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Questions & Rebuttals Take Over Student Government Presidential Debate

Candidates debated for the first time last week. PHOTO/ Emily Beregovich

By Zainab Iqbal

Published: April 18th, 2019

Elections are approaching and there are three very qualified candidates on the line. In a debate last week hosted by our rival paper, The Kingsman, all three of the candidates were in the same room at the same time, answering the moderators, the audience, and at times, one another.

Though all candidates are equally qualified, the way they aim to run student government varies. The old-fashioned pick a straw determined the order in which the candidates would go. Carlos Jesus Calzadilla-Palacio, an activist, began his opening statement. It focused on the downsides of Brooklyn College, namely, the poor infrastructure, the bathrooms, underfunding, and adjunct salaries.

“We need bold leadership and we need real change,” he said. He emphasized that his government would be an ‘activist government’ and would hold the administration accountable because “there’s too much at stake,” he said.

Alyssa Taylor, the current chair at the CLAS Student Government, went next and briefly spoke about how her experience with the school government can help make change.

“I’ve seen firsthand how things can go and I’ve seen firsthand how communication with the administration makes change,” she said. “I believe that empowering the right people to do the job… and be activists… is the right way to do it.”

Hamza Khilji, a member of the B.A.M.D program and the Speech and Debate Team, looked to the future.

“Our campaign is dialing back and focusing on what the responsibilities of student government are,” he said. “Our campaign is not only going to bring back school spirit, but actually address and solve the issues that students have been consistently voicing concerns about for the past three years.”

If USG gets enough petitions, it will be the new student government. There will be no more CLAS (day students) and SGS (night students). In that case, candidates were asked how they will make sure the old SGS students feel represented.

Calzadilla-Palacio said he will make sure there’s a specific committee that will “help address the evening and night students on our campus… we will fight for you and make sure that your concerns are heard.”

Taylor said it’s important for those students to physically see themselves being represented, which is why she has an SGS student on her ticker. “We want their voices to be heard,” she said.

Khilji says the solution to making SGS students feel represented is creating events that include all students.

“There are a lot of facilities these other students and governments are not getting access to,” Khilji said. “Our platform is working very heavily on initiatives that affect all students in terms of not only school spirit, but the classes they take and their experiences.”

How will they each remain accountable to the student body? Calzadilla-Palacio pledged to take only half of his stipend. Taylor said better communication was necessary and acknowledged that this year’s communication was the best. She also emphasized the student empowerment was key. Khilji pledged to give up his entire stipend because he “will work for the students and not the money.”

Disagreements started coming in after it was asked how they would plan on communicating the ongoing of USG on campus more effectively. Taylor said she’d publish a calendar of events and meetings on campus, as well as directly speak to students. Calzadilla-Palacio said personal communication, social media, and bulletin boards are going to work best. Khilji said the best way is to reach out to professors and speak in classrooms. Then came the first rebuttal.

“I think class time is very limited already and professors need to actually educate our students,” Calzadilla-Palacio said.

The next rebuttals came when candidate were asked how they will represent all students on campus regardless of race, religion, political views, or gender. According to Taylor, representation comes when all students are given a voice. She said her slate is filled with students with different identities. “The best way to represent somebody is to physically represent them.”

Calzadilla-Palacio said taking a strong stance against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia is important in student government. Khilji rebutted the statement and said, “If we’re going to be an activist government, you have to understand that activism means taking a stance. As student government, our job is to be neutral. If we take an activism stance, that will ostracize other students.”

Calzadilla-Palacio rebutted that statement and said, “Neutrality in times of oppression is siding with the oppressor, so we will take stances on injustices on campus.”

When it came time for individual questions, Khilji was asked if his campaign can stand up for women, Palestinian, and Muslim students after the student in his student advocate ticket wrote an op-ed essentially defending Professor Mitchell Langbert (who defended sexual assault). He said of course his campaign will, but, “I actually read that article and it’s about defending freedom of speech, not the actions of Professor Langbert,” he said. “We have more than accurate female representation on our board. Zain and I are the only guys on this entire ticket. So as far as representing females go on this campaign, I got your back.”

To that, people in the audience shouted, “Females? Women!”

“It was a slip-up,” Khilji apologized.

Calzadilla-Palacio dominated the audience questions as many were addressed to him. The Excelsior asked all three candidates who they would like to be president if they themselves are not president. Khilji and Calzadilla-Palacio both said Taylor, and Taylor decided to opt out of answering.

Students can vote on BCWebCentral from April 29th to May 2nd.

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