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SGA Presidential Debate: diversity, mental health, allyship


SGA Presidential Debate: diversity, mental health, allyship

Four candidates debated for the upcoming election

March 16, 2021

The Northerner hosted the 2021 SGA Presidential debate Tuesday night on Facebook Live. Candidates Aliya Cannon and running mate Chris Roat and candidates Jackson Coates and running mate Rebecca Noel debated how their administrations would approach diversity, campus safety, sustainability and more. 

Representation on campus and diversity in SGA

A common theme throughout the night was how the candidates plan to support underrepresented minorities in their leadership.

Coates and Noel said they want to first note that the general climate of NKU needs to change. Coates notes that there are some people on campus that “aren’t as accepting of other people as they should be” and he doesn’t think a one-time 30-minute diversity training will change that. He believes that getting the university to participate in service projects will be the solution.

“They can experience and work with people who are different from themselves, [who] maybe they wouldn’t interact with on their usual day-to-day basis. And kind of create a culture of empathy—being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes—and understanding on campus,” Coates said. “So that we have kind of a collective culture as a student body of, ‘we are accepting of anybody that comes to campus, without exception.’”

Aliya Cannon and Chris Roat are running for SGA president and vice president for the upcoming academic year.
Aliya Cannon and Chris Roat are running for SGA president and vice president for the upcoming academic year. (Cameron Nielsen)

Cannon said she wants the university’s response and actions to be genuine.

“Sometimes we try to be so perfect, but no one really wants perfect, because perfect comes off as fake. We want genuine, we want real; even if you mess up, at least we know it comes from the heart,” Cannon said.

Cannon said that instead of responding 10 days after an event took place, the university should instead make a video and apologize and say ‘we are going to work to make sure that it doesn’t happen again and that our students feel safe.’

Roat noted that they, as president and vice president, will go to the university and make a concrete decision on what is considered free speech versus what is considered hate speech presenting imminent harm to the marginalized and minority groups on campus.

They also want to create offices and spaces for other minority students that do not have it on campus—like Asian, Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander communities, among others.

When it came to raising the diversity of SGA’s acting body, Cannon said she wants to do an informational session to reintroduce SGA to campus but has already been working with a lot of different communities to get them involved in the organization.

“Some of us are completing applications tomorrow, but getting them [to] apply now so that they can be the change for later. But also, we have to make sure we create that strong foundation so that students will want to come,” Cannon said.

Noel said the lack of diversity can also be attributed to the reputation of SGA on campus.

“SGA has had a big public image problem on campus, not just in this year, but in years past. We want to do what we can to kind of repair this by showing the students that we do want to listen to them and we do want them to show up and hold us accountable and to do what they can to work with us to better NKU for them,” Noel said.

Coates said he hopes to accomplish this by reaching out to presidents of those organizations when they are underrepresented in the meetings and letting them know that seats are open for them to join.

“Also giving the flexibility that maybe if nobody wants to go through the senator application, then they’re welcome to send as many representatives [from their organization(s)] as possible to increase diversity in that way, if the Senate happens to be full. We want people that are not represented in meeting to get that representation,” Coates said.

“We want to make that clear that that’s a priority and that’s something that we desperately need to have in the meetings of SGA.”

Coates said the Latinx community on campus is no exception.

“If they need something from us, such as helping promote their events, or they have a specific issue on campus, that’s something that we obviously need and want to hear,” Coates said.

Cannon said in response to the Latinx community on campus, she is already in conversation about how they can help should she be elected.

“We realized that there’s an importance of knowing about immigration and how that affects our students on campus who have experienced that and everyone being aware how to move forward with it,” Cannon said.

She continued to list ways they want to support Dreamers on campus and ensure their safety and inclusion.

Cannon and Roat: being an ally to marginalized groups and the LGBTQ+ community

Cannon said she wants to make NKU better embrace diversity and inclusivity.

“Embracing diversity means embracing individuals from every walk of life, for everything that they are and not trying to correct them and put them in a box to make them feel like they have to conform to this PWI [predominantly white institution]. And I personally, as a black woman on this campus, have had to do this every day of my life at NKU. I have never really been able to be authentically me; like I have to put on a mask, and it’s tiring to put on a mask every day … we’re [she and Roat] going to break it by making it understood that you can be yourself and still be professional and still carry your weight,” Cannon said.

Cannon said that being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community goes beyond SGA meetings.

“I am an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. There’s different communities that we’re going to gauge in with, but it’s not just in the SGA room, it’s not just about being in meetings. It’s about actually building a relationship and showing them that we care and genuinely love them … we’re going to build a relationship and be family,” Cannon said.

Cannon said she hopes to find new ways the university can implement inclusive pronouns on campus while also advocating for other members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Roat said that promoting allyship is one resource he and Cannon can give to the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s all about just promoting allyship, promoting a safe space on campus, and really hearing their needs, finding out the issues that they face that Aliya and I may not be aware of. So, we really just want to work with them [LGBTQ+ community] and help provide for them based on the things they bring to us, because being in SGA, this isn’t about necessarily what Aliya and I’s ideas are, it’s about what the student body’s ideas are and how we can best implement them,” Roat said.

Coates discusses relationship with Chief Justice Cleary

Multiple students on Facebook commented asking if Coates’ relationship with Chief Justice T.J. Cleary would affect the upcoming election. Coates said he has faith in all members of SGA and their ability to their jobs regardless of their personal relationships, adding that other people should have faith too. 

Coates commented on the SGA impeachment hearing of President Lauren Goodwin in February and said that if Cleary needed to be removed from the impeachment trial—since he is dating Goodwin—then that is what would have needed to happen. 

For example, if the impeachment proceeding would have been heard by the justices, and it would have been necessary for Chief Justice Cleary to not be a part of that conversation, then that’s what would have need to happen. I’m not sure exactly how to address the questions. I’m not sure how the election would be tampered with,” Coates said.

Cannon and Roat talk about adding mental health resources, eliminating barriers

Cannon said mental health is a very high priority in their platform, and they plan to include more resources on campus as well as eliminate existing barriers for students. 

Mental health is an issue that impacts all students; at the same time, every student experiences and deals with those struggles differently, Cannon said.

“Yes, we have resources [on campus], but we don’t have enough,” Cannon said. 

Cannon claims that some students may feel uncomfortable in a traditional counseling setting, so there needs to be alternative resources to reach those who still need help but aren’t ready for such drastic steps.

Roat said many students also face a financial challenge in some pre-existing resources such as counseling. While counseling fees are currently suspended this semester, the administration hasn’t elaborated on whether those fees will be re-implemented in the near future. Roat said they need to find ways to eliminate any barriers to provide unconditional accessibility to mental health resources.

Cannon said she will continue to push for better mental health resources for all students. 

“Recently, I’ve realized that the world doesn’t stop when something happens to you, or when you’re going through something, and it just keeps moving,” Cannon said. “I want to make sure our students know that I’m here with you, and I support you. I understand that we can’t stop the world right now, but I’m going to make sure you feel loved and that you have that support no matter what you’re going through, and that you feel like you matter, and that you don’t go to that dark place and get stuck where no one can pull you out. Because I’ve been there.”

Coates and Noel discuss sustainability on campus

One of the key pillars in the Coates-Noel campaign is providing more sustainable alternatives throughout campus. They plan to implement greater sustainability through a series of policies and projects.

Jackson Coates and Rebecca Noel are running for SGA president and vice president for the upcoming academic year.
Jackson Coates and Rebecca Noel are running for SGA president and vice president for the upcoming academic year. (Cameron Nielsen)

If elected, Coates and Noel plan to ban the single-use of plastics on campus as well as install composting bins in various places outside of dining halls and the Student Union. These initiatives will eliminate plastic and food waste. They also would like to create a new community garden on campus as well as better care for the one currently nearby the Honors House. 

In addition to making immediate changes to campus, Noel said they want to make strong sustainability plans for the future. 

“The last section of our sustainability pillar that we want to focus on is looking at goals and projections for NKU and for the future,” Noel said. “So we want to be able to sit down and look at the numbers—Look at what we’re doing right now and what we can do in five years, 10 years, 15 year [and] become more sustainable overall and a more green university.”

Cannon wants to be a “servant leader”

Cannon said she is running to be a servant leader for the student body. 

“I want to do this for the people,” Cannon said. “I know what it feels like to not have a voice and to be knocked down and not to be heard and understood, and I want to make sure no one has to feel that way.”

When asked how the candidates would work to heal any relationships with students and/or organizations that were damaged from previous administrations, Cannon said they have to mend the actual relationship and bond. 

“Yes, we are [an] organization. Yes, we are here for the people. But if we are broken, we cannot be there for the people,” Cannon said. “So, we’re gonna start mending. We’re going to start growing. We’re going to start getting to know each other.”

Coates and Noel: partnering with and sponsoring organizations throughout campus

Noel said that she and Coates want to amplify the work being done throughout SGA to make every student feel welcome by partnering with different organizations through service projects.

“By incorporating as many different organizations and individuals in these projects as possible, we can get a better representation of the entire campus community because there are other organizations that have service projects that do events like this … so we just want to open this up to all students so that everyone can be a part of this new culture and atmosphere,” Noel said.

Coates wants to have as many organizations as possible become more involved with SGA to get more students involved on campus, including commuter students and those who are not as involved on campus as they’d like to be.

“We want to make it clear to leadership in any organization on campus that we’re open to working with them and we want to work with them … if we get all the organizations involved and every single organization is involved and committed to these projects, we start to get the kind of campus-wide exposure that starts to get commuters and everyone who may not be as involved on campus as they would like to be an opportunity to be involved,” Coates said.

To watch the debate, click here. SGA presidential elections are March 24 and 25 on MyEngagement.

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