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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Presidential candidates present platforms and answer questions

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: Front Page

On Thursday, April 10, the night before official elections for President of Brandeis’ Student Union took place, the candidates, along with representatives from The Brandeis Hoot, The Justice, WBRS and BADASS, gathered in Olin Sang 101. In front of an audience of students, candidates presented their platforms and plans for campus. Representatives from these various media outlets and BADASS asked around 20 questions of the three candidates. Sneha Walia ’15, Terrell Gilkey ’15 and Anna Bessendorf ’15 each presented their case for presidency.

The event began with general questions during which each candidate was allowed to state their case on a wide range of issues. After exploring basic details such as why each candidate wanted to run for president, candidates answered more difficult questions that were addressed to them specifically. The final portion of the event involved questions from the audience.

One of the questions directed at Walia asked her to confront the rumor that her platform lacks substance and uses general language instead of outlining concrete ways to fix problems within the university.

“When drafting my platform I had a choice of either writing something that was more based around my experiences in the Student Union, or to create something more open,” Walia responded. “I want to focus on making the Union more open to student input and getting more students more involved, so I purposely included general language to appeal to more people.” Addressing specifics, Walia added: “As President, I would create more student positions within the Union and allow more voices to get through on issues like dining, housing and transparency.”

Gilkey was asked how he planned on reconciling his candidacy with the fact that he has never held a position in the Student Union. He responded that as an underclassman, “it was really hard for me to find out anything about the Student Union and how they were representing me, so I felt like nobody would really care if I ran for anything anyway. Over my years at Brandeis, I’ve come to think differently. I consider one of my most important skills … my ability to go out to the student body and speak with students and listen to them and understand their problems, and I feel that my communications skills and my willingness to learn would be key in preparing me for being president because I would be able to voice those issues well.”

Bessendorf was faced with a question about the loftiness of her ideas and goals, and was asked to present a step-by-step breakdown of her plan. “Something that I champion is my ability to get things done. As a member of the Student Union I have accomplished several significant goals, including the tree lights outside of Usdan as well as the new safety feature where students receive emails about fire drills beforehand instead of just waking up to a fire alarm at 4 in the morning, which was my experience once in Ziv,” she said.

For questions asked to the group as a whole, one of the most discussed was about administrative support for controversial on-campus events, such as Israel Apartheid Week. Walia and Gilkey both pledged that in the event of a group of students receiving verbal abuse (such as what occurred online during Israel Apartheid Week), that they would publicly support those students no matter their own feelings on the larger matter. Bessendorf disagreed, instead saying, “I would not use my position as president to specifically support any group. However I would defend the right to express whatever ideas they want,” she said during the debate.

Candidates also discussed the allocation of resources towards school spirit events and activities. All three candidates agreed that the financial allocation for events such as ’Deis Day were successes for the Brandeis community; however, they also argued that in their respective presidencies they would make some specific alterations.

One of the final questions posed was about the candidates’ personal backgrounds. Walia stated that her experience at Brandeis and firm belief that the Student Union is an expression of the student body inspired her to continue to improve and make change. She also spoke about her experience as a minority student, both religiously and ethnically. Bessendorf highlighted her experience working with the institutions at Brandeis, including her efforts to improve environmental conditions on campus as well as her status as a Jewish student who has personally collaborated with many of the religious denominations at Brandeis. Gilkey stated, “Coming to Brandeis wouldn’t be possible for me without the MKTYP Program, so I feel a responsibility to help all students at Brandeis experience the same opportunities that were awarded to me.”

The event was also streamed live by WBRS, and was recorded for any student who wished to listen afterward. Voting opened at midnight on Friday morning, and elections will run for 24 hours.