Technician and Nubian Message held their annual Student Government (SG) presidential and vice presidential debates over Zoom on Friday, March 12. Each year, the news organizations pose questions to candidates in order to gain a better understanding of their platforms and promote them more widely to students. This year, two candidates participated in the presidential debate
Student Body Vice President McKenzy Heavlin, a third-year studying electrical engineering;
Erinn Foote, a third-year studying political science and philosophy of law.
The debate was organized into three rounds of question and answer. The first two rounds consisted of four questions per candidate and the last round contained the candidates closing statements. Candidates could only debate each other in the second round.
In her opening statement, Foote discussed her leadership experience both inside and outside SG. Foote currently serves as the vice president of campus outreach at the UNC Association of Student Governments. She said she wants to make connections with students and learn about their struggles.
Heavlin highlighted several issues, such as COVID-19, racial unrest and food and housing insecurity, that he has addressed as student body vice president over the course of the past year. He said he wants to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as wellness and safety on campus in light of the pandemic. Additionally, Heavlin said one of his goals is to collaborate with student organizations and administrative departments.
All - With how the past two academic school years have gone with COVID-19, what are your plans to reintegrate the entire student body; this being the sophomores who have been on campus for one to two years, as well as the freshman who are new to NC State?
Foote said she anticipates online classes being a part of campus life for a while, so she wants to promote accessibility within virtual learning and give faculty and staff the resources to make online courses accessible.
Foote also said she wants to enforce sexual assault prevention and sensitivity training during orientation in order to set the standard for the campus community and create a “new norm” that aids the reintegration of the student body.
Heavlin said he wants to focus on the student voice, especially through SG’s COVID-19 commission, as the University begins to reintegrate on campus. He specifically mentioned food and housing insecurity as areas of focus.
Additionally, he said he wants to educate student leaders and SG officers about diversity, equity and inclusion so they can better support students.
All - Neither of your campaigns directly mention international students in your platforms. Considering international students make up a large portion of the undergraduate and graduate student body, how are you going to ensure that these students will remain supported by your campaign?
Heavlin said SG’s select commission on access to university resources is currently attempting to consolidate student resources onto a tab in the MyPack Portal, which will benefit all students, international or otherwise. He also emphasized the importance of listening to international students’ lived experiences.
Additionally, Heavlin said he wants to address graduate students’ work hour flexibility and support system, both of which impact international graduate students.
Foote stressed the importance of international students’ inclusion on SG commissions, such as the COVID-19 commission and the Title IX commission. She also said she thinks international students are “overlooked” and she wants to address the “unique challenges” international students faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foote also said she wants to make sure international students feel safe on campus.
All - Many graduate students have expressed concern about mental health, stipends and work protections. How do you plan to advocate for and support graduate students if you are elected?
Foote said she plans to do advocacy work through partnerships with the Graduate Students Association (GSA) and other graduate student organizations. Foote said the Graduate Student Bill of Rights that is currently being workshopped within the University needs to be enforced.
Heavlin said he would review the standards for graduate student mentors and advisors within his first 125 days as student body president and then offer recommendations for change to the administration. Heavlin also said he wants to attempt to get rid of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), a standardized test used in the graduate school acceptance process.
“Nat and I are firm believers that a standardized test is probably one of the worst ways to tell if you are prepared for graduate school,” Heavlin said. “We want to make sure that it is not a mitigating factor or a large factor in the application process, and we want to try and get rid of it entirely.
All - With everything that’s been going on with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the Chadwick Seagraves controversy, what do you think SG’s role in activism is? Also, what steps will you take in order to ensure an increasingly educated and tolerant campus community?
Heavlin said SG is “here to serve as a facilitator” for student activism and emphasized the importance of supporting students who have experienced racism on campus. He also highlighted his involvement with the SG freeze-out, which protested the outcome of the Seagraves investigation.
Heavlin said he wants to encourage constant communication between SG and students of color and make sure that his advising structure within and without SG is diverse.
Foote said SG’s role is one of support. She said she wants to connect with minority student groups and provide more resources and funding for diversity outreach on campus. Foote also said she wants to make sure SG spreads awareness of the protests happening on campus and in Raleigh.
“We need to unite against this idea of white supremacy,” Foote said. “When there is something that greatly threatens the safety of students...]it's not going to be controversial for us to support an event against that thing.”
The following two questions were follow-up questions for each candidate regarding their specific platform initiatives related to ensure an increasingly educated and tolerant campus community:
Heavlin - In your platform, you state you only want SG members to take part of the Introduction to NC State Bias Impact Response and Discrimination and Harrassment Prevention Response training. How will this benefit the student body as a whole? What additional training do you think the student body needs on these issues?
Heavlin said he wants to make sure that SG members are educated about the various communities within NC State. Along with the Bias Impact Response and Discrimination and Harassment training, Heavlin also mentioned question, persuade and refer training; Peer Educators’ Supporting Survivors 101 training; and the Project SAFE Ally workshop at the GLBT Center.
Foote - In your platform, you mention advocating for the change of one of the diversity GEPs to be an African American studies course. How do you, or how would you, foresee this implementation benefiting students of color specifically?
Foote said that while sensitivity trainings are “mostly performative,” she wants to enforce the trainings first-year students undergo as they set the baseline standard of what new students expect of NC State. Moreover, Foote said she wants to focus on education as a vehicle for dismantling racism on campus.
Foote - Your campaign mentions various changes directly related to COVID-19 this semester, including inequalities that arose from the switch to online classes. Considering that NC State just recently announced the upcoming fall semester plans, which is predicted to be entirely in person, how are you going to ensure that this transition back to normalcy is still as inclusive as possible?
Foote said the student voices within SG’s COVID-19 commission will be important for reintegration in the fall. She said she wants to set long-term goals about how administration disseminates information about public health.
Foote also said she will focus on accessibility, housing insecurity and other issues that COVID-19 has exacerbated.
In his response, Heavlin asked Foote how she would change the SG’s current COVID-19 commission. Foote reiterated the importance of student input and said she wants to create a public health commission as well.
“These issues that we’ve seen with COVID-19, these have been [impacting] people with different disorders and health issues the whole time,” Foote said. “We want to figure out how to make public health more intentionally included into the structure of our campus.”
Heavlin - Given that you’re the current student body vice president, what have you done that you were most proud of and what were some of your shortcomings? How would you improve and what would you do differently from your current administration if elected?
Heavlin said he was most proud of his work on the COVID-19 commission. He said he worked on the commission with other SG members and the Department of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA) to gather student feedback about the University’s COVID-19 response and publish them in three student impact reports.
Heavlin also emphasized that he wants to improve on working with and serving directors. He also said he wants to have a more “holistic” process for onboarding directors and encourage a diverse SG cabinet.
In response, Foote asked Heavlin what he has achieved on his own as student body vice president. Heavlin reiterated that he has achieved a lot with his work on the COVID-19 commission.
Foote also asked what the COVID-19 student impact reports specifically did and how they were available to students. Heavlin said the reports were well-received by the administration and students can voice concerns through the SG website. Additionally, minutes from the COVID-19 commission’s meetings are available on the SG website.
Foote countered by questioning whether Heavlin’s methods enforced the idea that students needed to reach out to SG instead of SG needing to reach out to the students.
Foote - This year, with the pandemic, the student body saw the importance of Feed the Pack more than ever. However, campus entities like these are often under-supported and underfunded. How will you support these initiatives during your term and raise awareness of these to the student body?
Foote said she will use her connections within Campus Enterprises and other departments to create partnerships that support entities like Feed the Pack, NC State’s on-campus food pantry. Through these partnerships, Foote said she hopes to increase donations to Feed the Pack and allow for more consideration of dietary restrictions.
Heavlin asked Foote how she will achieve these goals, considering there is no budget to increase support for Feed the Pack. Foote said she will address budgetary concerns through on-campus partnerships, calling her hopes for Feed the Pack a “long-term goal.” Additionally, Foote said she will focus on how immunocompromised individuals can be better served by Feed the Pack.
Heavlin - A majority of your platform hinges on the possibility that next year the University will actually be able to return to in-person operations. With the way that COVID-19 has been going, there is the potential that this could not be a possibility. What is your backup plan if COVID-19 continues to be a prominent issue. How will you transform your administration and your goals to a virtual space?
Heavlin said he wants to continue having conversations about the future of NC State as the fall semester approaches. Also, he said he thinks both administration and SG should focus on wellness.
Additionally, Heavlin said people are “burned out” on Zoom, and he wants to implement alternative methods for virtual interaction, such as activity nights. He also wants to make Student Senate meetings more accessible online.
Foote asked Heavlin how his platform will address issues that may arise if the University returns to in-person operations and then shuts down due to COVID-19 in the fall, similar to the spring 2020 semester.
Heavlin said his past experience working on the COVID-19 commission will help him during the fall semester. He said if the University moves back to online-only during the fall semester, then he wants to work towards adding more traditional breaks back into the academic calendar, rather than wellness days, which he said “do not work.”
Foote asked Heavlin how he will hold the administration accountable as the pandemic continues. He said SG will advocate for students and will have to be “comfortable being uncomfortable.” One way he proposed doing this was by having SG prepare backup plans to present to the University to advocate for the students during the transitions.
Foote - Currently, your plans for sustainability are increasing paper towel composting, promoting the use of aluminum recyclable cups and calling for the University to divest from fossil fuels. What specific actions will you take to achieve these goals and who do you plan on collaborating with?
Foote said she wants to address issues of sustainability with both the UNC System and the UNC Association of Student Governments, not just at NC State. She said she wants to partner with sustainability groups on campus, such as NC State Recycles.
Heavlin asked Foote why her platform for sustainability this year was very similar to the same section of her platform during her run for student body vice president last year.
Foote responded that she has not seen any significant changes in sustainability since the 2020 SG elections and believes that the issue is necessary enough to continue pushing for the initiatives outlined in the platform.
Heavlin - Diversity outreach is one of the pillars of your platform. How do you see yourself and members of the administration collaborating with important campus facilities, like the African American Culture Center and the GLBT Center, throughout the academic year?
Heavlin stressed student feedback and communication with different organizations on campus as important elements of diversity outreach. He said he wants to provide constant attention to diversity outreach.
Foote asked Heavlin to name a diversity and inclusion initiative that addresses all students. Heavlin said he wants to implement UNC Board of Governors’ Racial Equity Task Force recommendations and continually address if the recommendations are achieving their goals.
Foote - During the past school year, residence halls like Tucker and Owen have added elevators to make them more accessible. However, there are still several residence halls and buildings that are very difficult to access. How will you and your running mate actively push for change in your meetings with University Housing, the Office of the University Architect (OUA), or even within Student Senate?
Foote said she wants to make “common sense” arguments in meetings to promote accessibility. She cited Bragaw Hall specifically as a building on campus with poor accessibility. Additionally, Foote said she wants to partner with the OUA to make campus more ADA-inclusive.
Heavlin asked Foote how she will be able to afford to make campus more accessible after University Housing’s loss of revenue during the fall 2020 semester. Foote said her job is not to run the university budget, but to advocate for students. Then, Heavlin asked Foote how she will respond if administration denies her requests for changes to accessibility on campus.
“I’m not the person who runs the university budget,” Foote said. “I just advocate for the needed changes on behalf of these students. I also don’t like to imagine things that need to happen as, what if they don’t happen, because then it leaves the room in my mind that it won’t get done.”
Additionally, Foote said she will run social media campaigns to increase awareness and gain student support for more accessibility on campus.
Heavlin - In your campus security increase platform, you mention advocating for substance abuse counseling and hiring qualified officers for Title IX cases. How are you going to ensure campus security also tackles racial discrimination and bias on campus?
Heavlin said he wants to increase transparency within campus security. He also stressed the importance of bringing concerns about racial discrimination and bias on campus directly to Daniel House, the chief of the NC State University Police Department.
Foote asked Heavlin how he will promote awareness about efforts to address racial discrimination an bias on campus. Heavlin said he will provide information on the SG website, as well as working with diversity outreach and university communications.
In her closing statements, Foote reiterated the importance of incorporating student voices to her campaign and summarized her platform's major goals of equity, accessibility, unity and safety.
“We care about unity, creating a Wolfpack that feels like one, not by unifying with that which removes the comfort from different members of our community but by removing it in order to be able to unify, and we care about safety — making sure that students feel safe,” Foote said. “We believe that every student deserves a voice.”
During his closing statements, Heavlin encouraged students to contact him with any feedback they may have.
“I just want to reiterate that Nat and I have been very intentional about crafting our platform, and we are proud to say that each point came directly from a student experience at NC State,” Heavlin said.
Traditionally, this would be the ending of the debate but this year's panelists had a surprise question for the candidates and their running mate.
All - What experience do you have working together as a team?
Foote and her running mate, Madissen Keys, answered first. They reflected on how they met each other and how much their friendship has meant to them throughout their time at NC State.
“Madissen and I have known each other for our entire career at NC State,” Foot said. “I, a long time ago, looked back, and she was, like, the only person who liked my post on NCSU ‘22 when I was trying to put myself out there.”
Keys also reflected how their friendship transitioned to becoming running mates.
Heavlin answered by talking about how he and his running mate, Natalie Bress, met in their first year engineering classes and how their different perspectives and personalities make them a strong ticket.
“McKenzy has just always been someone I could turn to when I needed anything, ever since freshman year,” Bress said. “Since the moment I met him, I was like ‘I like this kid.’ We really get along and I have enjoyed getting to run with him and work on our platform and this whole ticket together.”
The debate was then concluded.