Gustavo Spangher and Yovela Debesay’s partnership to campaign for the seats as student body president and vice president was an easy match to make when the two realized how much their visions aligned.
Debesay’s engagement as a current Student Government (SG) senator and her connections with the student body through various organization affiliations is what drew Spangher, current student body vice president, to reach out to her in hopes to see what a partnership between them would look like. After one conversation, the two seemed to be on the same page about what the role of SG is and how it could improve.
“What I think I had written before [regarding the platform], she said like 90% of the things that I already said there,” said Spangher. “So I was like wow. I was going to talk to more people, but after that 30-minute conversation that I had I was like, ‘I think I found the right person because we were on the same page on a lot of different things.’”
The Spangher-Debesay campaign is built on three pillars: Advocacy, Bulls Community and Continued Progress. Advocacy stands for serving as voices for the student body and Bulls Community to further the “effectiveness” of consolidation while Continued Progress represents an intention to create a more transparent relationship between SG and the student body and the “betterment” of SG as a whole.
“I really wanted to not focus on making a word that would [just] sound good, we were trying to be focused more on the idea itself,” said Spangher. “And that’s why we didn’t come up with anything clever, because in my role as vice president, I had identified these three very clear things.”
The two said their prior involvement with the student body through student organizations and departments is what will allow them to fulfill their sought-after roles of being voices for the students.
Debesay has served on executive boards for four different student organizations, including the African Student Association, the Student Alumni Association, Alpha Kappa Psi and the United Nations Association, and as a committee member for the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement, the Center for Student Involvement and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Spangher has also served in an executive position as the president of the International Students Association, a residential assistant and orientation leader. He also currently serves as a USF Ambassador, also known as “the spirit of USF.”
“With how we’ve taken the effort to have these conversations with students, when planning the platform itself, it’s really showing that the intention and purposes behind what we are trying to push forward is not of [malice], it is a positive intention,” said Debesay.
Debesay is particularly passionate about the “Black Student Experience,” a measure under the “Advocacy” pillar, which includes four different initiatives. The collection involves working on the relationship between students and University Police, the refinement of the anti-bias module, pursuing the establishment of a Black Student Success Department and expanding the Diversity Council at the Tampa campus to the St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses.
“Being a Black student myself coming to campus, it was very important to be able to find my community on campus and to be able to be of service to the government knowing [the] sense of representation there is so important,” said Debesay. “We want to make sure that we highlighted that through our platform.”
Some of the other initiatives within their platform, specifically under the “Advocacy” pillar, also focus on assisting international students and raising awareness of sexual assault.
For international students, Spangher and Debesay want to work with Career Services to create more resources dedicated to finding jobs and internships. Part of their plan to address needs of international students includes weekly social media posts of foreign affairs and news “with the purpose of increasing awareness of what international students may be experiencing or affected by.”
The sexual assault segment of the “Advocacy” pillar will also keep in theme with the campaign’s aim to stay connected with the student body. Part of the plan includes the establishment of a student drop box, in which students can leave suggestions for actions SG can take to address the issues they see regarding sexual assault at USF.
Mental health support services, such as the continuation of Togetherall, are also a part of the campaign’s plan to remain advocates for the student body.
The continuation of ongoing SG projects is another part of the campaign that Spangher and Debesay are tackling under the “Continued Progress” pillar.
“We don’t want to kind of leave [current ongoing initiatives] behind with this next term,” said Debesay. “We want to make sure that we are understanding that and still pushing forward and enhancing those with our [own] term so that sense of continuing on what is working currently with the government, and at the same time understanding that we are improving within the internal structure of Student Government overall and be more transparent with the student body.”
Transparency is another priority that will work in hand with their goal to lessen the barriers between SG officials and the student body, and the “Continued Progress” pillar bears the brunt of this goal. It includes initiatives such as monthly addresses from the two on social media regarding progress on projects, and “explanation of rationale” for decisions that university administrators make.
Another way the campaign will try to maintain transparency is through the creation of a platform tracker called “Bullseye” on the SG website, which will have the status of all federal initiatives.
One of the keys in putting pen to paper when it comes to these initiatives will be hiring a cabinet to effectively help them accomplish their goals, according to Spangher.
“If we get the opportunity to represent students, we will really focus on hiring the right people. In our first month, we’re going to be hiring the right people, students who are passionate about these things and who take initiative so that we know that throughout the year they’re going to be working in helping us get to that goal,” said Spangher.
If elected, the pair also intends on having a meeting with upper administration early on in their term to communicate what they intend to accomplish as a way to kick off the venture of each of their initiatives.
“We have the intention of, just from the get-go, having a sit-down meeting with upper administration, communicating to them what exactly we want to see done throughout over the course of this next year and utilizing that as our starting point of pursuing each of the goals that we have throughout our platform,” said Debesay.
Making SG’s work present across all three campuses and raising awareness on the impact it has on university operations is one of the campaign’s first priorities.
“From my experience, more than 90% of students don’t even know what Student Government is. They don’t know the influence that we can have on policy the administration is passing,” said Spangher. “They don’t know we allocate more than $18 million of student fees, [Activity and Service] fees that go toward the other resources they use. So I think that if [we really focus] on … showcasing students that we have a lot that we can offer … if [they] just knew about [what we can do], and … you [can] talk to us.
“If we’re engaging students in that [dialogue], everything else will come because if they know we can do more, more students will reach out to us with their problems, and we’re going to have more substance to talk to the administration. We’re … going to be more credible, we’re going to be actually representing the student body.”
Throughout the rest of their campaign, Spangher and Debesay want to encourage an open dialogue with constituents who may have any questions about their platform.
“Those that are interested or who would like to pick our brain on anything like we’re open for that and we would like to engage with students and think, and even though we’re virtual, I would really like that opportunity for anyone that would like to engage with us are encouraged that,” said Spangher.