Speaking over the crowd of students in the Marshall Student Center’s Beef ‘O’Brady’s, three students met Monday evening to argue their cases for why each should become the next student body president.
As more than 100 students gathered in the noisy restaurant, candidates Brandi Arnold, Jean Cocco and Danish Hasan discussed their campaign points in the first of two debates, this one sponsored by Bulls Radio.
The less than 45-minute debate focused primarily on issues of safety and transparency at the university, but also included topics of school pride and student involvement.
Cocco, the current chair of the Student Government (SG) University, Community and Government Affairs committee and a senior majoring in political science and international studies, made the case for the importance of increased campus safety based on hearing about nine women who he said reported sexual assaults to the Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention in the past three weeks.
“That’s not acceptable for us Bulls to allow that to happen,” he said. “And so what I want to do, in terms of safety, is ensure we work with our local, state and federal officials to promote safe awareness on campus – to ensure that our dorms are safe, that out apartments are safe, and our community is safe.”
He suggested implementing this by creating SG safety committees.
Hasan, a staff writer for The Oracle and a freshman majoring in biomedical science, emphasized the need for safety both on and off-campus based on recent crimes taking place in the surrounding area, suggesting action through USF’s SAFE Team.
“Whether it be on campus or at the housing off campus, with all the incidents that have taken place in the recent past, we would like to have a more secure and more safe environment for our students,” Hasan said.
Another important topic discussed was having more transparency in SG, a topic all the candidates agreed on. Cocco recommended providing students more specifics and accountability for student fees.
“What is a tuition differential,” Cocco said. “What is a green fee? What is a tech fee? What is it that we’re paying for? We need to be more aware of what it is that we’re paying for, be transparent on how we’re paying for that.”
Hasan reiterated the message by highlighting the purpose of Student Government on campus.
“If there’s transparency and accountability, the students are going to instill their trust back into Student Government,” Hasan said. “If there’s a direct communication between student government – the people in charge – and the students, then events will be catered to what the students want and everything at USF is going to be catered to what the students’ needs are.”
Arnold, executive director of the Campus Traditions Board for the Center for Student Involvement and a junior majoring in business management and communications, stated safety and transparency were going to be main aspects that she will focus on during the campaign.
“One thing that I believe, that I’m really focused on, is truth and honor – what this university is about,” she said. “I’m going to do that through our tradition and that’s going to correlate to our spirit. Making sure here at the University of South Florida, we’re getting what we pay for, we’re getting the advancements, the opportunities, everything that our tuition is actually going towards and making sure your four or five years here are really memorable.”
In one questions, candidates were asked what they could be added in the university’s ten-year strategic plan. Arnold advocated more coordination with university administration.
“I believe that our ten-year plan really needs to focus on President Genshaft’s ten-year plan,” she said. “I think that we need to be together in working with the administration. One thing that she focuses on, what I truly believe in, is making sure that Tampa’s community is in sync with the USF community, making sure the community is backing us in everything we believe in.”
To boost student involvement on campus, Cocco mentioned the sense of pride and culture fostered in Gator Country at the University of Florida. He said students need to foster that same sense of unity at USF, a goal he desired to see in the next 10 years.
A football stadium for USF would be nice, he said.
“I would like to see the Tampa Bay area – within St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Manatee, Polk County – be a strong Bulls Country,” he said. “So that when we do get that stadium, we have people from all over Tampa Bay going to the football games, proud to cheer on our Bulls.”
The next topic of discussion was student involvement, Arnold shared her own experiences of participating in organizing events on campus, and how it has enriched her college experience, and led her to run for president.
“Involvement is something that we should be working on every single year,” she said. “A way to change that is give more opportunities for students – making sure that the different leadership opportunities are more accepting and more open.”
In the end, the candidates were asked for final remarks. Arnold was the first to speak, receiving an audible show of support that was consistent throughout the night by a large number of attendees wearing teal shirts for her campaign.
“I’m ready to take this university to a new place, I’m ready to take it to a newer height,” she said. “And I’m ready to represent this university on every level.”
Throughout the debate, Hasan’s experience was called into question, but he used his final remarks to explain how his youth could be an asset to Student Government.
“I do not have the same kind of experience the fellow candidates here have, but I do have a clear vision for the university,” he said. “And unlike them, since I am a freshman, I have three to four years that I can stay at USF and be involved in Student Government.”
Cocco ended the debate thanking the crowd and candidates.
“I want to remind all of you that you that you all have a voice, and that all of you have a role in how the story of USF is going to be played,” he said. “That means that with my four years of experience with Student Government, I know where we need to take our Student Government to represent you and your needs.”
The next debate will take place Feb. 19 in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater.