Technician and Nubian Message held its 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 vice presidential debate:
Natalie Bress, a third-year studying electrical engineering
Madissen Keys, a third-year studying psychology
The debate was organized into two Q&A rounds, each consisting of three questions per candidate. Candidates could only debate each other in the second round.
To begin the opening statements, Bress emphasized how her experiences as an out-of-state student and fitness instructor provide her with an alternative perspective from other SG members.
Bress highlighted mental health and graduate student issues as two main objectives of her platform.
Keys said her experiences as an orientation leader, a resident advisor and an activist in general will help her empathize with students who have different identities and life experiences than her.
“As a member of various minority groups, I’ve gone on a journey to make myself aware of identities and beliefs other than my own,” Keys said. “Therefore, as your student body vice president, I will listen to you and I will advocate for you.”
Keys cited advocacy work and student feedback as important elements of her platform.
All - Neither of you have had prior Student Government experience. What experience do you have outside of SG that you think would make you an effective VP? How do you think these experiences compare to those who have been in SG previously?
Bress said her experiences as a group fitness instructor at NC State Wellness and Recreation and her involvement with 321 Coffee, a nonprofit coffee shop in Raleigh that employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, will inform her work as student body vice president.
Keys highlighted her work with Musical Empowerment, a nonprofit organization that pairs children with college students as mentors in musical education, and her time as a resident advisor and relevant experience to explain why she would be an effective vice president.
All - Many students have voiced their displeasure with the University not including enough student input when it comes to making decisions revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic. How are your administrations going to ensure student concerns are not brushed aside in the making of new rules and policies?
Keys said there is currently work being done to create a commission on COVID-19 to address student feedback and concerns. She said she wants to gather a diverse group of students for the commission and use student input to inform her work as campus reopens.
Bress stressed the importance of having conversations with students to address their concerns and recognize the different problems they may be facing. She said she wants to be “accessible and open,” so students will feel comfortable voicing their concerns to her.
Bress mentioned housing and food insecurity as two of her primary concerns surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on students.
All - What are the tangible steps you and your running mate plan to take to raise awareness of and combat sexual assault on campus?
Bress discussed the importance of the University’s compliance with Title IX guidelines and said she wanted to ensure administration is doing more than the bare minimum. She said one way she plans to do this is by prioritizing student awareness of advocacy resources during the Title IX process.
“We want to make sure that we have either retired judges or people that are willing to be advocates for these students,” Bress said. “And that students are aware that there are people out there who can advocate for them in these trials so that they are not alone.”
Keys said she and Foote hope to create a coalition of student leaders to increase advocacy for survivors of sexual assault.
“We want to create resources that would support the survivors that would go through the Title IX process,” Keys said, “What that would entail is creating graphics for survivors, legally, so that they could contribute to stopping the silence through their stories.”
Keys also said she wants to improve Sexual Assault Prevention Education training at NC State by improving upon and enforcing the existing framework and incorporating more aspects of it into first-year student’s orientation.
Keys - In your platform, you discuss increasing scholarships for students of color. Where exactly do you plan on getting this money from? Who will be responsible for the management of said scholarships?
Keys said she hopes to create a SG commission to investigate differences in scholarship opportunities between Black students and white students. In order to create the commission, Keys said she wants to work with both the Department of University Affairs and the Office of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (OIED) to write an executive order.
Keys admitted that she is currently unsure about how she will fund the project.
“I know that the diverse amount of student voices that would be on the commission would serve us well in how we would be able to gather the funds for that,” Keys said.
Bress - Two main aspects of your platform for SG vice president is to create a happier and healthier campus through increasing the amount of resources available to students. What resources are you looking to improve and what are you planning to add in in order to achieve this goal?
Bress said she plans to create a support network for students. While her plans are not concrete, she said she has considered creating a system of accountability buddies and a program for students to use exercise as a remedy for mental health issues.
Keys asked Bress what she would do to support students who are unable to exercise or feel anxiety about exercising around others, calling Bress’s proposed program “a little bit exclusionary.”
Bress said exercise does not have to be the main focus of a student support network, but she hopes to provide students with the comfort through group resources.
Keys - Gender-inclusive housing is a subject that candidates have been trying to push for the past three years. Why do you and your running mate believe it’s important for the University to offer gender-inclusive housing and how will you advocate for this to become a reality?
According to Keys, the UNC System Board of Governors (BOG) has a policy that prohibits the creation of gender-inclusive housing at NC State. Keys said she hopes to work with the UNC Association of Student Governments to overturn this policy.
Bress asked Keys what her plan is in the event that the BOG will not overturn the policy.
Keys said she will work with the Department of University Affairs and OIED to create more housing options for transgender students if the policy remains in place.
Bress - How does your experience as an out-of-state student impact your total view of NC State? What are some of your struggles? How will you be able to help not only out-of-state students, but transfer students adjust to the NC State community?
Bress said her first year of college was difficult because she was far from home and had to create a new form of family at NC State. She says she hopes to use this experience to help other students in similar situations.
For transfer students, Bress said she wants to implement a virtual activity night to help transfer students get to know each other because many transfer students feel left out after missing Wolfpack Welcome Week.
Keys asked what specific events Bress wants to hold and which departments she will work with to make the events happen. Bress responded that she will have conversations with transfer students before deciding which events to hold. She says one idea that she and Heavlin have though is working with the Office of Information Technology to consolidate resources for transfer students onto a tab in their MyPackPortal so they are not “overwhelmed” by the amount of resources NC State offers.
Keys - Your platform touches on a few ways you want to reduce the stigma of receiving mental health care, the mural project, basic QPR training and suicide prevention awareness. How will you and your running mate go further in spreading awareness about mental health in our campus community? Do you think students are currently underserved in this area?
Keys said she believes students are underserved in the area of mental health, and she wants to focus on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. She also said she hopes to implement question, persuade and refer (QPR) training at new student orientation.
Bress asked how Keys plans to connect students with the mental health resources they need.
Keys said she will use social media as a tool to increase awareness of mental health resources and gain student feedback.
Bress - The lack of lighting in many parts of campus has been a continuous point of concern for many students. How will you and your running mate decrease any fear students might have due to that issue and how do you plan to remedy and resolve it during your term?
Bress said she plans to increase student awareness of well-lit paths already on campus by mentioning the paths at orientation and posting signage around campus.
Keys asked Bress exactly how she will implement these changes, and she said she will work with staff and facilities to maintain paths and educate students about the best ways to get across campus.
In her closing statements, Keys highlighted that she and her running mate Erinn Foote, a third-year studying political science and philosophy of law, have eight years of leadership experience between the two of them.
Additionally, Keys said she has a sharp eye for student issues and will work to create a more unified, safer campus.
Bress emphasized how student feedback directly impacted every aspect of her platform and reminded students of how to find more information about her and her running mate's platform.
The debate was then concluded.
A recording of the debate can be found on the Technician YouTube channel.