Presidential debate covers diversity, student wellness, safety


Kennedy DeRaedt/Iowa State Daily

Senior in business economics Austin Graber (left) answers a question while senior in political science Cody Woodruff (middle) and junior in political Benjamin Whittington (right) listens. Graber’s campaign is “Elevate. Educate. Connect.” The Iowa State Student Government Presidential Debate was held in the Campanile Room of Memorial Union on Feb. 26.

Madelyn Ostendorf

A volunteer day, accessible parking and raising the minimum wage on campus were all topics at the final debate of the Student Government election season.

The three candidates for president of Student Government debated about campus climate and safety, trademark, student wellness, tuition affordability and diversity Tuesday at the Memorial Union.

Benjamin Whittington emphasized his experience, both outside and inside of Student Government. He has experience as the vice chair of the Residency Committee, the vice president of politics at Iowa State, as well as experience in off campus political activism. He said he wants to use the energy and the tools he has to bring Cyclones together.

Cody Woodruff discussed his experience as a member of Student Government. Woodruff has served in Student Government during each of his three years at Iowa State and currently serves as the speaker of the senate. Woodruff’s campaign focuses on understanding identities, unlimited opportunities, unified community and unconditional support.

Austin Graber spoke to his love of Iowa State and his work not only as an Ivy College of Business senator but as a Cyclone Aide and a community adviser. His campaign is focused on pushing forward and growing the Cyclone pride and community.

Community issues and safety

Whittington’s campaign advocates for building community for student of all different backgrounds by promoting organizations and programs on campus that will help students feel more included. Whittington stated that 28 percent of students of color felt unwanted on Iowa State’s campus, and his campaign strives to make all students feel welcome.

Whittington also spoke about his plans to impact and improve both student infrastructure and tuition affordability by going to advocate for students via the Legislative Ambassadors program that Student Government currently uses.

“It is a program that I strongly believe in, and I strongly believe that they should be expanded upon and have members of Student Government added into it, whether you are a senator or not,” Whittington said. “And we should make it abundantly clear that our duty is not just to the students, but to the state legislature, advocating that we need that funding.”

Graber’s campaign aims to install an Interpersonal Violence Informational Coordinator into the cabinet of Student Government. This coordinator would be in charge of promoting the ACCESS and Green Dot programs on campus. The Cabinet already has a Student Wellness Director, but Graber said he feels having a specific Interpersonal Violence Informational Coordinator is important.

Woodruff’s campaign touched on the issue of sexual assault and responses to a sexual assault on campus. The campaign aims to bring sexual assault testing kits to campus, as well as looking into a 24-hour on-campus physician as well as the expansion of SafeRide to keep students out of those possibly dangerous situations.

Woodruff also talked about his campaign’s plan for an emergency rent assistance fund for students who need help. Though, he said, there are other Story County initiatives, they are not as effective or known by students who need them. The emergency rent assistance fund would come from donations from private donors and would not raise student fees.

Both the Whittington and Woodruff campaigns spoke about the expansion of SafeRide in order to provide a wider range of safe travel for students. However, Graber said Iowa State Police Chief Michael Newton told him the expansion of SafeRide is not possible.

“[Newton] said that it is against state code to expand SafeRide, because it would be competing against private entities such as Uber and Lyft,” Graber said.


Woodruff’s campaign pulls to get more students involved in Student Government and make sure that their voices are heard. However, Woodruff also stated “diversity for the sake of diversity” turns into tokenization, which he doesn’t want to be the case either.

Woodruff also touched on the responses that Student Government received on their survey about the Tree of Oppression, and expanded on the need for students to be involved.

“Student Government recently sent out a survey focused on the Tree of Oppression, which is something we created last year, and we got, unfortunately, a number of horrendous, heinous remarks back that dealt with nationalism and white supremacy, things that do not belong on this campus and will never belong on this campus,” Woodruff said.

Graber’s campaign also highlighted the Tree of Oppression. He said he believes that educating the public about what the Tree is and what it represents is important, and is a way to celebrate the diversity on Iowa State campus. Graber cited misinformation as a partial cause to the pushback that the Student Government survey received.

One of Graber’s points was working with diverse students in residence halls to help students feel more comfortable on campus. He gave the example of Spectrum, a floor for LBGTQIA+ students, and how reaching out to the Department of Residency is a good step.

Whittington talked about the importance of looking into every single area and aspect of diversity and inclusion in communities at Iowa State. He also emphasized the need to reach out and talk to members of multicultural groups and make sure that every person involved in Student Government come from more diverse backgrounds, thus bringing new ideas.

Whittington’s also spoke about his personal experience with discrimination, as well as his determination to make sure that every student at Iowa State does not have to go through that same experience. He said he plans to work with communities of color and other marginalized groups.

In discussing inclusivity, Woodruff said this year, Student Government offered the option of putting pronouns on the members’ placards, as well as updating the language used in the bylaws to reflect gender neutral pronouns, both of which he fully supports.

Graber responded, asking why Woodruff did not have pronouns listed on his placard or nametag, and he had heard from some senators that it was for “the aesthetic, and that [Woodruff] wanted to make conservative senators feel welcome.”

When asked if this was true, Woodruff said his statement was “not entirely” correct. Part of the reason he chose to leave his pronouns off his card, he said, was to help make more conservative senators feel more comfortable. Woodruff said he is in full support of the trans community.

In an interview with the Daily on Friday, Woodruff was asked why he does not have his pronouns displayed.

Woodruff said:

“One [reason] was a simple design choice. I thought ‘Cody Woodruff: Speaker’ looked better than having the pronouns on the side. And maybe that’s a really poor reason for not including them, that’s fair criticism, but it was just an aesthetic thing. It was also to, I think, show support to the other people who were on ideologically different ends, but again we value their voices. Something again, we were talking a lot about diversity in terms of looks and appearances, but not enough, I think, about voices. The concern was, we were — and even though Student Government isn’t traditional politics — people were worried the conservative voices were going to leave, and they mattered just as much as every other voice. And I knew how valuable Senator [Wyatt] Scheu had been, I knew how valuable Senator [Jacob] Schrader had been, Senator [Michael] Tupper, others. And so that’s why we left it optional, to make sure they were also included. Otherwise it seems to be ostracizing them. I chose not to. I didn’t put much thought into it.“

Student wellness

Graber talked about Iowa State’s limited resources and how they are not able to get more because of Student Wellness’ limited budget. Graber plans to advocate for the awareness of the current resources that Iowa State has to offer. He also aims to add a segment on the mental health resources that are available during Destination Iowa State.

Additionally, the Graber campaign is looking into putting student organizations’ vice presidents through a type of mental health training.

“In order to become the vice president for the club, they would have to go through a student wellness training,” Graber said. “Therefore, there will be advocates on student wellness in each different club — over 850 clubs.”

Woodruff said Iowa State’s resources were not necessarily lacking, but there could be more staff on hand to help students when they need the help. Woodruff also mentioned that Vice Speaker Kelsey Culbertson is currently creating a mental health fund to help students pay for extra services, funded by private donors.

Whittington said Iowa State’s mental health resources were lacking, and mentioned the helpfulness that he had personally experienced because of the Peer Wellness Educators. Whittington stated that many students on college campuses suffer from anxiety and depression and also plans to advocate for expanded resources from Student Wellness, such as extended hours of operation so students can get help when they need it.