|Celebrating Student Participation in the ASuop Candidate Forum|
It’s election season at Pacific. Polls are still open and students are getting emails and verbal encouragement to vote if they haven’t already. There are four candidates running for ASuop president, each with a diverse background and a passion for leadership and for Pacific.
Last Wednesday night, these candidates and their running mates participated in a candidate forum at the Lair. The forum began with four questions asked by the moderator and graduate student, Julie Fontana. After that, candidates could direct questions to each other. Finally, audience members submitted questions on note cards that could be directed to one, many, or all of the candidates.
As the student newspaer on Pacific's campus, The Pacifican does not make endorsements. The candidates in each of the four tickets range from Greek and not Greek, upperclassmen and underclassmen, and have extracurricular organizations and activities that are, combined, too numerous to list.
The forum is an important venue for these candidates to not only explain their platforms but engage in a dialogue with both their competition and the student body as a whole. Students asked questions about topics ranging from parties on the weekend to multiculturalism and diversity and representation of graduate students. Each candidate emphasized communication and shared student concerns about tuition and other budgetary issues. However, while there are many similarities in each ticket’s platform, there are also many differences.
Fontana encouraged audience members to use Twitter during the event with the hashtag "asuop elections." The ASuop Twitter account used the hashtag to summarize arguments and statements made by each candidate. Students used the hashtag to ask questions and express concerns or support throughout the forum. The forum lasted two hours, but a large number of questions went unasked and unanswered at the event. At least one student whose question was not answered used Twitter to interact with ASuop about this issue.
To some degree, this is a positive aspect of the forum. It shows that students were engaged in the forum, and are more willing to participate in a dialogue about the future of their student government and the university in general. Perhaps it is even a sign that more students will vote or have voted in the elections this year. Last year, only 23 percent of the student body voted, and that was a major increase from previous years.
However, it is also disappointing for students who wanted their question addressed and never got a direct response at the forum. These students might have left the forum feeling ignored or even censored.
ASuop later posted these questions on their Facebook page and encouraged the candidates to reply to them using the comments function. Questions included "‘I believe strong emerging leaders continue work off their predecessors. What work do you plan to continue, and what areas can you identify for improvement?"; "‘In your opinion, what do you think "went wrong" in this current administration and how do you plan to tackle these issues?’"; and, "‘What will you do about safety on campus?’" Another question was, "In Pacific 2020, our Strategic Plan, Strategy 3.2 states "Advance the diversity and inclusiveness of the Pacific community." What ideas do you have to support this strategy as ASuop president and vice president, and how would you implement those ideas?’"
The number of readers of the Facebook page is harder to estimate than the number of audience members at the forum. It seems likely that fewer people read candidate responses, and it is apparent that not all candidates responded to each question or even to very many questions that were directed towards all four tickets. There is a difference in how people respond to a question in person versus in writing. It is common knowledge in the journalism industry that in-person interviews are preferable to any other interview form and that the answers that journalists receive in-person are the most genuine. The candidates did a great job responding both on Facebook and in person, but I wonder if students would have felt more satisified with the answer if they had heard it at the forum in the Lair.
The forum was well organized. The responses were interesting and gave me a better understanding of each candidate’s passions and platform. In the future, perhaps ASuop could hold a second forum or spend more time during the forum taking student questions. As a senior, I’ve gone to a number of these forums and talked to a lot of potential ASuop presidents and vice presidents. The same issues come up: school spirit, increasing communication, tuition and financial aid, and safety on campus. Maybe ASuop could have forums with a focus on specific topics that are common in these elections. That way, candidates can go more in-depth on their platforms in these target areas, and students have more time to ask more specific questions about the issues that they care about the most. Allowing students to have more opportunities to engage in discussion with all the options on the ballot will encourage voting participation and allow students to get to know the candidates better.
Why would students care or vote if they feel like it doesn’t affect them? By being able to get to know candidates and ask questions about the issues most relevant to them, students will immediately become affected and have a reason to participate in the election. The ASuop president represents the entire student body to the Board of Regents, President Eibeck and the vice president of student life. The president represents the student body on numerous committees and is oftentimes the only student voice there. The importance of the office and why students should weigh their options carefully cannot be overemphasized.
I hope with events such as the candidate forum, as well as the Pacifican Voter’s Guide, students will be more informed about the candidates and the issues and feel like they will be making a difference on their campus by voting.
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