On March 23rd, the Vanderbilt Hustler hosted the Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) Presidential Debate online in lieu of an in-person debate. Over the course of 50 minutes, both tickets answered questions from moderators, debated hot-topic issues, and made their case to a virtual audience of over sixty. The result not only provided voters with compelling reasons to vote during the General Election but also underlined a growing division amongst students about the efficacy and transparency of the Vanderbilt Student Government.
Veer and Shun, the front runners of the primary election, are running on the platform titled “Let’s keep going.” Both Veer and Shun spoke to their continued efforts to improve student life through increased transparency, equity, and recent achievements in the accessibility of laundry services. The duo made it a point to highlight their past and continued involvement with Vanderbilt Student Government, as Vice-President and Committee Vice-Chair respectively for the 2019 – 2020 academic year.
Although they made concrete suggestions on how to improve campus life, some of their initiatives were lost in highly nuanced analyses of the problem. Furthermore, the candidates mentioned several departments and administrators that students may not be familiar with. The opposition took note of this and later remarked that “[you] can name drop as many administrators and people no one knows about as [you] want.”
Jared Bauman and Jacob Rome are running on the platform pushing for free printing, feminine hygiene products, and banning tailgate capacity limits, amongst other initiatives, with “radical financial inclusivity” as the cornerstone of their campaign. Both candidates lack prior experience with Vanderbilt Student Government but argued that their leadership experience in other campus organizations made them suitable candidates. Jacob Rome, the candidate for Vice President, went on to state “I believe that our management skills trumps any prior experience with VSG.” In contrast, both Veer and Shun emphasized the importance of experience in fostering healthy relationships with administrators that lead to efficient and effective collaboration.
Bauman and Rome’s responses to the moderators’ questions focused more on ideology and broad initiatives. Interestingly enough, their website states that they are “…tired of vague promises.” Despite this claim, they were largely unable to substantiate their proposed initiatives, such as banning tailgate capacity restrictions, with little more than general rhetoric and fuzzy numbers.
In contrast, Veer and Shun’s responses were highly focussed on the specific details of their proposed initiatives, sometimes to a fault. One particularly lengthy response about initiatives that had not been accomplished prompted the enforcement of a two-minute limit on responses, with one moderator mistakenly remarking “idk how to cut him off” in a message to the Zoom audience.
Points of Contention
The topic of voter turnout was particularly contentious with both sides taking turns debating the significance of the low voter turnout rate during the primary elections.
Jared Bauman noted that 63% of students didn’t vote and argued that if students aren’t feeling involved in the electoral process to “even press a button on their computer to vote” then “you know something’s going wrong.”
When asked about the low turnout and why he deserves a promotion, Veer Shah rebutted, saying that it is “insensitive to expect a high voter turnout” given the current situation. He further argued that given the distribution of votes, he doubts that an increase in voter turnout would have radically affected the outcome of the primary election. Instead, Veer stated that “we are doing our part” in campaigning pointed to the other campaigns’ inability to garner support in person and on social media as a reason for the low voter turnout.
When pressed further, he added that the 2000 votes in favor of their campaign establishes their legitimacy as candidates and called out Bauman and Rome’s number of votes as an indication of the lack of perspective and diversity of thought amongst their constituents.
Shun went on to add that the current numbers are not a representation of everyone, because “everyone can’t be here right now … a lot of them just don’t have access to voting currently.”
Transparency was another major issue amongst candidates. Both tickets focused on the ways in which VSG could be more transparent to the student body, with Bauman and Rome taking a charge at the current administration for keeping students in the dark. Bauman: “… if we want real transparency, if we want people to feel represented, we need to first at least tell them what VSG is doing.”
In response, Veer and Shun emphasized the importance of transparency to their platform, reiterating their proposal to introduce VSG “office hours” to help connect students to the student government.
Other minor points of contention included the free laundry initiative, for which Bauman and Rome claimed to have “started that conversation.” Veer quickly fired back, calling it “false information” and stating that free laundry “is an initiative that we’ve been working on for years,” to which Rome responded, “my concern is…no one knew it was happening until we got the email.”
As both tickets reiterated their platforms and stated their final calls to action, the significance of this VSG Presidential Election became clear. This debate, in particular, has brought to light a growing dichotomy between students who are fully invested in the mission and vision of the Vanderbilt Student Government and those who feel underrepresented by a seemingly invisible bureaucracy. Only time will tell which school of thought will prevail.
The General Election for the 2020 VSG Presidential Race will be held from Tuesday, March 24th to Wednesday, March 25th. Voting will begin on Anchorlink at 8:00 AM CST and end at 12:00 PM CST the following day. Please note that votes from the Primary Election will not count towards the General Election and students must vote again for their votes to be counted.
Interested in listening to the entire debate? Watch the recording on the Vanderbilt Hustler’s Website here.