On Wednesday, March 25, The Northerner hosted the annual Student Government Association Presidential Debate. This was the first time the debate was held online—via Zoom video call and broadcasted to Facebook—and not on-campus, due to coronavirus and social distancing concerns.
The candidates running for President and Vice President of SGA are Jessica Archer and Jacob Wilson, Katie Estes and Zach Dichtl and Lauren Goodwin and Mia Derks.
Voting will take place on April 1 and 2 on NKU’s myEngagement.
The candidates discussed higher education, campus housing, diversity and inclusion, resources for sexual assault and dating violence and more.
Issues the candidates will champion
Goodwin and Derks said they both have attended the Rally for Higher Education for the last two years. Goodwin said she wants NKU to be viewed and treated better, rather than the “red-headed stepchild university.” Derks said that NKU has been around for 50 years and is no longer a new institution.
“We are established and thriving and becoming a very prestigious institution,” Derks said. “We should be treated as such.”
Dichtl wants SGA to recenter around civil engagements. He said he wants representatives from Kentucky to come and talk with the entire student body and faculty to share their ideas with how they want to benefit the region and the university.
Estes wants to host a voter registration drive, where students will be encouraged to register to vote. She also wants students to get election day off, especially those—like herself—who live farther away from campus.
“Voting helps with our civic engagement as a college. With our civic engagement, we can elect the people who will help us get more funding in Frankfort,” Estes said.
Wilson said that SGA needs to bring in state representatives, but also question them and hold them accountable.
“‘Why did you vote to cost our university and our region money?’ I think it’s very important that we do that,” Wilson said.
Archer said she wants to focus on advocating for asset preservation funding in Frankfort for NKU, specifically for the Corbett Theatre.
Sexual assault and dating violence
Estes wants to add a 45-minute section to the mandatory training for incoming students at orientation that addresses sexual assault and dating violence, specifically on-campus occurrences.
Dichtl said dating and sexual violence is not just about preventing, but it’s also about what to do afterward.
“We want to make sure that students know how to get help once it does happen if it does happen to them,” Dichtl said.
Goodwin is the student worker for the Department of Safety and Emergency Management, so she said she discusses student safety with her boss.
“Something that I would like to see happen is Leadership Universities, maybe once a semester, addressing these sorts of things because they do need to be talked about—that’s part of the issue is that they’re not,” Goodwin said.
Derks said these training and awareness events need to be publicized better and offered at times that are convenient for students, both residential and commuters.
Archer said it’s valuable to be able to recognize the signs of dating violence, but it’s also important to know how and where to get help. Norse Violence Prevention (NVP) is underappreciated on campus, Archer said, because sexual assault and violence is stigmatized.
“‘If I say this, people aren’t gonna believe me. People are gonna invalidate me,’” Archer said. “It’s a struggle every single day for any survivor.”
Archer wants to be supportive of students as their student body president, but also a friend and colleague.
Wilson said stigma still exists around sexual assault and violence.
“As a victim myself, as a male, there is a stigma that that doesn’t happen to men,” Wilson said.
He said it’s important to talk about and that’s what NKU and SGA need to do. Wilson said he and Archer would partner with NVP in their administration to discuss these issues and have town halls.
SB1 and meaning of ‘diversity’
One viewer-submitted question asked, “In wake of Senate Bill 1, which would prohibit sanctuary policies in the state, how do you plan to support Latino and undocumented students?” The bill would require law enforcement agencies, public officials, representatives, agents and employees of public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law.
RELATED: Senate Bill 1 puts undocumented students at risk
“Well, we would have to work with the University on that,” Dichtl said. “We would talk to [President Vaidya] on how they want to move about it. But we want to make sure that all students are protected.”
Estes said it was their job to advocate for these students because “NKU is their home.”
Goodwin said questions like this are why she’s running.
“I am not running to be your student body president, I am running to be your student regent,” Goodwin said. “I am running to be every single student’s voice with those people who make the decisions. I am running to fight for all people affected by that bill or any other bill.”
Wilson started off his response by immediately addressing HB1 as a “horrible bill.”
“What we need to do is invite our representatives here, ask them why they are supporting it and why that bill has even come up,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, we have students that will be drastically affected by this bill and we can not allow the actions of our representatives to go without consequences and we need to hold them accountable.”
Archer pointed out a sign outside of the International Student Union that says ‘you are welcome here.’
“Every student deserves to feel welcomed here … just being that person they can talk to when they don’t feel welcome anymore. [Wilson] is crushing it in regards to talking about legislation, and I’m gonna be here to hold every student up if that’s what they need from me,” Archer said.
A question from a viewer on Facebook said that all candidates like to talk about diversity, and asked: “What exactly does that look like to each platform?”
Goodwin and Derks said diversity is a pillar point for their campaign.
“It is something that is visible. We do have the underrepresented minorities who need to be recognized, who need to have seats at our table, and we also recognize that there are things that we don’t see,” Goodwin said. “We don’t always know everything about someone, we don’t know what makes them unique, what makes them diverse, and that does not discredit that thing in their life. We want them to have a voice at our table.”
Derks said it’s important to pay attention to students’ backgrounds.
“Everyone has a unique story and they deserve to be validated,” Derks said.
Estes and Dichtl said diversity to them looks like gathering people from all over campus and different walks of life.
“Sure, we have a large population of undergrad students, but we also have grad students, we have law students, we have parents who are coming back to college, we have grandparents that are coming back to get a degree, we have students that are only involved in one organization. It’s just making sure each and every one of them has a voice,” Estes said.
Archer said having a diverse student body is pointless without inclusion, repeating what they said earlier in the night about NKU’s campus being diverse with underrepresented minorities, but not inclusive. She said just going out to organizations or communities on campus and acknowledging their diversity is part of what makes campus incredible is incredibly important. Both Archer and Wilson identify as LGBTQ+, and Archer said that’s another aspect of unseen diversity.
“I think [Goodwin and Derks] hit the nail on the head just addressing that diversity isn’t always seen, but we also need to address that those people need to be included,” Archer said.
Echoing Archer’s point, Wilson said ‘diversity’ is a very wide term, and that NKU is very diverse but what really needs to be fixed is campus inclusion. Addressing how both Goodwin and Derks and Estes and Dichtl mentioned giving minorities a seat at the table, he said NKU needs to make sure that underrepresented minorities aren’t just “at the table, but everyone actually has a chance to speak at the table.”
Estes said she wants to see an option for students to use their own reusable cup at dining locations, rather than use a disposable paper cup. She also wants to encourage students to recycle more.
Dichtl said NKU used to use reusable dishes at dining locations. He wants to see if it’s possible to bring those back and transition to paper straws, as well.
Derks said she wants to promote service on campus and the actions behind it.
“It’s pointless to do service on campus if we’re also not going to be responsible with the day-to-day activities that are detrimental to the environment,” Derks said.
Archer wants to bring senators into SGA who are science majors. She said she is passionate about bringing in students who have knowledge in environmental science and similar areas.
Wilson said SGA and the University need to take “baby steps” in regards to environmental awareness. He thinks the recycling signs on campus need to be redesigned so they’re easier for students to read and understand.
Archer said communication between University Housing and students needs to be fixed. She said her friends have struggled with getting the services they need when living in University Housing.
Wilson, a residential assistant for University Housing, said he thinks it’s important for SGA to talk with Housing and actively engage them in conversation on how to better students’ lives.
“I can tell you from the Housing staff perspective, we are doing everything that we possibly can to better the lives of our students,” Wilson said.
Goodwin, who lived in Housing for three years, said she understands what it’s like to have little to do on the weekends. She also said she understands what it’s like to be involved on campus and participate in events, such as basketball games. Goodwin said commuters are welcomed at Housing programs.
Derks said it’s important to cultivate a meaningful relationship with Housing, so that SGA and Housing are in constant communication.
Estes said it would be cool to see each residential building to offer their own forums for students and RAs to communicate. She said it’s important to have face-to-face communication with students when possible.
Dichtl said he wants to discuss with Housing their plan for the new residential building being built which will remove parking spots on campus.
Archer said she is an advocate of therapy and that she’s not shy to talk about her experiences.
“I want to end the stigma around mental health. People can go see a therapist if there’s nothing wrong with you,” Archer said. “Sometimes it’s just great to vent feelings out to an unaffiliated third party.”
Archer wants to work directly with Director of Student Counseling Services Amy Clark and share the resources available on campus with every student.
Wilson also wants to break the stereotype that going to therapy makes you weak, especially regarding men who are taught not to express their emotions.
Estes and Dichtl want to implement mental health classes. Estes said the class would consist of self-care techniques and skills, signs of mental health burnout and recognizing signs of mental health distress in friends.
Archer and Wilson
Archer and Wilson think student government should “work for all students, not just the selected few.”
Archer brought up an example of getting to know one of the members of SGA that she knew nothing about, and how working for all students starts with listening to what they have to say.
“There’s no doubt that I want SGA to get involved literally everywhere we can,” Archer said. ”One of our main issues with SGA as a whole is our presence on campus. You see it as an office … going out into these communities and being like ‘Hey, we’re in SGA, we’re here to help you!’ or ‘Hey, we’re in SGA, we’re here to listen to you!’ We want to serve every student we run into. There’s a very fine line between working for students and working for the administration.”
One plan to raise student involvement is to place suggestion boxes in crucial campus areas, such as Norse Commons, Steely Library, the Student Union and Callahan Bistro.
“We need suggestions from students, because at the end of the day, we’re serving the students,” Wilson said.
Archer and Wilson also plan to show that NKU is a top university choice, not just a safe choice. One of Archer’s ideas to help establish this is creating a podcast that will highlight great things students are doing, but also raise awareness of “maybe some not-great things that are going on.” With their plan for a podcast, if they help publicize some ongoing issues on campus, the administration will have no choice but to respond to them.
Wilson said there’s a huge difference between diversity and inclusion, and NKU’s campus is not inclusive. There’s no reason that underrepresented minorities should be overlooked by SGA, he said, and that the current purpose of diversity on campus is “just checking a box.”
Estes and Dichtl
Estes and Dichtl’s main focus is a restructuring of SGA by having colleges and organizations on campus send liaisons to SGA’s meetings. Estes said they will go to other organizations’ meetings, establish what SGA is looking for in a liaison and then let that organization elect someone to be that organization’s SGA liaison. Additionally, they will host a yearly town hall where students can voice their concerns and hopes.
One of Estes and Dichtl’s campaign points is addressing food allergy and diet concerns for on-campus dining, such as switching gloves when moving from fish to bread, making sure bread doesn’t touch food—for someone who has Celiac disease—and cooking veggie burgers in a different area from where beef burgers are cooked. Estes said changing dietary options starts with education.
“When I sit down with people, a lot of times they’re not aware of food allergies and how it affects others,” Estes said. “My biggest thing is that you have to show them, to tell them.”
Estes, who has Celiac disease, brought up a time she ate a sandwich from the Student Union one day before an SGA meeting and was vomiting for several hours afterward because the sandwich was not gluten-free.
“When you tell them about [how food allergies affect others], people will change,” Estes said.
Goodwin and Derks
One of Goodwin and Derks’ biggest campaign points is “expanding the concept of diversity.” When asked about exactly what that means during the debate, they said that aspects of personal diversity—which they said are things like age, orientation, Greek affiliation, and major—are not always visible to others and that they can’t be discounted even if they’re not prominent.
“You would not look at people and know their sexual orientation, know their Greek affiliation, know their major, but we still want to reach out to all of those groups and give them a voice at our table,” Goodwin said.
Derks said that NKU’s campus needs to “embrace the story of every single student.”
“No one has had the same life experience as another, we have talked a lot about going into organizations and part of that is hearing those stories,” Derks said.
Another one of Goodwin and Derks’ plans is to make campus more commuter-friendly, for which they have several initiatives they want to enact.
Derks is a commuter student herself, and noted that commuters don’t have a special orientation day like campus residents do, which can be confusing. She wants a day specifically for commuters during orientation that informs them of resources on campus.
“I was completely overwhelmed at orientation; as a commuter on campus, I didn’t know what was going on,” Derks said.
They also suggested creating a commuter locker space for students to hold their things in.
Political candidate inspirations
For Goodwin, her two figures come from opposite sides of the aisle: late Republican Senator John McCain and former Democratic vice president Joe Biden.
“Neither of them represent their political parties, they’re both willing to listen to both sides of things, and I think that’s something me and Mia want to highlight. While I represent the group of students I represent, it’s also my job to represent, listen to and serve the other students,” Goodwin said. “It’s seeking them out and hearing their points of view and taking that to the table—whether or not I agree with it or not.”
Derks, a history major, chose a figure that many Kentuckians may recall from grade school state history classes—Henry Clay.
Clay was a Kentucky statesman that represented the state in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate between 1806 and 1852. During this period, he also served as the United States Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams.
“He was the ‘Great Compromiser’ … he made compromises happen and in [United States] history, he is considered to be the greatest senator never to be president,” Derks said. “He was willing to listen to others and make those compromises. He never gave up… he fought for what he believed in.”
Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the first political leader to come to mind for Jessica Archer.
“She got her husband through law school while he was ill, and he became an incredible lawyer,” Archer said. “Just being able to self-sacrifice my own needs for the needs of other people is where I thrive.”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear—and his leadership through the coronavirus pandemic—is Wilson’s current inspirational figure.
Wilson said that he has looked up to Beshear’s leadership style during the outbreak, and wants to take care of NKU students the same way Beshear is taking care of Kentuckians.
Estes attributes her inspiration to the time she’d spent working with the mayor of her hometown, Jeff Gregory from Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
“Jeff has really shown me putting your citizens first. For me, it would be putting my students first,” Estes said. “Sometimes the answer you want to give them … is not the answer that they need … it’s looking for a way that can better benefit them.”
For Dichtl, he chose former President of the United States Barack Obama.
“I’d honestly say Obama. His platform was inspiring passion and hope, which kind of goes along with ours,” Dichtl said. “He was very graceful during his years in office. People would criticize him or boo him and he would say ‘well, you should’ve voted.’ I think that’s how we look at it. We want to take professionalism into the office.”