The Undergraduate Student Government held its presidential election debate Thursday, Apr. 5 in the Student Center Auditorium.
The election has four candidates running for USG president.
Colton Newlin, a USG senator representing Inter-Greek Council, Toussaint Mitchell, a USG senator representing Black Affairs Council, Jordan Henderson, a USG senator representing the College of Business and Connor Eigelberger, a junior in Mechanical Engineering.
Students can begin voting online April 10 through April 11 on mycourses.siu.edu.
Points of discussion between candidates were how they would give students a voice through USG, filling senator seats and how each plan to represent the student body.
Newlin, a junior studying psychology said he wants to help students who don’t think their voices are being heard.
“[I want to help] people that feel underrepresented, the people that voice their concerns but never see any change,” Newlin said. “I want to make sure that each person has an equal opportunity for their voice.”
In his opening statement, Mitchell, a junior studying cinema and photography, said there is a disconnect across the university campus.
“This disconnect is not just a problem with a few groups, but one between all groups,” Mitchell said. “As Salukis, we should be involved with our community, one that can support each other while still accepting each other’s differences.”
Eigelberger said USG is not doing enough for the student body, and as a potential first mechanical engineer as USG president, he wants that to change.
“The platform I’m on will bring a fresh perspective, putting STEM into the forefront, […] stopping issues and actually getting things done,” Eigelberger said.
STEM fields of study include science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The first question of the debate asked candidates how they would make USG strong.
Henderson, a junior studying management, said USG needs to be more involved with the student body.
“Strength comes from awareness,” Henderson said. “In my travels, I’ve found that about 85 to 90 percent of students that I surveyed didn’t know that they were already members of USG.”
Henderson said per Article 4 of the USG constitution every undergraduate student is a member.
“When I entered USG, I felt closed off,” Henderson said. “Not from my fellow senators, [but] I thought that we weren’t spreading our wings as we could to talk to our constituents.”
Newlin said the biggest issue currently is the number of USG senators.
“Do you guys know that we’re sitting at half capacity for the undergraduate student government right now?” Newlin said. “There’s people like Hispanic Student Council, the Latino Cultural Association, there are the non-traditional students, these people aren’t being represented. They have seats but no one is filling them.”
Newline said he believes USG needs to vet incoming senators strictly.
“It’s too easy to be a senator right now,” Newlin said. “They should have an interview process with our executive board.”
Mitchell said every seat needs to be filled but also the senators need to be committed to the job. He said he agreed with Newlin that there should be stricter vetting of senators.
“It’s not about making it harder to get in,” Mitchell said. “It’s about making sure the senators are qualified.”
Eigelberger said the idea to vet senators strictly as a solution to fill more positions is counter-intuitive.
“This room’s not even full. Most people probably didn’t even know about this,” Eigelberger said. “Right now we just need people to know about it. Nobody’s trying to sign up and not getting in.”
Newlin said making it harder to join USG is a way to have higher retention, using the university’s enrollment as an analogy.
“If you drop the requirement, you see low retention rates,” Newlin said. “I wouldn’t want to see that happen to USG, [don’t] let people come in and they give up halfway through.”
Eigelberger said retention doesn’t matter if you don’t have enrollment to begin with.
“First you have to have people who want to join,” Eigelberger said. “Getting them to join USG in the first place, that’s going to be your biggest thing. That’s going to lead to retention.”
One of the public questions submitted anonymously at the debate, read by debate moderator Roman Cole, a freshman majoring in business, said “How do you plan on representing students with opinions that may differ from your own?”
Mitchell said when he joined USG his opinion faded away because it’s not part of his job to voice his own views.
“My job is to represent the students,” Mitchell said. “If the students don’t like something, or if the students have concerns, it’s my job to listen.”
Henderson said the ability to agree to disagree is important so opposing sides can find common ground.
“Sometimes through conversing we uncover that we’re all on the same page,” Henderson said. “We won’t have many problems in that area.”
Newlin said he wants to embrace respecting the opinions of the students.
“You have to understand where they’re coming from,” Newlin said. “You have to let them know where you’re coming from. Being bipartisan, not having an agenda, sticking to just whatever the students want.”
Eigelberger said his opinions shouldn’t differ from the students.
“My opinion should instead adapt to theirs,” Eigelberger said. “I should listen to every single student, and I should hear what they have to say. I should voice their opinions.”
The election result announcement will be held Wednesday, April 11 at 4:30 p.m. in the Student Center Missouri Room.
Staff writer Jeremy Brown can be reached at [email protected]
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