Emma Pettit – From the balcony to the floor, students filled the 900 Room on Sunday, February 12th, to watch the SGA presidential debate between Alex Soltany ’18, Houston Downes ’18, and Connor Murphy ‘18. Each candidate gave a three-minute opening statement before answering questions, both officially moderated by Davidsonian Co-Editor-in-Chief Matt Landini ’17 and from the audience.
Alex Soltany introduced himself as a premed Middle Eastern Studies major and started the debate by giving two reasons he was running for SGA president with his running mate Malia Dickson ‘18. He spoke first about his grandfather’s legacy as an Iranian immigrant who came to the United States in the 1960s. His grandfather inspired Soltany to believe that everyone can express themselves how they chose. Second, he said that after 3 years of participation in SGA with Dickson, “We are not finished at all.”
Houston Downes emphasized his commitment to his platform by running without a vice presidential candidate. He told the audience, “my ideas are why I’m here” and focused on three platform points: mental health reform, revitalization of career development, and integration of ITS on campus.
Connor Murphy is a Political Science major from New Jersey and the current SGA vice president, running with Shassata Fahim ‘18. His introduction focused on the limited resources at Davidson and unequal access to them. Murphy mentioned his work with the meal plan exchange and hopes to improve student health care on campus. He voiced his faith in all the candidates when he said, “We all want to improve Davidson, we just have different plans to get there.”
Many of the moderator’s questions focused on communication and branching the gap between different viewpoints. The first question centered around the Milo Yiannopoulos debate and whether the SGA should have taken a stance. Murphy believed the SGA should have taken a stance and promoted understanding between marginalized identities and those less affected by prejudice.
Downes responded, “I fought against Milo coming” as a Republican representative in the Center for Political Engagement. Soltany said, “The SGA needs to ensure the well-being of all students to say what they want to say and feel safe on campus.”
When asked if the candidates would work with a Trump supporter in SGA, or someone with fundamentally different beliefs, all answered yes, echoing the same effort to promote understanding in an environment where everyone feels safe to share their views.
The candidates were asked about their most important accomplishment as well as the SGA action they disagreed with most. Soltany was proudest of his work on the 75 block meal plan that gave students a more affordable option, yet he was frustrated with the lack of communication between students and senators. Downes acclaimed the free EMT certification program that prepares pre-med students and allows for a safer environment down the hill. He was less impressed with the new Justice, Equality, and Community requirement that he felt diluted the requirements rather than strengthening the curriculum. Murphy spoke about the passing of Ben Callinder ‘17 as a tragedy that the SGA responded to with compassion and support, while he was disappointed with an SGA encounter with a student articulating discomfort with police presence in PCC houses. He exposed unprofessionalism in this instance that goes against the SGA’s effort to take everyone’s opinion seriously.
Tai Tran ‘18 asked the candidates’ opinion on gender neutral housing, and all three agreed that it was part of a campus trend that student opinion was evolving faster than the administration, and whoever the SGA president is will need to lead that change.
Ben Corson ’17 asked what the SGA would do to address the contradictions of the financial aid policy at Davidson: while we claim to be a loan free institution, 20% of students take out over $16,000 in federal loans, and even more in private loans. Downes responded, “If we are going to keep raising tuition we need to redefine ‘need’… we can’t keep pinching the middle class.” Soltany wanted to make sure that students’ expectations going in to Davidson were the reality. The candidates closed by encouraging students to vote on Monday and share their ideas with the SGA to reach the great potential for progress in the coming year.
The elections results were released on Monday evening. Due to none of the candidates crossing the majority threshold (50.1%), a run-off election between the two top candidates, Soltany and Downes, will occur today.