Accountability, racial justice and the coronavirus were front and center topics at the Undergraduate Student Government senatorial forum Wednesday. Approximately 70 people attended the virtual event where 14 candidates, vying for 12 Senate spots, presented their campaign platforms and answered questions from the audience. Annenberg Media co-executive editor Chandler France and elections committee official David Martinez moderated the forum.
Four candidates are running on their own, and ten candidates — or five pairs — are running as partners, sharing platforms and election resources. Voting will take place from Feb. 17 to 19.
Several candidates spoke about the need for increased USG accountability after the past year, in which the former president and vice president both resigned over the summer following accusations of microaggressions and complicity in racial misconduct.
Senatorial candidate Hana Li, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said she has “seen firsthand the ways that USG has previously failed our students.”
“With everything that’s happened in the past year, I hope to provide the legislative branch with a new perspective, hold our administration accountable for their promises and bring about real change that every student will be proud of,” Li said.
Nivea Krishnan, a freshman majoring in public policy and economics, and Russell Agustin, a freshman majoring in public policy, also cited the importance of higher accountability within USG, despite entering the University last fall.
“There were a lot of issues that occurred over the summer and while we are freshmen, we definitely read up on these situations,” Krishnan said. “We want to prioritize transparency through all the work that we do, as well as the work that the other senators that are elected do as well.”
Incumbent senator Kevin Gutierrez spoke about the way USG has improved the lives of students, while also mentioning where the organization has failed.
“The free Lyft program has arisen from [USG], as have free bluebooks and a lot of other great resources for students,” said Guiterrez, a junior majoring in neuroscience. “This past summer was really an eye-opener. I saw that USG was a really great vessel for change, but at the same time, it’s not perfect. No family is perfect, and the Trojan Family is no exception. We have failed to live up to our values, both as an organization as well as the Trojan Family collectively.”
The candidates also spoke about racial justice, citing a need for a larger focus on diversity, equity and inclusion within USG and more action from University administration on racial justice issues.
Hunter Hinson, a sophomore majoring in political science and communication, presented the idea of a USC History Fund, which would provide students and faculty resources to study USC’s history with race and identity, as well as its relationship with South LA.
Tommy Nguyen, a junior majoring in history, said that he and his running mate, Gutierrez, looked through @black_at_usc — an Instagram account created during the summer for Black Trojans to share their experiences with racism and microaggressions on campus — to see the changes that students want.
“What we want to focus on is to push the administration to divest from DPS and replace those funds into a special fund for [Black and Indigenous students of color], especially since they have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gutierrez said.
Additionally, Gutierrez wants to investigate those who were explicitly named in posts on the @black_at_usc page.
“It really is not fair and very, very harmful to students that these people that have been named are still teaching, still on campus,” Gutierrez said. “That is really unacceptable.”
The senatorial candidates also discussed their plans to provide support for students regarding the coronavirus. With no set plans or timeline for the University to return to on-campus classes and programming, senatorial candidate Devin Ayala, a freshman majoring in environmental science and health, addressed the need to be involved in larger decision-making.
“I obviously cannot guarantee that we’re going to be back in the fall or the spring, but I can guarantee that I will be part of the dialogue,” Ayala said. “I will bring students’ part of the dialogue into performing and making sure that the transition back to school is safe and effective.”
Alyssa Delarosa, a junior majoring in psychology, attended the event and expressed frustration that there was not more discussion about financial aid for transfer students having transferred herself. However, she was impressed by the candidates who spoke about @black_at_usc, increasing diversity, standing up for USC staff and helping transfer students acclimate to the school.
“I definitely have my 12 [candidates] in mind,” Delarosa said. “It’s still early, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, but I definitely, after tonight, I do have my 12 in mind.”
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