As snow fell silently outside the School of Media and Public Affairs building Monday night, the seven Student Association presidential candidates plowed through policy goals in the campaign season’s only debate.
The debate, co-sponsored by the SA and the Phi Eta Sigma honor society, featured candidates C.J. Calloway, Jon Ostrower, Henry Roosevelt, Audai Shakour, Lamar Thorpe and Ben Traverse speaking to a full Jack Morton Auditorium crowd. Ryan “The Lex” Luther also participated in the discussion, though he is running as a joke candidate in the March 2 and 3 elections.
After giving two-minute opening statements, the candidates fielded questions on issues ranging from use of the Marvin Center to student representation on the Board of Trustees.
Ostrower, a vice president of the Residence Hall Association, opened up the question-and-answer session by pointing out that he has advocated for students in the RHA and through his position as director of Student Judicial Advisors. The advisors help students prepare for Student Judicial Services hearings.
He added the most important quality of an SA president is “being available for students … as a leader.”
Traverse argued that his focus is primarily on students’ rights, which he said is why he would best serve the GW community.
“(The University) is ready to make changes, and we’re ready to help them,” Traverse said.
Besides personal goals, one of the hottest topics of the evening was the establishment of student representation on the Board of Trustees, an issue that has gained widespread support from candidates.
“The way we can get a student on the board is to close the gap between the SA and the student body,” said Calloway, who added that there is a large need for an undergraduate voice on the University’s highest governing body.
Thorpe, a transfer student who spent five years in the Navy, chose to take what he termed as a realistic view.
“Though I am for students on the board, Congress has made it nearly impossible to have a student on the board,” Thorpe said. “We are a private institution, so (the administration) can run this school like a business.”
Roosevelt, who spent half the night making jokes, supported a student on the Board of Trustees in one of his moments of seriousness.
“Once the administration figures out that we represent the community as a whole, then they will get us a spot on the board,” he said.
A question that sparked intense debate focused on how each candidate would work with fraternities and sororities.
“The way this University looks at Greek organizations is only through (Student Judicial Services) and (the Community Living and Learning Center),” said Traverse, who vowed to help improve cooperation between Greek-letter groups and the administration.
Shakour, a member of Phi Kappa Sigma, said his administration would focus on reducing the cost of living on Townhouse Row. Residents of the townhouses pay one of the highest housing rates – close to $10,000 – for a nine-month stay in a double room.
Another provocative topic dealt with the demands for student space in the Marvin Center, which often requires a three-week waiting period to reserve a room.
While Thorpe said students must “take back the Marvin Center,” Calloway advocated the use of other facilities instead of focusing on just one building.
“We have to be realistic and give immediate relief,” Calloway said. “Let’s open up the Academic Center, let’s open up residence halls.”
Luther’s two-minute closing statement reflected his seriousness.
“I’m just running because I thought this position would look good on my resume,” he said. “If I don’t get elected, I’ll probably end up yelling at some random children and having them run obstacle courses for me.”
After the debate, some students said they could not tell who came out on top.
“It gave me a better idea of who I want to vote for,” said sophomore Drew Wisniewski, who added that he could not stop laughing at Roosevelt and Luther’s jokes.
When asked who won, SA President Omar Woodard replied, “Students won, students got a chance to hear everybody.”
Woodard added that the debate was “less civilized” than the one he participated in last year, referring to the remarks of the two jocular candidates.
Nonetheless, Woodard said the discussion was a success.
He said, “A lot of issues came out tonight.”