Student Council presidential candidates discuss inclusion, campaign funding in debate

Candidates use debate to share platforms, plans for StudCo if elected

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Kelsey Kilgore (left) and Sarah Kenny (right) answered questions from moderators before taking questions from the audience.

Ashley Botkin | Cavalier Daily

Student Council presidential candidates Sarah Kenny and Kelsey Kilgore answered questions about a variety of topics, from diversity to campaign funding to sexual assault in a Tuesday night debate hosted by the Minority Rights Coalition.

The candidates first answered seven questions from the moderators — who were unaffiliated with the MRC due to the organization’s endorsement of Kenny — before answering questions from the students in attendance, who nearly filled the Nau 101 lecture hall.

Experience and platforms

To begin the debate, the moderators asked the candidates to discuss their experiences and why each of them believe they to be the best candidate for the job.

Kenny, a third-year College student, focused on her extensive experience on StudCo, saying she has been a member since the first semester of her first year and knows both the strengths and the weaknesses of the organization. She said experience and knowledge makes her best suited to become the next StudCo president. Kenny has served as StudCo vice president for administration over the last year.

Kilgore, a third-year Batten student, said her experiences at the University include her involvement with the Delta Delta Delta sorority, her three years on the varsity women’s soccer team and her status as a Fellow at the Meriwether Lewis Institute. She said these experiences, which she claimed resonate with the student body, make her better suited for the job.

Transfer student integration

Another question asked by the moderators was how they would help integrate transfer students into the University community, since approximately 600 transfers join the student body every fall.

Kilgore again drew on her experience as a student athlete, mentioning how the team had formed an instant support system and friend group for athletes who transferred. For the student body more generally, though, she recommended an activities fair specifically targeted to transfer students.

“One of my ideas was to have an organization fair where CIOs come out and really try to integrate transfer students,” Kilgore said.

Kenny, on the other hand, disagreed with Kilgore’s plan. She said under her plan the engagement of transfer students would fall under the jurisdiction of Student Council’s diversity engagement committee.

“I don’t necessarily think that having a separate activities fair for transfer students would necessarily be the best idea,” Kenny said.

Health and safety on Grounds

After the moderators’ questions, audience questions took up the majority of the debate time.

Alex Smith-Scales, a second-year College student, asked the candidates what they would do to address issues of health and safety, particularly surrounding unplanned pregnancies and STI testing, given the prevalence of a “hookup culture” at the University.

Kenny said the “Know Your Rights” aspect of her platform would help better educate students of their options in such situations.

“I think we need to preempt this conversation with a base level of information,” Kenny said.

Though Kilgore said she had no specific policies planned to address the issue, she agreed its taboo status was problematic.

“I think this culture of silence, we need to break that,” Kilgore said.

Diversity at the University — socioeconomic, racial and political

Several students asked questions addressing diversity, from racial diversity to socioeconomic diversity to diversity of thought.

Kilgore said it was important to have mutual respect for different viewpoints and an open dialogue between students of different backgrounds and ideologies, as well as an open membership policy for StudCo.

“All voices do need to be represented on Student Council,” Kilgore said. “For me this would start with my open membership policy.”

Kenny also said diversity was a top focus for her campaign.

“The number one priority of my platform is diversity, equity and inclusion,” Kenny said. “Our work is not relevant if we are not representative of student body.”

Kenny also proposed a special legislative advisory committee to keep an eye on bills in the state legislature in Richmond, such as the recent HB 1410 which had a provision that would have severely limited the funds available for the University’s AccessUVA financial aid program. Although the most controversial part of the bill was revised, the bill died in the Virginia State Senate Education and Health Committee Feb. 16.

One of the student questions on diversity was much more pointed. An audience member asked the candidates to take a side: “black lives matter, or all lives matter, and why?”

Kenny said black lives matter and it’s important to acknowledge how African-Americans are systematically disadvantaged. She said the “all lives matter” movement attempts to gloss over those disadvantages.

Kilgore also said black lives matter and everyone should be equal.

“I agree with Sarah, black lives matter as well, and I just think we should all be equal,” Kilgore said. “I don’t think that there should be discriminatory actions against any race regardless of where you come from.”

Greek representation?

Among the student groups mentioned in audience questions were Greek organizations. An audience member who identified herself as part of University Greek life asked how the candidates would treat the Greek community.

The candidates’ positions were polar opposites on this issue. Kilgore said Greek organizations were an underrepresented group on StudCo, and proposed integrating more members of fraternities and sororities into StudCo, including a Greek life representative on the executive board.

Kenny disagreed, saying there was no need to increase Greek life members’ participation in StudCo.

“I feel that they are overrepresented and other groups are far more underrepresented,” Kenny said.

Candidates discuss campaign funding

Campaign funding was also an issue of interest to the students in attendance, as multiple questions addressed the candidates’ spending on their campaigns.

Second-year College student Brian Cameron asked the candidates to fully and accurately describe how their campaigns were funded as well as talk about the message the campaign funding was sending to lower income students.

Kilgore — who reported $2,490 in projected expenses on her interim campaign expenditure report on Feb. 13 and told The Cavalier Daily she will likely end up spending $1,500 in total — said her campaign events were self-funded and necessary to compete with Kenny.

“It’s just so difficult for an outsider to become involved in student government,” Kilgore said. “It was just for name recognition, I wanted to get my name out there and I didn’t feel that if I did anything less I would be able to compete with Sarah.”

Kenny said she had been self-funding her campaign as well, and felt her spending was nothing out of the ordinary. Her interim campaign expenditure report was $200, although she recently told The Cavalier Daily she would likely spend more money to compete with her opponent.

“I believe that the things that I have spent money on have been consistent with how I have seen other candidates spend money,” Kenny said at the debate.

Political involvements in the campaign

Julia Evans, a fourth-year College student, brought up Kilgore’s acknowledged involvement with Turning Point USA, a conservative student activist group.

“I’m just concerned because I know that one of you has acknowledged that you are a member of an organization that keeps a watchlist of professors based on their political views,” Evans said.

Turning Point USA has a compiled “watchlist” of liberal-minded professors at universities across the nation.

Kilgore said all students should feel comfortable to speak out in classes no matter their political views.

“I don’t think that students should be afraid to speak up in classrooms, regardless of their political beliefs, and I think that some students may feel that way,” Kilgore said.“I think that we all just need to be understanding of where we’re all coming from.”

Kenny agreed with the importance of diversity of thought, but strongly opposed Turning Point USA’s watchlist.

“I absolutely think that people of all ideologies and philosophies should feel comfortable speaking up in the classroom,” Kenny said. “But I do not think that diversity of thought at all extends to keeping a watchlist of professors.”

No University faculty are currently listed on the website.

Tanner Hirschfeld, a first-year College student, asked a question regarding attacks against Kilgore that he said were motivated by her affiliation with Turning Point USA and her personal political beliefs.

A letter — entitled “Urgent Message to the University Community” and signed by “Concerned Students At UVA” — was posted around Grounds Feb. 19, arguing that Kilgore’s support for then-candidate and now President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election was concerning to groups of students that are “personally at risk due to Trump’s presidency.” The letter also called Kilgore “an extremely unqualified candidate” and alleged she is “trying to win the election through wealth rather than merit.”

Kilgore said she was disappointed in the personal attacks and had hoped for a more positive reaction to her candidacy.

“I do not appreciate the personal attacks against me and especially my family … I know how hard it is for an outsider to become involved,” Kilgore said. “I feel like people should be excited that someone from the outside is trying to become more involved in Student Council.”

Kenny similarly said she was displeased with the negative tone of the election. She said she had taken no part in any negative campaigning.

“I want to make clear to everyone here that in my campaign I have focused on being positive and being above board and talking about my experiences,” Kenny said. “I am sorry that throughout this campaign you may have felt attacked and your family may have felt attacked, because that is not the spirit of this race.”

University student elections began Tuesday, Feb. 21 and will continue until Thursday, Feb. 23. 

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