Diversity a big topic at Student Government VP debate

Zach Clemens

Some fireworks went off during the Student Government vice presidential debate when an audience member asked a question about the voting record of one of the candidates as it pertains to diversity.

Ashton Archer, graduate student in mechanical engineering and member of GPSS, asked vice presidential candidate Cody West, sophomore in biology, why he had voted against a bill that would have put on the ballot an opportunity to appoint a member of International Student Council to the Senate.

Archer used strong language from the start and before finishing her statement and question, the moderator, vice commissioner of the election commission Robbie Stokka, advised her she was being too combative and could not ask her question. Undeterred, Archer kept speaking louder and was again told she could not ask her question and had to leave.

“I thought it was very rude for the [vice] election commissioner to not let me ask my question,” Archer said. “My question was not an attack; it was about a matter of public record, which was West’s voting record.”

Archer also said she was invited by both Staudt and West in a lengthy post and discussion on the Staudt-West Facebook page, which has since been deleted, to ask about this issue publicly.

She said Staudt and West did not have any concrete plans on how to tackle diversity issues on campus.

Archer was eventually allowed to ask her questions, and West responded that the reason he voted against the bill was that his constituency, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the CALS Council, was unanimous in their decision in not wanting the bill to pass.

“My justification was based on CALS Council’s unanimous decision to not let that bill pass. I represent CALS,” West said.

Sen. Cole Staudt, junior in political science and West’s running mate, also had an explanation why he did not vote for the bill either.

“My conversations with international students at Iowa State [showed me] that they did not want to be treated differently [being the only seat on Senate that would be appointed],” Staudt said, “They want to be able to run for these seats and be able to have their voices heard instead of being appointed.”

He said their platform has a plan for a diversity and inclusion task force that would work with Reginald Stewart, vice president for diversity and inclusion, to continually work on diversity.

“There is no one solution to diversity. It will always be developing and we will always have to work on things,” Staudt said. “We need to be proactive and not reactive.”

Diversity was a topic throughout the debate.

Akol Dok, senior in political science, agreed that there were issues with diversity on campus.

“I do believe that there is a diversity problem,” he said. “You can’t tackle diversity by forcing people to be together, you just have to encourage it. Many minority groups don’t feel they are represented.”

Sen. Cole Button, sophomore in finance, said if elected they would create a position on the cabinet for a member of the International Student Council, and also questioned West’s vote on the bill for an ISC senator. It should be noted that Button did not attend the Senate meeting that voted on that bill, but he said he was in favor of it and his running mate, Sen. Zackary Reece was a co-author on the bill.

West agreed that there are diversity issues on campus and also noted that “there is not a single person in the [Senate] that won’t help a student in need. If we want to build a diverse body it will take time but it is definitely possible.”

All three candidates agreed the relationship between Student Government and the student body needs to be strengthened.

West said Student Government needs to physically engage students more each week.

Button said it would be a good idea to have senator office hours again, and if elected, Button would create a cabinet position for the International Student Council.

Dok said the most important thing is comfort.

“[That student should] be comfortable coming to Student Government,” Dok said. “A lot of students have issues [they want addressed], and we should be able to show them that we are representing them.”

All three candidates spoke on their experience with Student Government, different councils they have served on and outreach attempts with students. Dok mentioned to both candidates that the outreach and developing relationships needed to begin before the campaigns started, to which West and Button both claimed had begun.

Diversity will continue to be an issue throughout this election season. The Presidential debate will take place Feb. 26 and voting March 1 and 2.