MSA debate highlights diversity, personal experiences and hardships

The debate was held Thursday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Allen Auditorium.
MSA presidential candidate Payton Head speaks Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, at Allen Auditorium in the Arts and Science Building. Each candidate was allowed time to answer questions on diversity and social justice issues moderated by Four Front and The Maneater. The election will be held online Nov. 10-12.

Four Front Minority Council and The Maneater hosted the second Missouri Students Association presidential debate Thursday.

Slates Myles Artis/Mary Cate O’Brien, Payton Head/Brenda Smith-Lezama and Jordan McFarland/T.J. Hinch answered questions prepared by the two groups on the topics of diversity and social justice, as well as questions tweeted by the audience.

All three slates pulled from personal experiences and life challenges to highlight their responses throughout the debate.


On a college campus, why is social justice advocacy important?

All three slates agreed that MU is a very diverse campus, and social justice advocacy is very important. Artis/O’Brien said no two people are alike, and the beauty of having such a big campus is seeing all the different cultures.

“We want to reflect and promote all the issues that the students here are reflected on,” Artis said. “We, as a student government, should advocate and bring awareness to issues on this campus.”

McFarland/Hinch agreed, saying campus has incredible diversity and a wealth of stories among students. The slate said they would encourage conversation among students to bring them together.

Head/Smith-Lezama said they feel very close to the topic of social justice, since both joined the MSA Social Justice Committee as freshmen. Both Head and Smith-Lezama said they felt out of place at first at MU, but found their way through MSA and other organizations they joined, which they said created an environment in which they could be themselves, and they want that for all students.

“MU creates an environment to celebrate all identities, and it’s important we give every student that opportunity,” Smith-Lezama said.

Artis/O’Brien: Do you believe that Greek students are overrepresented on this campus? Is it a problem that we need to address/resolve?

O’Brien said as part of the Greek community, she understands that people might have an issue with the amount of power Greeks have even though they’re less than a third of the campus.

She said there is a schism between Greeks and non-Greeks, but it shouldn’t be there. To help the communities work together, she said she hopes to implement better collaborative efforts and better representation of all organizations on campus.

“Greeks do wonderful things, but non-Greeks do just as wonderful things as well and that needs to be celebrated,” O’Brien said.

There was no rebuttal from either of the other slates.

In 2012, Tiger Pantry found that nearly 20 students identify as homeless. What resources would you create to help students such as these and address the issue?

All three slates agreed that accessibility of resources like Tiger Pantry and Truman’s Closet is important, since both are far from central campus.

Artis/O’Brien suggested working with Tiger Line or the Missouri Department of Transportation to improve accessibility to students in need who do not have cars.

McFarland said the issue is not creating new organizations, but ensuring spending for existing organizations is efficient and those resources are attainable for all students.

Head brought up his own experience being homeless and mentioned a possible initiative with Residence Halls Association, which would ensure homeless students have housing.

What do you plan to do to implement a more inclusive environment structurally here at MU, and what experience do you have doing that on campus already?

The three slates agreed there needs to be a more inclusive environment at MU. However, they all hope to do different things to make this happen.

Artis/O’Brien said they want to enhance the experience of black students, and advocate for mental health.

“Structurally, MSA needs to collaborate, and make sure all events are available to all students and inclusive as well,” O’Brien said.

McFarland/Hinch had an emphasis on including disabled or paralyzed students, because McFarland said he has been temporarily paralyzed twice. The slate ultimately wants a structure where students feel comfortable approaching MSA if they have a problem.

“You should create a structure where,” McFarland said, “when a student feels something is not safe, you can address that as a student government.”

Head/Smith-Lezama also had an emphasis on accessibility. Head’s mom is wheelchair-bound, and Head said she was unable to get into Memorial Student Union.

However, the slate addressed more than just accessibility, and discussed how they could restructure the MU Student Center.

“There is a noticeable divide between these organizations and resources (in the center),” Head said. “I want to address how our Student Center is set up, because several students don’t even know where the Center for Student Involvement is.”

What steps would you take to expand the “Enough is Enough” campaign?

Artis/O’Brien said the next step they want to take is action. Their plan, PROWHL, will place students at designated places around campus so students feel safer walking home. Artis said this is an effort to put more eyes on the ground. O’Brien said students will be both Green Dot and Title IX trained. They hope this program will enrich STRIPES, and not compete with it.

McFarland/Hinch said they hope to get students talking about these issues by creating a video to educate students. He also wants to take advantage of RHA by spreading the Green Dot program to freshmen in residence halls.

Head/Smith-Lezama said they hope to Green Dot-train first-year students through Freshmen Interest Groups and learning communities through the residence halls. They will encourage students to familiarize themselves with the resources available in the lower level of the Student Center. They also hope to encourage Summer Welcome leaders to stress to freshmen that anyone is welcome in the centers in the Student Center.

As a rebuttal to Artis/O’Brien’s PROWHL program, they wanted to stress how STRIPES was created. Tiger Watch, a program similar to PROWHL, was ultimately unsuccessful in its efforts, and STRIPES was created to take its place. Smith-Lezama said a lot of students apply for STRIPES, and that rejected students shouldn’t be thrown into an additional program.

Artis/O’Brien responded, saying they are not trying to “reinvent the wheel.” They acknowledged the unsustainability of Tiger Watch. It operated every night. PROWHL would only be in service during the same time as STRIPES.

What is one social justice event/program that you would like to see grow? How did it impact you personally? Why would you say that event/program is related to social justice?

Artis addressed Community 360, which deals with gender, race and sexuality, as a diversity program from which more students could benefit.

“It was an eye-opening experience to learn about different people of different backgrounds,” Artis said. “It was a very deep, emotional experience, and with that participation, students will have an open mind and understand the diverse individuals we have (on campus).”

McFarland said Hate Wall was an event that had a large effect on him.

“It brought attention to so many issues,” McFarland said. “When you see those words on the wall all together, that sends a great message.”

Head/Smith-Lezama identified the Social Justice Symposium as their highlighted event.

“It started just three years ago, and it has grown every single year,” Head said. “All of these people are speaking about their identities and why they matter.”

Head/Smith-Lezama: In your platform, you mention that you would like to “reevaluate the role of MSA Chief Diversity Officer.” Will you elaborate on that?

Head/Smith-Lezama said they want the Chief Diversity Officer to work very closely with the Social Justice Committee, as well as serve as a liaison for social justice in student life.

Head said Smith-Lezama was appointed Chief Diversity Officer, but the position was undermined, and MSA as a whole decided the position wasn’t necessary, and gave it no duties.

Pulled from Twitter: How will you make campus more inclusive in regards to our presently segregated Homecoming?

All three slates had different views on how to create a more united homecoming, and focused on the Legion of Black Collegians and the Greek community.

Artis/O’Brien, who are both involved in Greek Life, said partnerships should be a cohesive and collaborative effort.

McFarland/Hinch said Homecoming royalty needs to be more diverse, and they want to reach out to organizations and students that feel ignored.

Head/Smith-Lezama described Homecoming as one homecoming, but two traditions.

What does being an LGBT ally mean to you? Artis said he’s supported his sister, who identifies as lesbian, throughout her life and he will continue that support on campus with the students.

“If we continue to raise awareness and continue to conquer the issues that affect that community, we’ll bring positive light and change,” he said.

McFarland/Hinch said being an ally is understanding LGBT isn’t the only identification a person can have. They encourage students to use positive peer pressure if they witness an offensive act to create an all-inclusive campus and society.

Head said educating yourself and handling difficult conversations is being a true ally. As a member of Queer People of Color, he stressed intersectionality — that everyone’s different identities collide to make them who they are. He also said that Greek Allies is very important and has done a good job in removing the stigma between the Greek and LGBT community.

How will you actively seek out students’ issues and concerns, especially of marginalized students? The slates agreed that there should be better communication between MSA and students.

Artis/O’Brien emphasized the importance of meeting with organizations.

“We shouldn’t expect groups to come to MSA,” O’Brien said. “We should actively go out and see what their needs are, not only budgetarily, but on a personal level.”

McFarland/Hinch said MSA representatives should go to student groups and organizations as “just another student.”

“These are the people it’s our job to represent,” Hinch said. “Their voice should be our voice.”

Head/Smith-Lezama cited their experience in social justice, saying they would make sure marginalized students know they have a voice.

“Every year, we hear ‘we need to increase communication,’” Head said. “Let’s actually do it.”

Do you plan on becoming involved in student-led initiatives, such as MU4MikeBrown? If so, how?

All three slates agreed it depends on the issue that is being stated.

Head/Smith-Lezama said they would love to put their personal opinion in everything, but they represent over 30,000 students and cannot.

McFarland/Hinch said they will stand behind the students and support them all the way.

“When students support something, you have to get behind them and bring them along as if they were the chairman of whatever committee,” Hinch said.

The Artis/O’Brien slate agreed with both, and offered insight regarding both stances.

“As a student government, we should be present and show support of certain issues,” Artis said. “Just showing up shows that we care about what’s going on and will help the initiative.”

How do you plan to connect transfer students and off-campus freshmen to the rest of campus?

Artis/O’Brien want to get these students more involved in organizations, which they said will help them find their niche.

McFarland/Hinch said they hope to create better parking for students who live off-campus. McFarland said he hopes to have an MSA representative at RHA meetings to work with them on this issue.

Head/Smith-Lezama said they will continue to work with New Student Program resources and hope to start working with the off-campus housing locations. They want to encourage off-campus housing locations to come to campus more to connect them with the university.

In a situation where you were found accountable for offending a group of students on campus, how would you handle it?

Artis/O’Brien said they would pay attention to language and educate MSA on diversity to prevent offending a group.

McFarland/Hinch said they would make an effort to understand them.

“You can’t just send out an email or reach out once,” McFarland said. “You have to immerse yourself in their experience. You can’t be political about it.”

Head/Smith-Lezama agreed that they would have a conversation with the offended group to get a better understanding.

McFarland/Hinch: According to your platform, how are you going to “reverse victim blaming culture” within your time in the office?

McFarland said victim blaming is unacceptable, and people should be more concerned about sexual assault.

“You have the education in place,” he said. “You have the organizations in place. Now you need to activate the culture. When, according to MUPD, you as a university have only one in 90 sexual assaults reported, something is wrong.”

There was no rebuttal from other slates.

How do you plan to incorporate the concept of One Mizzou into your administration?

The concept of One Mizzou is supported by all three slates, and each one has a very similar idea of how to go about establishing the university as ‘One Mizzou.’

The Head/Smith-Lezama slate said One Mizzou is a movement for inclusivity and their campaign stands for an even bigger diversity initiation to include everyone on campus.

“A lot of people don’t understand what MU is,” Head said. “We tend to target people who are already involved and it’s important to figure out how to get to students who are under-represented.”

The Artis/O’Brien slate said One Mizzou should connect all parts of campus together to be successful.

McFarland/Hinch said they want to increase the number of diversity-related events beyond just One Mizzou Week.

“We need more tangible events throughout the year to remind students this is not just one week,”McFarland said.

Pulled from Twitter: Have you ever been to an Asian American Association or Four Front meeting? What have you done to work with these organizations?

Artis said he hasn’t been to a Four Front meeting. As a student representative, he said, he will take the initiative to step forward to build a relationship to deal with issues that are affecting organizations under the Four Front umbrella.

Head/Smith-Lezama said they are longtime participants in Four Front, so they want to reach out to other organizations instead of making them come to MSA first.

McFarland/Hinch said they have reached out to organizations that are a part of RHA. They said if they are unable to attend meetings, they hope to get to know other organizations by bonding with them through eating lunch together or playing basketball.

Do you believe that there are ways to make college more affordable for students? If so, how?

All three slates agreed that a common reason students do not come back to MU for a second semester or year is because of financial need.

Artis/O’Brien said they want to work with the financial aid office and create an emergency fund for students who need it, so they can come back to the university they love.

“Student loans is something on the forefront of our minds, as well as finding jobs on campus and letting students know there are ways to get money and sponsorships,” Artis said.

McFarland/Hinch agreed.

Head/Smith-Lezama said they want to work with MU to offer more online classes, making tuition more affordable for students. They also said they want to figure out how much of student fees are really going towards the betterment of students.

Pulled from Twitter: How are you going to support and honor student veterans on campus?

O’Brien called student veterans “inspiring,” and said they bring something special to campus.

“Student veterans are forgotten because they don’t fit in the traditional box of what a typical student might be,” O’Brien said. “They bring experience and outside knowledge that adds to our campus. We should work with VA and other organizations to support them.”

McFarland said listening to veterans’ needs is the first thing MSA should do.

“We have to extend both arms and make that extra effort,” McFarland said. “It can be as simple as reserving two seats in the Senate to non-traditional students or student veterans.”

Head/Smith-Lezama brought up the need for more accessibility across campus as an issue that affects veterans.

“Accessibility is spoken about time and time again,” Smith-Lezama said. “Walking under the Memorial Union arch is a staple of the Mizzou experience and the fact that it is built for veterans but not accessible to them is very problematic.”

The MSA presidential election poll opens online at 5 p.m. Monday and runs until 5 p.m. Wednesday.

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