SGA Presidential candidates Higdon/May and Penland/Vikraman explain platforms in Q&A

On Wednesday the 21st, SGA Recording Secretary Brycen Higdon and SGA Sophomore Class President Adam Penland debated against each other for the SGA Presidential elections that open Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th.

Opening statements began with SGA Lead Senator At Large and Penland’s VP running mate, Shruthi Vikraman, followed by Higdon’s running mate, Ryan May.

Vikraman began her opening statement by explaining her and Penland’s strategy.

“The first thing we want to do is increase the amount of funding that every student organization gets from SGA,” Vikraman said.

Vikraman also said she plans on working with Penland to make registration an easier and more efficient process.

“The third thing we want to do is have increased transparency,” Vikraman said referring to how students perceive SGA.

May began his opening statement by reminding the audience that he is not apart of SGA, that he is a normal student. He said his innovation and imagination will enable students’ voices to be heard.

After opening statements, the moderator began the Q and A session made of pre-submitted questions.

“What exactly does each ticket intend to do specifically to address housing and dining issues on campus?”

Penland said he had already talked to Chris Lockerman, the general manager of Aramark, about this issue. Penland said he plans on pursuing more vegan and vegetarian options as well as making sure that the available dining options do not close early.

On the topic of housing, Penland said he plans on talking to the administration about the three-year housing agreement.  He said he wants to hear the students’ voice on whether or not they want a three-year agreement. Penland also said that since the size of Mercer is increasing, the amount of housing should increase as well. He said he would like to see new dorms not only being built for freshman, but also for upperclassman.

May said that he had an innovative plan to extend cafeteria hours. He said he had already met with Dean Pearson. He said as an athlete, not being able to eat in the Caf from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. adversely affects his performance on the field and if he can get Underwood to see this then that change made would benefit everyone.

“What are some ways that you think Mercer can improve its relationships in communities such as ethnic and religious minorities, women, immigrants and the LGBTQ community?”

Vikraman said as a minority herself, she can contribute to improving Mercer’s social relations by serving as a minority representative on SGA.

May said his minority status also benefits him in this situation. He said there would need to be more events with people of color. From eating together to just hanging out or planning events together, May said it doesn’t have to be awkward.

“How do you plan on prioritizing students’ safety?”

Penland said he has made room in the budget to take out $4,000 to improve campus safety. Penland stressed how safety is the number one priority on Mercer’s campus.

May said he believes in the strength of cooperative student relationships with Merpo. He said students need to be vigilant.

The next question was specifically addressed to the Higdon May ticket.

“Your slogan is ‘With you, not above you’ does this mean that you believe that our current SGA believes they are above us. If  not, why does this slogan meet your campaign?”

Higdon said yes. He said he believes there is a huge disconnect between SGA and the student body. He said he has another slogan and that is, “Inclusivity, Innovation, and Engagement.” Higdon said he wants to empower the student body and at the end of the day, SGA serves as a lobbying firm to campus administration for the student body.

How would you deal with a situation that is highly supported by the administration but opposed by the student body?

Penland said that ultimately SGA is not elected by the administration, President Underwood, or by Dean Pearson. He said he prioritizes the students’ voice and want they want.

Higdon responded by mentioning Founder’s Day and if he had been able to, he would have rescinded the invitation and left the stage open in Willingham for students to be able to voice their opinions and concerns. Higdon said he supports what students support.

“Do you support the push for gender neutral housing on campus?”

Vikraman said that if the majority of students want gender neutral housing then that is what she supports. She said it is in her best interest to petition for what students want.

Higdon said that after a lot of consideration, he is not opposed to doing trial runs. Higdon said he is willing to open up a floor somewhere on campus as gender neutral. He said that just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Higson also said he believes diversity is what makes Mercer a better place.

For the Higdon May ticket, “You have not been on SGA for as long as Senator Penland and Senator Vikraman, in what ways is this a good thing and how has this given you a different perspective?”

Higdon first addressed Ryan’s lack of experience on SGA. He said that although he hasn’t been a part of SGA, he is still a leader. Higdon said Ryan is more than qualified because of his dedication to the football team, how involved he is on campus, and the leadership positions he has in ASA and MAPS. Speaking about himself, Higdon said he has “a pretty rotund experience with SGA.”

“How do you intend to benefit or help the relationship between Greek Life and the administration?”

Penland said as a new member of a fraternity on campus, he wants to help the administration see that Greek Life at Mercer is not about partying and going out to have a good time. He said Greek Life here at Mercer is about volunteering and going out and benefitting the Macon community.

Higdon said as member of a fraternity on campus he wants to improve Greek Life’s relationship with administration. He said that is why he supported delayed recruitment, which he said he still believes is a good idea and that it was just implemented in the worst way possible. Higdon said he wants to show administration that  Greek Life is about accountability. He said that his fraternity has the highest GPA and it is because he has his brothers to keep him accountable.

“This year a SGA senator publicly accused other Senators of not being fair, what step would you take to ensure Senators are not intimidating to each other?”

Penland said that since SGA is made up of elected students to represent the student body, Senate should be an open area where Senators represent the students who elected them.

Penland said, “This year that was very unfortunate. That’s something that I think there should be rules in place to where Senators shouldn’t be able to intimidate other people.”

Penland said there should be consequences such as impeachment or sanctions against that Senator to ensure that all Senators feel free to speak for their constituents.   

Higdon said that he plans on changing how Senate operates. Higdon said he wants to see Senators stand when they speak to the entire body. He said that way the speaker feels pressure to add value to the conversation and to think twice about what he or she is saying.

Higdon said he also plans on re-organizing how office hours work. Instead of holding office hours once a week behind closed doors, Higdon says he will assign an organization to each senator and that these senators will be responsible for finding out three problems the organization is dealing with and proposing solutions to those problems.

Closing Statements

Closing statements began with Penland.

Penland said he has a three-pronged plan to change registration, SGA transparency, and increase funding for student organizations. He said he has been working with Vikraman to create two different plans for funding campus organizations. One plan involves petitioning for a higher budget from the school board, while the other focuses on re-allocating money from the current budget.

Higdon said he serves the voice of the student body. He said it will take “ultimate persuasion” and that he and May will do anything in their power to get the students’ opinion heard. He said he plans on making big changes to Senate.

May ended closing statements.

May said that it is his imagination and innovation that will bring change to Mercer’s campus. He said at the end of the day, “It’s about empowering students to empower each other.”