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Candidates highlight universitywide campaign initiatives at presidential debate

The two presidential tickets provided insight on what their goals would be if they were elected. ORACLE PHOTO/ALEXANDRA URBAN

In front of a hybrid audience, the student body presidential and vice presidential candidates elaborated on their plans to better the student experience and connection across campuses at Thursday’s Student Government (SG) debate.

The two tickets — Deputy Chief Financial Officer Nithin Palyam with Relations Committee Chair Amy Pham, and the opposing Finance Committee Chair Truong Tran with Circuit Court Associate Judge Rughved Brahman — were the first candidates to sit in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Oval Theater since the 2020 SG debate.

The hourlong event began at 7 p.m. and was moderated by Editor in Chief of The Oracle Alexandra Urban and Editor in Chief of The Crow’s Nest Sofía García Vargas. Questions were either gathered through student submissions or written by the moderators.

While some questions were specific to each ticket’s campaign, the majority were general so both tickets could provide an answer to the audience.

Throughout the debate, Tran and Brahman focused predominantly on their dedication to the student voice and how they plan to incorporate student desires into every decision they make, if elected.

“No matter if it is against my personal interest, I will always represent them as a student body,” Tran said. “[Acting on] initiatives [from] the united student body is an end goal for our administration.”

Palyam and Pham addressed concerns surrounding transportation between campuses, as well as difficulties faced by minority groups. One of their goals is to inform students of all resources currently offered by Student Government (SG).

Both tickets emphasized the importance of “OneUSF” and how they plan to achieve increased unity across all three campuses.

Tran and Brahman featured specific events they plan to host at the different campuses, such as “Green Wednesdays,” as well as their intentions to establish an executive cabinet to assemble student leadership across the campuses.

“It is important that we are unified as OneUSF, where we come together to have one executive board, where we talk about the initiatives that we have planned for our campuses and see how we can collaborate and see how we can extend resources for all students,” Tran said.

The ticket emphasized communication with the whole student body. To maintain a close relationship with students, if elected, Tran said they plan to visit each campus for what they labeled “wellness checks” — check-ins with the students on a more personal level.

They also voiced their aim to rotate their office hours throughout the three campuses in order to be accessible to all students.

Pham’s and Palyam’s vision for OneUSF held that individual cultures be maintained and cultivated on each campus. They also said they planned initiatives to extend more aid to minorities, including the LGBTQ community and international students.

“The main portion of our campaign is to empower and uplift different communities within the student body,” Pham said. “We want to create resources for international transfer students, provide our LGBTQ community a platform for primary concerns.”

A guide organizing all services available to USF students was a major part of Palyam and Pham’s platform, which would introduce students to preexisting aid that might not be well-known.

“If they put in a keyword, they’ll find a particular resource that can be available for them, for the concerns that they have,” Palyam said.

Tran disagreed with this method of organizing resources for students.

“I think [a resource guide] would be a wonderful resource for students, but at the same time, we feel that it should be a different type of experience as we’re moving on. We’re getting a lot of traction with various apps around campus,” he said.

“[These apps] will be a lot easier for [students] to incorporate into their daily lives, rather than having to think about the various keywords that they would have to type in in order to find the resource that they need.”

Expanding environmental programs was another popular topic between the candidates, who said they believed that greener initiatives must be undertaken, though they differed in how they would accomplish this.

Tran and Brahman said they had objectives to bring solar panels, which are found on the St. Pete campus, to the other campuses as well. They also hoped to revise parking options to accommodate those who drive electric vehicles. Lastly, they said they planned to manage food waste and increase opportunities for recycling.

Compost was the prominent focus of Palyam’s and Pham’s environmental agenda. They said they hoped to partner with local gardens as well as the USF Botanical Gardens to prevent food waste from ending up in landfills, in exchange for produce. Pham also said they planned to increase the accessibility of recycling, if elected.

Palyam cited his own experience with food insecurity as part of his motivations for addressing the issue. Pham referred to their plans for collaborating with local gardens in obtaining more produce to help fight food insecurity, and intentions to work with Feed-A-Bull to increase their storage and productivity.

Tran reiterated his dedication to the student voice and how students believe that issues should be handled, including in matters such as food insecurity in the student body, and his hopes to create a meal voucher plan that would allow students to receive a guaranteed meal.

“One of our initiatives, just a start to the tip of the iceberg, is having a meal voucher that is available to every student every semester,” Tran said. “Additionally, if someone already has a meal plan and meal voucher, they can donate to someone that they believe is in need.”

The increasingly tighter activity and services budget caused by the rising minimum wage was another concern, which both parties said they believed could be addressed with surveys of current SG positions and spending in order to cut or revise anything the candidates believed to be unnecessary.

“I plan on working alongside the university through their initiatives by not only allowing them to do whatever they want, but as student body president, I will have the honor of sitting on the Board of Trustees, which means that we do have a lot of power in serving students,” Tran said.

“Currently, we are working on it … by decreasing differences and jobs that we feel are less necessary in order to adapt to the current times.”

Transportation was a common theme between the two groups, who agreed that more accessible transportation between campuses was necessary to unify all of the student body.

“We really do want to establish intercampus transportation, and the first thing that we plan to do is find out the demand for it,” Pham said. “We want to find out how many students are going to the campuses, how often and what days they are more likely to go. I hope to be able to create a shuttle system so we can better serve the students.”

Mental health in the wake of the pandemic and the return to in-person learning was another topic that both candidates agreed upon, saying that the wait time for counseling made it difficult for students to receive the care they were looking for.

Tran recommended that the counsel faculty be worked with more closely to express the student need for counseling services.

More counsel faculty may be hired from outside of USF as well, with virtual appointments easing the process of students meeting with providers. He also introduced the potential of training students to help their peers with whatever issues they may be facing.

“We came up with a program that incorporates peer counseling,” Tran said.

“Students are more aware of what happens at the university and they’re more likely able to help other students get to the place that they need.”

Palyam and Pham also said they believed that hiring more counseling staff was an effective way to meet the student demand for their services.