First UCF SGA presidential debate skirts platforms, focuses on diversity, safety

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UCF SGA’s first debate of the election season on Tuesday questioned the effectiveness of the UCF Police Department and diversity of SGA.  

The nearly two-hour debate that drew about 50 people touched on diversity, inclusion, improving SGA communication and campus safety.

UCF students Chris Mari and Jamal Mays moderated the debate, which was delayed 30 minutes due to technical difficulties. It was held in the Cypress Room Live Oak Event Center near the CFE Arena on UCF’s main campus. Each candidate group had two minutes to answer questions and were allowed to make three rebuttals.

Questions on safety and UCF PD’s performance launched the debate.

Joshua Boloña, running for UCF SGA president with running mate Jad Shalhoub, referenced the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 in his answer.

Boloña, an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, said he met with UCF PD Deputy Chief Brett Meade in response to the shooting to create safety initiatives.

While Boloña said UCF PD does “an amazing job,” other candidates suggested areas of improvement.

Presidential candidate Brad Kuehler said he, and running mate Breon Clark, plans to establish a UCF PD dispatch center in the Student Union to increase police presence across campus.

Presidential candidate Karen Caudillo said she and vice presidential candidate Theressa Tong have been meeting with women on campus to learn what’s needed.

“We’ve had a lot of stories about date rape, we’ve had stories about sexual misconduct, and while we believe that the UCF PD is doing everything possible to prevent this, we think that more can be done,” Caudillo said.

Tong said UCF PD needs to prioritize the maintenance and expansion of Blue Light Emergency Phones.

The audience was given two opportunities to address the candidates directly, and several questions focused on plans for inclusion and ethnic diversity within the Executive Cabinet.

In response to one question asking candidates how they would address diversity needs within their Executive Cabinet, Boloña argued he’d rather discuss the dynamic between the student body and SGA than “get into specifics.” He said collaboration and transparency would allow diversity within student government to mirror diversity on campus but did not state what exact actions he would take to ensure a diverse cabinet.

While Kuehler referenced his executive experience as chief of staff under SGA President Nick Larkins as proof of understanding how to properly run a cabinet, he asked Clark to speak more on the topic.

“Being a minority myself, I understand what it’s like to be the elephant in the room when you feel like you can’t relate and people don’t understand where you’re coming from,” Clark said. “Being here at UCF, that shouldn’t be present. This is such a diverse university, and Brad and I really want to change things by making our Executive Cabinet more diverse and reaching out to students.”

The theme of diversity and inclusiveness came up multiple times throughout the debate. Each candidate had their own take on what diversity means and how they plan to include it in their potential presidency. 

“We need our student leaders to be trained to be diverse and address our diverse population,” Tong said.

She also said she’d like to include a diversity and outreach division within the executive branch to address multiculturalism and intersectionality, which addresses how social categories such as race, class or gender overlap to create unique experiences.

With the focus on diversity, the debate barely touched on candidates’ platforms and ideas.

“It’s hard to literally break down your whole platform, even with ours being very compact … Something to reiterate is the fact that we wanted to take student needs more so than student wants,” Boloña said after the debate.

Caudillo said she “came here to win” and was confident with how the debate went. Although she doesn’t have a large network of people to work with as her campaign is mainly supported by volunteers, she said she is beyond qualified and has “revolutionary ideas.”

“The only way that we’re going to win is with people uniting behind us and really electing change that is going to affect them,” Caudillo said.

Kuehler and Clark said the debate went well but agreed it was difficult to touch on every detail of a platform with more than 100 points. 

“At the end of the day, every student has their niche — whether it’s transfer students, veterans, ROTC, underclassmen, upperclassmen — there’s so many different areas, and we want to make sure every student feels like they have something to get behind and that’s why our platform is so extensive,” Kuehler said.

The next debate will be on Feb. 28 in the Live Oak Ballroom in Ferrell Commons on UCF’s main campus.