ASWC candidates take the debate stage

Alexa Grechishkin, Campus Life Reporter

On April 6, six candidates running for ASWC positions made the case for their election in the Reid Campus Center basement. The participants pulled out all the stops to convince voters to mark their name on the ballot this election day, April 14. They displayed their wide range of experience while discussing their hopes for the future of ASWC. The debates were moderated by Whitman’s Debate and Forensics team, and candidates got the opportunity to uplift their own platforms, enter into dialogue with their opponents and respond to pertinent audience questions. 

The evening kicked off with a debate between the two candidates for the Finance Chair position, Bidita Nawar and Meghan Kearney. Questions about corruption and honesty in ASWC funding grants were central to the debate. Both candidates emphasized the importance of the student emergency fund and grappling with the delicate balance between anonymity and transparency when granting funds to ASWC members. 

For Kearney, preparing for the debate meant avoiding overly formal answers and instead speaking directly to voters in a conversational manner. 

“I looked at the questions they were sent to me before, and I didn’t write [my answers out] out,” Kearney said. “I was thinking about it, but it also occurred to me that if someone were to come up to me casually and ask me those questions, I would know what to say just from being on the Finance Committee for the past year; I decided to answer them as though it were that situation.” 

All candidates agreed that communication between ASWC and the student body was a crucial point of improvement for the future. The theme of frustration with past ASWC failures extended throughout the evening, with the debate for DEI Chair with candidates Meron Semere, Sybella Ssewakiryanga and Gigi Peterson centering concerns that mirrored issues brought up in the first set of debates. 

For first-year Ssewakiryanga, who has been involved in ASWC since her first semester at Whitman, recognizing points of tension for the student body in the debates and addressing them head-on is critical to producing lasting change. 

“I can definitely understand the grievances people have, but I was a little disheartened to hear how many people were frustrated with the way ASWC works. It is also helpful to have that criticism so we know what we can do better,” Ssewakiryanga said. “It is important that we, as ASWC members, are committed to making sure all information discussed in Senate that can be shared is shared with the rest of the student body.”

The candidate running for Student Development Chair, Val Hoxha, also spoke at the April 6 debate.

On April 13, the ASWC election debates will continue with candidates for Sustainability Chair and ASWC President. For sophomore Owen Jakel, who is running to keep his current position as Sustainability Chair, participating as an ASWC incumbent creates a unique focus within the debates. 

“Coming in as the incumbent, there’s a different goal in mind. I have to defend a lot of the work that I already have been doing,” Jakel said. “We’re coming up off one of the best years for sustainability on campus … [but] there’s a lot of work [needed] to make sure those strategic priorities are still being followed through on.” 

Kearney mentioned how her performance in the debates allowed her to clear up audience confusion on specific bylaws and choices made by the Finance Committee in the past. 

“I hope [the audience] understands that I know the nuts and bolts of what’s going on [with] the Finance Committee, and I know the next steps to take to create a sustainable ASWC finance system,” Kearney said. 

For Ssewakiryanga, the interactive structure of debates was critical to centering voter voices and ensuring that regardless of the election outcome, the elected chairs knew what changes to prioritize. 

“I enjoyed the way the debates were structured. I think it’s really important to have questions from the audience because it’s good to think on your feet and have to answer questions about problems you may not have previously thought about,” Ssewakiryanga said. 

All candidates shared a sense of hope for the future of student government at Whitman. For incumbents, this meant building on past ASWC victories, including collaboration with the CTUIR, work with campus affinity groups and funding measures that provided free STI testing on campus. For the other candidates, centering ASWCs shortcomings and proposing innovative solutions demonstrated their shared perspective of student government not being a lost cause.