Each year, the Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) presidential elections offer students the opportunity to choose the leadership of the student body. In last year’s race, which featured four tickets, one candidate complained of being “sick and tired of being called a joke” and promised to “make VSG less scary.” The previous years’ race included a write-in ticket, consisting of two freshmen whose anti-establishment campaign won over 15 percent of the vote. This year’s candidates are Tariq Issa, partnered with Lanier Langdale; and Phyllis Doremus, partnered with Nicolas Gardner. While the current candidates are less controversial, the debate on Wednesday, March 14 illuminated their impressive accomplishments and important ideas.
All four candidates have spent a significant amount of time in VSG and eagerly discussed their contributions to the organization. For instance, Langdale stressed her role in creating the Vanderbilt Mobile App, which she called “a super simple way to connect all of the student body with all of VSG’s resources,” while Doremus cited her experience “watching and working with two Executive Boards closely.” The candidates refrained from bashing past VSG executive boards and were courteous to each other throughout the debate. At first glance, it might be hard to see distinct differences between the two tickets, especially as both sides expressed similar reasons for entering the race. However, last night’s debate showed real contrasts between the two platforms on certain issues.
Issa and Langdale spent time elaborating on new ideas within their agenda, ensuring that “every single point on our platform has a tangible plan.” One platform point proposes an investigation into the Greek member cap in residential colleges, “in order to make sure everyone is represented.” Doremus countered that this cap “doesn’t actually exist” because the lottery system doesn’t account for Greek member affiliation. However, she did not mention that, although the lottery system does not know students’ Greek affiliations, the Office of Housing and Residential Education does have access to that information. Referring to the fact that some of Issa and Langdale’s platform points are already in motion within VSG, Gardner mentioned that he does not want to “recycle reforms already happening.” To this criticism, Langdale responded that “even though some things on our platform are already in motion,” they want to follow through on these initiatives and make sure they are implemented. For instance, video walls in Rand and Commons have been proposed in the past, but Issa emphasized his commitment to make it a reality.
While Issa and Langdale want VSG to move forward with a variety of reforms, Doremus and Gardner foresee a different role for VSG : “our campaign is about VSG stepping back,” said Doremus. In addition to articulating their own ideas, Doremus and Gardner devoted a significant amount of time talking about how they plan to help pass other students’ ideas. Gardner emphasized his belief that VSG should serve as a “platform” for other voices, not a “body that stifles those voices.” He noted that as Vice President of the Multicultural Leadership Council, he helped to connect student leaders from all different corners of campus. He also expressed that members of VSG are not always the best people to sit in on university advisory committees. Doremus followed by saying that she wants to put advocates outside of VSG in the room with administrators. Doremus repeatedly stressed her experience meeting with administrators, along with a desire to be bold with these administrators to encourage better communication with students. She believes that VSG can be like a “phone operator,” connecting students and administrators.
Both presidential candidates praised Experience Vanderbilt and pledged to make financial inclusivity their main priority. Doremus mentioned the need to make the meal plan, textbooks, ride share services, and parking passes financially accessible for all students. Issa proposed a Student Leadership Fund, modeled after a similar fund at the University of Chicago, which allows student leaders who work a part-time job to be compensated for their service to the school. He also expressed a desire to expand financial inclusivity to pre-professional preparation, flights for interviews, and (someday) subsidized summer internships, so that Vanderbilt students are not inhibited by their socioeconomic status as they pursue their career goals.
Doremus and Gardner stressed that they would not make internal reforms a priority at the expense of other ideas on their platform. Issa noted that although he does not think committees should be cut in half, committees would be more effective if they were smaller. Doremus added that “VSG can’t be concerned with only fixing itself.”
Voting will open at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Footage of the debate may be accessed on the Vanderbilt Political Review Facebook page.