Speaking in front of a crowd of nearly 100 students in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater on Wednesday evening, the three candidates running for student body president participated in a debate, in which they agreed on many key issues.
The last of two debates consisted of 10 questions that candidates Brandi Arnold, Jean Cocco and Danish Hasan, were given 90 seconds to answer.
All candidates started the debate by stating student safety is their top priority.
“When looking at the crime rates around the university, it’s not really suiting for a community of a bunch of college students,” Cocco, current chair of the Student Government (SG) University, Community and Government Affairs committee and a senior majoring in political science and international studies, said. “We need proactive strategies, (like) a mobile app you could press so university police could get to your location and protect you.”
All three candidates agreed USF should better use its strong ties to the rest of the Tampa community.
“There are many amazing graduates in the Tampa community,” Hasan, a freshman majoring in biomedical science and a staff writer for The Oracle, said. “We need to engage them back into USF. Students should have good role models within the community who can foster their growth.”
Arnold, the executive director of the Campus Traditions Board for the Center for Student Involvement and a junior majoring in business management and communications, stressed the importance of instilling a sense of USF pride into current students and alumni.
“When students become doctors, become amazing businessmen, they’ll feel like they want to give back to the university,” she said. “We’re bringing it all back together.”
Cocco said it is important to realize what leverage USF’s $3.7 billion impact has on the local community.
USF needs to form mutually beneficial partnerships with local businesses, he said.
“Most of these businesses love Bulls Country,” Cocco said. “They want to be a part of it, we just need to extend a hand.”
All three candidates agreed they would fight against any tuition increases if elected. During the coming year tuition and fees will be held steady, but in recent years students have seen the price they pay increasing.
“I will not compromise because I believe we are paying enough,” Arnold said. “I will fight.”
Hasan said before tuition can even considered being raised, students must receive their money’s worth. He said he would like to see more printers on campus and a 24/7 Library.
“We pay to be at our university,” Hasan said. “We are paying for our education. Tuition cannot be increased until we fulfill all the requirements we need as students.”
Cocco and Hasan said sustaining a relationship with Florida legislators in Tallahassee would allow the student voice to be heard.
All three candidates agreed undocumented students in Florida should pay in-state tuition fees. Cocco said he believed an undocumented student must attend a Florida high school for four years before receiving in-state tuition.
“Tuition equity is very important in Florida right now,” he said. “The student body here at USF needs to talk to our Florida legislatures. We need to ensure that the students who are here to grow and become economic drivers are represented.”
In-state tuition for undocumented students aligns with USF’s image of a global university, Arnold said.
All candidates agreed the student body president is the voice of the students, not a position meant for self-gain.
“I’m running for this position because of you guys,” Arnold said. “It makes sense that I go with what (the students) have to say, because sometimes that’s just what you have to do”
Hasan said a trusted group of advisers is necessary to counsel the student body president’s and the public’s view of issues. Cocco said talking to students individually is essential to the complexity of student needs.
All candidates agreed students have influence over how their tuition is being spent.
“If elected I would make it a priority to have town hall meetings,” Hasan said. “That way students can come in and you can ask them where they would like their money to be seen, to be spent.”
Hasan said he would like to create an easily accessible and frequently updated website that would illustrate how the budget is being used.
Cocco said if students reached out to SG, the Activity and Service (A&S) fee budget would be better allocated.
Arnold said students need to be more involved.
“We need to put the activities and service back into the activities and service fee,” Arnold said.
All candidates agreed politically active organizations with definitive political stances should be allocated funding, as long as they fit the criteria of any other student organization.
“Every student deserves the right to be passionate about what they believe in, but not all of us are going to agree in our political stances and political affiliations,” Cocco said. “At the end of the day every one of us paid into the A&S fee, so you guys deserve to have your voices heard.”
In the final minutes, candidates explained to the audience why they should ultimately be elected student body president.
Arnold said she understood the average student and best represented the university as a whole.
“I understand what it is to be sitting at Bullstock for 13-plus hours while kids randomly walk around saying they hate it because they don’t like the band,” Arnold said. “I understand when you’re sitting at Bulls Night Out or sitting at the alumni association – I get that.”
Hasan said a freshmen student body president with over three years left at USF would be an advantage.
“By being in charge for a long time, you can carry out the changes that you’re proposing,” Hasan said. “Changes take time.”
Cocco said he is most qualified due to his four years of experience in student government.
“My experience throughout the USF community is insurmountable,” Cocco said. “We’re going to the student organizations, going into the Greek villages, going into the College of Medicine and going into all different aspects that make USF so great. Learning about your stories, and learning how we will best serve you.”
The elections for USF student body president will take place Monday through Thursday next week.