First all-ticket presidential debate brings calls for change

Presidential candidates Moneer Kheireddine (left) and Ryan Soscia (right) faced off aside their vice president candidates in USF’s first all-ticket debate. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

Beneath the subtle jabs tossed across the stage of the Marshall Student Center ballroom on Wednesday, with crosschecks of each other’s platforms peppered in-between, USF’s first all-ticket student body president debate was a call for unity and inclusion.

Not necessarily between the candidates, but both tickets — Moneer Kheireddine and Shaquille Kent as well as Ryan Soscia and Logan Holland — made their plea to the crowd, primarily made up of their own supporters, for the unification of all students across campus.

“Students on this campus no longer have a voice,” Holland said. “They don’t feel supported by their leaders, and that’s why we’ve made specific items on our platforms aimed at further advocacy for students.”

In their last chance to publicly address supporters and undecided voters alike, the competing tickets covered a variety of topics ranging from whether to raise the Activity and Services (A&S) fee to community outreach and Greek life, with a couple of character questions thrown in.

But the common thread throughout the evening was a unified campus, with both sides making strong pushes for administration to better advocate for its students through public statements and support.

A center for Islamic students is one point that both tickets have spoken out for. With other centers on campus such as the Catholic, Baptist and Jewish Student Centers, the two have a desire to see a center for Islamic students put into place.

“That is something we’re going to advocate for, but we’re not going to advocate for a mosque, we’re going to advocate for an Islamic center,” Kheireddine said, who grew up in the Islamic faith.

“At this university, we don’t have churches. We don’t have synagogues. What we have is centers … I understand the struggles that our Muslim students have gone through and I want to make sure that there is a space on campus where they are able to be represented.”

Aside from unity, moderator and former Student Body President Brian Goff asked the opponents about multiple topics. Arguably the hottest topic among students was A&S fees.

This is where the two sides split.

“I believe wholeheartedly that an increase in an A&S fee is needed.” Kheireddine said. “The increase doesn’t have to be anything massive — a couple dollars.”

Kheireddine said these added funds will enable SG to “upgrade the student experience” through the revamping of programs that in his eyes have been neglected over the years.

“In order to do that, we need the funds,” Kheireddine said.

On the other side, Soscia staunchly opposed, citing the process of distributing money as the reason.

“When I was Student Body Chief Financial Officer, I got to see the way student organizations spent and how SG spent, and there are a lot of problems in the process,” Soscia said. “I think we need to fix the funding process first before we even think about an A&S fee increase. I would never advocate for that.”

When running for office, most candidates have one initiative that they hold closest and want to implement right away. 

When asked what platform they would deliver first once in office, Kheireddine chose more resources toward the mental health of students, with Soscia keying on aiding sexual assault survivors.

Both of these initiatives rely on more funding for their respective programs. 

“We need to have administration that is going to put money outside of A&S fees toward these programs,” Soscia said. “We need to make sure we’re protecting our students and that starts with administration putting money toward our issues.”

The two sides didn’t differ much, with a few exceptions. With similar platforms, the two sides boast fairly parallel messages with the same general theme: give students a strong, unified voice.

To this point, both tickets have given promises of platforms for students to voice any concern to SG and the administration through various ways, including an online message board, which the Soscia and Holland ticket has already implemented on their website.

“We want to make sure that all students have the opportunity to submit any issues that they have to SG, and thus, we can gather signatures to showcase to the administration these are serious issues,” Kheireddine said, his opponent agreeing. “These are things that students want to see improved. We think that’s a huge focus.”

While Kheireddine and Kent said that SG currently does a good job at representing the student body, their opponents disagree.

“I do not believe SG accurately represents students on this campus, not at all,” Holland said. “

Polls will open Monday for students to begin voting and will close Thursday. Results will be announced at noon Friday in MSC 4200.