The Marshall Student Center ballroom was set with elevator music and banquet hall chafing dishes Wednesday night to welcome the audience for the debate among the three tickets running to fill the leadership of the Executive Branch.
As the guests filed in, current Student Body President, Moneer Kheireddine and Vice President Shaquille Kent acted as familiar faces to greet them. Their opponents dressed in their coordinating pink attire, Gabby Cruz and Scott Tavlin. The curveball ticket, comprised of Peter Corsa and Julius Jackson, also welcomed their supporters and other onlookers.
The crowd roared at the start of the debate with the formal introduction of the Cruz ticket, the Kheireddine ticket received a moderate amount of support and the Corsa ticket received the quietest reaction from the audience.
The guest moderator, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, opened the debate by asking each of the tickets to introduce themselves with an opening speech before moving onto the first question, which was in regards to platform priorities.
Jackson struggled at first to discuss how students’ concerned are voiced through their platform point, before saying that the major component of their platform revolves around encouraging students to attend and becoming further engaged with athletic events.
Cruz, however, said the focus should be put on assisting victims of sexual assault and harassment, who may have to sit next to their assaulters in class or at the sporting events Jackson mentioned day-to-day.
“There are people on this campus who have to sit next to the person who sexually assaulted them for the entire semester,” Cruz said. “There are people on this campus who won’t go to a football game because they are afraid that they are going to run into their rapist. There are people on this campus who do not actually feel advocated for by the university. To me, that is not good enough.
“We are a preeminent university. A preeminent university supports their students, protects them and truly advocates for them even in a situation such as sexual assault. If we want to take that seriously, then I think Student Government should champion it… We closed the gap on Latino student success, we closed the gap in black student success a USF. We need to close the gap on sexual assault on campus at USF as well.”
This was not the only time sexual assaults would be mentioned during the debate, as Kheireddine weighed in on the matter too, saying that safety is a critical component for the year to come, with a particular focus on sexual assaults.
“Advocacy on behalf of survivors of sexual assault (needs to be improved) and specifically, what we are trying to do is working without USF administrators to pass something known as the Safe Transfer Act,” Kheireddine said. “What this will allow is if any individual in our institution is currently undergoing Title IX investigations, they will be required and noted on their transcripts when they try to transfer to another institution that that is currently going on.”
Kheireddine said this act needs to be put in place because statistics say that approximately 90 percent of sexual assaults on campus happen as a result from the same three percent transferring from one institution to the next without truly being held accountable.
Kheireddine’s stance on this would result in the one and only rebuttal of the night from Cruz, as she pointed to her campaign platform tackling the issue of sexual assault head on.
“First and foremost, yes, it is a problem that people are not being advocated for when they are victims of sexual assault on campus,” Cruz said. “However, we need to have tangible ways of actually holding those people accountable when they commit sexual assaults. These things involve creating a council of people, undergrad, graduate, faculty and staff, ensuring that people are being held accountable when they commit these acts of violence on other students because if there is not accountability, it will continue to happen. That is not good enough for me.”
It was a response from Kheireddine on the idea of partnering with Lyft to reduce the amount of vehicles parked on campus and removing the pluses and minuses from the grading scale, however, that proposal would garner the loudest reaction from the crowd.
Following Kheireddine’s statement and the outcry of support from the audience, Latimer would jump in and ask the audience to hold their applause until the end of each round as to not disrupt the process of the debate.
However, an awkward hush fell over the crowd when Corsa suggested the university acquire the land where the University Mall currently sits, demolish the buildings and replace it with new athletic facilities and an eventual football stadium. This was in lieu of the University Mall being one of the major sponsors of the debate.
A hot topic of discussion on campus as of late has been about the involvement of SG in international relations and taking a formal stance on such issues. Jackson weighed in on this issue by saying that international relations should not be the concern of SG.
“Student Government should definitely solely focus on issues that affect the students … So, for you to put it in a document that you stand on a side, when you don’t even understand all of the opinions that you are representing, I think that is recklessness,” Jackson said.
As the almost two-hour long debate progressed, more and more members of the audience seemed to have gradually exited from the ballroom.
The closing statements of the Corsa and Jackson campaign were centered around the experience of campaigning and encouraging students from all walks of life to run for SG office, where as the Kheireddine and Kent campaign touched on their experiences serving as members of the Executive Branch so far and thanking both their staff and all students for the roll that they have played in the election process. It was the Cruz and Tavlin campaign, however, that garnered the loudest response from audience members.
“If I ever let the fact that I never experienced something stop me from taking that first step, I would not be here today,” Cruz said. “The fact that Scott and I do not have Student Government experience, that should never stop anyone from achieving those goals.”