Student Council presidential candidates discuss accessibility, diversity during debate

Candidates used the third-annual debate to share platforms, plans for StudCo if elected

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The 2019 Student Council Presidential Debate hosted by The Cavalier Daily and University Board of Elections.

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Student Council presidential candidates Ellie Brasacchio, a third-year College student and the current chair of the Student Council Representative Body and Arabella Lee, a first-year Curry student, answered questions about various topics — ranging from accessibility to the living wage — during the third-annual Student Council Presidential Debate co-hosted Monday night by The Cavalier Daily and the University Board of Elections — the organization responsible for conducting University-wide student elections and referenda — in Wilson Hall.

Candidate platforms

Candidates outlined their platforms and experience during their opening statements and during the first round of questioning, which consisted of 14 pre-written questions from the moderators.

Brasacchio opened by describing her platform as one built upon accessibility. Brasacchio recalled her experiences as a first-generation, low-income student that motivated her to pursue greater involvement in Student Council. 

“I didn’t come into U.Va. knowing I was a first generation student — I didn’t know what that was until my second year when I was in a focus group of first-gen students, and that was the first time we got together and talked about the issues that we faced,” Brasacchio said. “At that time, I was a representative for the College of Arts and Sciences, and after coming out of that focus group, I realized I could use Student Council to help my community and other communities as well.”

A Student Council representative for the College since her first year, Brasacchio said she hopes to expand recent initiatives to provide free menstrual hygiene products in University bathrooms and further develop the U.Va. Community Food Pantry, which opened in the Runk Green Room in Fall 2018. 

The push for free menstrual products in University bathrooms began in spring 2018 under the efforts of the Safety and Wellness Committee. Brasacchio was involved both this initiative as well as the development of the U.Va. Community Food Pantry, which followed the Nov. 2017 formation of the U.Va. Student Community Food Bank Board.

Meanwhile, Lee crafted her platform around combatting racism on Grounds. She said that in the wake of the deadly white supremacist rallies of Aug. 2017, she hopes to take concrete steps toward healing. 

“Now is the time to address racism in our community,” Lee said. “I feel like we are given promising words and attention — even national attention from the events of 8/11 and 8/12 … but there haven’t been definite actions taken to combat racism. Cultural unity is my platform — I am boldly confronting the problem.” 

Lee also outlined her wish to construct a “direct line of communication” with student organizations on Grounds, whether that be informal or formal. Lee said she was unsure of the exact platform through which this communication would occur. 

Unlike Brasacchio, Lee does not have experience with Student Council at the University — however, she explained that she is an “action-oriented person” with experience working with numerous organizations and people during her high school years. 

Moving into a new administration

When asked to reflect on the successes of the current Student Council administration under the presidential leadership of fourth-year College student Alex Cintron, Brasacchio and Lee both said they’d continue many initiatives undertaken during the last term. 

Brasacchio said continuing the free menstrual hygiene program would be her top priority if elected Student Council president. 

“My top policy priority would be getting free menstrual hygiene products in all of the bathrooms at U.Va.,” Brasacchio said. “It’s not a pie in the sky idea — James Madison University does it, and I think U.Va. as a flagship university should be able to do it as well.”

Lee said she agreed with Student Council’s current initiative to provide free menstrual products, calling it an “active approach” to helping the female population at the University. She added that the past administration has done an admirable job of encouraging diversity in faculty hiring. Namely, she applauded Cintron’s support of translated financial aid documents — a fundamental aspect of the Latinx Student Alliance’s “Ours to Shape” proposal, which was released last October. The proposal calls for increased support for Latinx students and increased Latinx representation among faculty and students. 

“Every initiative by every president should be allowed at least two years to progress, in order to perfect that initiative,” Lee said. “I think it’s very unique that different presidents bring in different initiatives every year … I really admire how [Cintron] is working to encourage more staff and organizations to be more diverse because we are a diverse student body here.”

Brasacchio agreed that Cintron has actively worked to provide a platform for minority student voices by meeting regularly with student leaders of minority Contracted Independent Organizations on Grounds. In the next term, however, she hopes to bring greater attention to financial accessibility at the University.

“Something I would implement would be a renewed focus on financial accessibility,” Brasacchio said. “That’s why I want to create a committee under the Presidential Cabinet for financial accessibility that would work on policies like free, open online textbooks and discounted meal plans.”

Lee agreed that Cintron has worked successfully to facilitate communication between CIOs on Grounds — an initiative she hopes to expand and maintain if she were to be elected. 

“I want to reach out to different organizations and establish a direct line of communication and maintain it,” Lee said.  

Building coalitions on Grounds

Candidates also discussed their plans to facilitate interaction with different minority student groups around Grounds. 

Throughout the debate, Lee often referred to a project she planned to enact if she were to be elected. While Lee chose not to reveal the details regarding her project, she did say that part of it would include a campaign to spotlight different minority groups on Grounds by dedicating each month to the celebration of a certain minority organization. 

Meanwhile, Brasacchio detailed her objective to make Student Council more representative of the student body it serves. She further intends to promote Student Council general body meetings as a platform for minority student voices and agendas like the Ours to Shape report.

“I would continue what Alex has done with meeting with CIO leaders across grounds regularly,” Brasacchio said. “I think it’s very important to have good communication with those leaders. Specifically, I think we need to revamp our diversity engagement committee — it needs to be more representative of the different CIOs around Grounds and different CIO leaders.”

Brasacchio also included in her platform the creation of a Latinx Student Center as per the demands of the Latinx Student Alliance. 

“I think it is important that we are listening to the concerns of these students and telling them to the University administration, which Student Council has direct access to,” Brasacchio said. 

Lee disagreed with this sentiment, saying that such a large request for the creation of a new student space was unlikely to be approved by University administration — she suggested instead a series of smaller initiatives for the expansion of student space. For example, she proposed the creation of a comprehensive directory for students who want to reserve rooms on Grounds.

“A bigger request could earn us a rejection,” Lee said. 

Other pieces of the platforms

Throughout the debate, Lee routinely emphasized her commitment to concrete action on behalf of the University, saying she will take steps to mitigate and prevent racism on Grounds if elected into office. 

“Being action-oriented is the best way to address the problem that my platform is focusing on — racism,” Lee said “Instead of sitting around and contacting this person, that person, that organization, I want to be actively involved in it.”

Brasacchio described a variety of action plans — including a critical reexamination of University building names that allude to the Confederacy, advocating for free printing on Grounds, and maintaining the Student Police Advisory Board — which began in November 2018 to facilitate communication between the University community and UPD. She feels that her tenure on Student Council since her first year has adequately prepared her to spearhead these initiatives. 

“I have a lot more experience within Student Council,” Brasacchio said. “I’ve been representative since my first year and chair of Representative Body since by second year as an executive board member. That has given me knowledge not only of how it works, but how the University works and how to get things done.”

Voting in University-wide student elections began Feb. 26 at 10:00 a.m. and ends March 1 at 4:00 p.m. Students are able to vote online.

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