The four candidate slates running for the ASSU Executive Office participated in a debate at CoHo on Wednesday, April 9. The debate was moderated by Joseph Beyda ’15 and Brandon Camhi ’16, the editors in chief of The Stanford Daily and The Stanford Review, respectively.
The slates – which included Nikos Liodakis ’16 and Dottie Jones ’16, John-Lancaster Finley ’16 and Brandon Hill ’16, Joe Troderman ’16 and Nitish Kulkarni ’16 as Divest from ASSU and Mason Stricklin-Elam ’16 and Cassidy Elwood ’16 as the Chaparral’s Paradigm Shift – were each asked to give a three-minute opening statement.
The Finley/Hill slate highlighted their collective experience of five years on the ASSU.
“What motivated the two of us to run for ASSU exec, given our experience, was seeing what the ASSU can do and can’t do,” Finley said. “The ASSU is a limited body, but it’s not a powerless body. This year we have gone through so much, it feels like some of the life has been sucked out of Stanford. What we want to do is bring back the life to Stanford.”
“We want to make sure we are fulfilling Stanford’s educational mission to prepare us for direct usefulness in life and exercise positive influence on behalf of humanity,” he added. “We want to make sure we are enabling every student and student group to pursue that mission.”
Hill described the three main goals of their slate, which included focusing on mental health, making the social scene more vibrant and ensuring that the ASSU is running legitimately and effectively particularly with regard to funding reform.
In outlining the goals of Paradigm Shift, Elwood called for pleasure domes on Wilbur Field, jobs for all girls and, on a more serious note, fixing mental health.
Representing Divest from ASSU, Troderman focused his message on getting more students involved in student government. He emphasized focusing on mental health, ensuring that the recommendations made by the Task Force on Sexual Assault Policies and Practices are enforced and promoting need-blind admission for international students as the key goals of the slate.
The Liodakis/Jones slate argued that their collective experience would enable them to gain a fresh perspective as Executives. Liodakis has had experience on Frosh Council, in the ASSU Senate, as an RA and as the financial coordinator for the ASSU. Jones has had experience as a Bridge Peer Counselor and board member of the Duck Stops Advisory Board, an online academic skills blog for Stanford students.
Liodakis highlighted “redefining, revitalizing and restoring” as key components of the slate. Their platform includes reforming mental health, addressing sexual health topics such as the lack of pregnancy tests within dorms, creating sustainable funding reform, implementing the task force suggestions on sexual assault and enhancing student unity.
“We want to bring the community back together after a very divisive year,” Liodakis said. “This year we hope to change that by having events and opening the conversation to get back to the Stanford that we had when we were freshmen.”
The slates then answered two questions each from The Daily and The Review. Upon being asked by Beyda about their top priority as ASSU Executives, all the slates unanimously pointed to mental health as the most important issue.
The Liodakis/Jones slate emphasized the importance of a follow-up system to ensure the continuity of counseling for those who need it.
“What we realize is that this year there has been a lot of talk about CAPS and a lot of talk about mental health,” Jones said. “We want to look at the root issue as to why mental health is a problem and ensure that when people need help they are going to receive it.”
Troderman/Kulkarni stated that they would draw attention to the issue of mental health by diverting $50,000 -$60,000 of executive stipends to CAPS as a way of lobbying the administration to grant it more funding.
Hill emphasized that increased funding to CAPS is not a standalone solution to enhancing mental health resources at Stanford. Finley recounted his personal experience with CAPS and advocated for a residential counselor program.
“When I was freshman, I lost eight family members, and afterwards my RF recommended CAPS,” Finley said. “I had a terrible experience; they treated me like a file. I then talked to my residence dean and that residential base of support is what helped me get back on my feet freshman year.”
“I was ready to leave this University; I was suicidal; and that’s why we support the residential counselor program,” he added. “We want to move resources to where students already are.”
When Beyda asked what measures the candidates would take to unify the campus community, all three spoke about the importance of community discussions.
The Liodakis/Jones slate spoke about taking the time to listen to divisive issues on campus, as well as having low-stress and fun events. Finley highlighted the significance of conversations among students, particularly in groups like the Stanford Students of Color Coalition, the Stanford First-Generation Low Income Partnership and The Queer Coalition.
Kulkarni, who is a managing editor of The Daily’s tech blog and has previously served as a desk editor in the news section, also emphasized the importance of having safe spaces for debate such as town halls and discussion forums as well as utilizing surveys and analytics to monitor the pulse of student opinions.
When Camhi asked for the candidates’ opinions on the task force’s recommendation of expulsion for those found guilty of sexual assault, the slates unanimously agreed with the task force’s findings.
Camhi then asked each of the slates to detail any shortcomings or lessons learned from the current Executives.
Finley pointed to the importance of having a narrow vision and focus from the start.
“It took a while for [the previous ASSU Executives] to figure out how to structure the cabinet, and [they] tried to do too many things at once,” Finley said. “Later on, which I really appreciated, they addressed the way they were doing things and decided to downsize.”
Kulkarni addressed the importance of greater student involvement with the ASSU and advocated for an Undergraduate Representative Body (URB) comprised of representatives from dorms and student groups that would meet with the Executives on a biweekly basis.
“This URB will allow for students to understand what’s going on and start talking,” Kulkarni said. “It would make the ASSU more in touch with students and allow them to hear from students more often.”
The Liodakis/Jones slate also emphasized the significance of greater transparency between students and the Executive Office. Specifically, they want to keep the conversation open on topics like sexual assault and make students more aware by releasing reports on interim dates about the progress of certain policies.
Beyda and Camhi then delved into candidate-specific questions followed by 10 minutes of cross-examination between slates. Troderman asked each of the other slates if they would be willing to give up their executive stipends for “the greater good,” and while Paradigm Shift did not answer the question, both the Finley/Hill and Liodakis/Jones slates indicated that they would not agree to such an arrangement.
“I am a low income student, and I do not have the privilege to sacrifice my stipend in order to do student government work. Also, [using the stipend for CAPS] is counterproductive to [making] mental health more effective at Stanford,” Finley said. “I don’t think we should tell the University that the ASSU will use its endowment to provide services that Stanford University should be providing.”
Liodakis agreed, adding that he could not speak for the financial situation of his cabinet members and that throwing money at CAPS will not solve the greater issue of mental health at Stanford.
Contact Pallavi Krishnarao at pallavik ‘at’ stanford.edu.