As the University of Georgia’s Student Government Association continues to campaign, the executive tickets met for a virtual debate Wednesday night where they discussed COVID-19, diversity and inclusion and mental health. There are three tickets for the upcoming election — Belong, Bridge and Voice. The Georgia Political Review moderated the debate.
Platform for a pandemic
All three tickets had detailed opinions about the transition from mostly online classes to in-person as the distribution of campus vaccines widen, as well as the acclimation of freshman and transfer students during COVID-19.
The Bridge ticket, comprised of Jeremiah de Sesto, Hannah-Rose Basson and Oba Samaye, wants the colleges within UGA to have a uniform response to the transition to in-person classes. They also want EITS to provide chargers and technology for longer periods of time.
To better acclimate current freshmen and transfer students, the Bridge ticket wants to help small organizations spread their resources around campus. They have a goal of adding a $500 “cross-cultural fund” for small organizations in addition to what they already have.
The Belong ticket, comprised of Carter Marks, Jasmine Gresham and Shelly Chummar, said every student may not feel comfortable in-person and wants to continue a Zoom option. They want to work with the Disability Resource Center to make students feel more comfortable in this transition.
One key aspect of the Belong ticket is the implementation of a sophomore series, which would allow for sophomores who were impacted by COVID-19 to recreate memories they did not have during their freshman year, like making the super G photo in Sanford Stadium.
The Voice ticket, comprised of Casey Smith, Will Harris and Charlotte Weng, wants to work with the UGA administration and the Board of Regents to see what the in-person transition will look like and fight for students to get the vaccine. They want a safe transition back to in-person classes.
“Zoom works, but it is not the most equitable system,” Harris said. “In-person classes are a little more equitable and accessible for our students.”
Voice also sees SGA as a facilitator to settle freshman and transfer students during COVID-19.
Fighting for more diversity, equity and inclusion
Equity, Diversity and inclusion are key points in each ticket’s platform.
The Voice ticket wants UGA to recognize the contributions of BIPOC alumni.
“While Mary Frances Early, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault are icons and very important students in this university’s history … they are not the only BIPOC students that have come through here,” Harris said.
Harris said he also wants to hold the UGA administration accountable for not denouncing UGA’s racist past.
“That’s not just having the tough conversation, but it’s staying on them, not backing down until they do something,” Harris said.
The Belong ticket wants to work with the Office of Institutional Diversity to create a mandatory first-year diversity seminar, comparable to UGA’s First Year Odyssey Seminar.
“I want more students to be aware that what they say, what they do — it affects a large proportion of the population. That is something UGA needs to work on a lot,” Greshman said.
Basson from Bridge focused on the LGBTQ community. Basson said there are some healthcare workers at the University Health Center who are trained to care for members of the LGBTQ community, but not all are.
“Our administration wants to make sure every single healthcare professional at the UHC has been trained with the LGBT Health Training and Certificate Program,” Basson said.
The Bridge ticket additionally wants to ensure that there is not only a diverse student body but also a diverse faculty to provide more representation and expand international student orientation week.
More care for mental health
Each ticket wants to expand mental health resources on campus, specifically the resources UGA’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services already provides.
The Voice ticket said they have the most comprehensive mental platform of all tickets. “We are coming to you as humans first, students second and candidates third,” Weng said.
The ticket plans to re-allocate student health fees to mental health services such as CAPS on campus, create a 24/7 mental wellness hotline for confidential advice and advocate for an appropriate fall break to give students the time off they need.
The Belong ticket hopes to expand CAPS in the future and amplify the resources CAPS already provides. “[Getting access to these resources] is way more important than ever because of COVID-19,” Chummar said.
The Bridge ticket wants to expand CAPS drop-in times, implement a sexual assault advocacy night for survivors and add bonus representatives to each residence hall, which Samaye said is already in progress.
Helping graduate students get the mental health resources they need is also a part of the Bridge ticket’s plans.
“While we all focus on undergraduate students, we have to remember that graduate students are a part of our student body,” Samaye said. “We have to be able to work with graduate students in helping them get the resources that they need in terms of mental health.”