more quickly access that information,” Behnke said.
“While that response provided by the Senator on her personal account was very thorough and accurate… it is important to know where that information is coming from,” Brown said. “But it’s really about utilizing out social media platforms and other platforms for students.”
When looking at the candidates with face value, Behnke and Brown have more Student Senate experience under their belt, but Hess feels as if he has the upper hand with his class standing and his RA position.
“I will be hearing the voices of the underclassmen as well. I think that puts me in a unique perspective. I’m not some [unseen] upperclassman who is distant from campus,” Hess said. “I am right in the middle of things; I am getting people from both ends.”
Election Day will be Tuesday, April 16 so look out for more information from Student Senate via email or social media.