Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

SGA candidates unsure on diversity

The SGA debate last night was between current Chief of Staff Adam Gronewold and Secretary Belle Hartman and Senators Brendan Walker and Ella McCorkle. In their opening statements, the candidates shared their individual platforms concerning their views on Title IX, mental health services at Augustana, finances, and diversity.  
It’s hard to say exactly which ticket won the debate, but I did find that each ticket had strengths and weaknesses regarding certain issues.
Gronewold and Hartman’s extensive experience in SGA was very clear given their confidence and willingness to challenge their opponents and defend their own views, so the image they presented to audience was one of strength and determination. Gronewold and Hartman expressed the specificities of their plans better than Walker and McCorkle. It was clear that Walker and McCorkle had more background information about the issues on their platform, but their solutions were quite vague and more or less seemed the same for each issue: talk to the students and work closely with the administration.
Both tickets had important and interesting things to say about their ideas on improving mental health counseling and sexual assault awareness on campus. Gronewold and Hartman want to assess Augustana’s success with the current mental health counselors whereas Walker and McCorkle want to bring in more help. Walker and McCorkle’s idea about sending out minutes from the Title IX task force to the students is great because it supports transparency between the student body and the administration. Gronewold and Hartman plan to continue Allan Daly’s work with the Student Advisory Committee and also have a team member on the task force, which gives them the opportunity to create transparency as well.
Both tickets, unfortunately, faltered in the face of diversity. It was clear to me that the lack of diversity within the tickets themselves made the candidates hesitant when approaching the subject of diversity, and I felt this hesitation more from Gronewold than I did from Walker and McCorkle. Both tickets, however, seemed to have the same solution to difficulties with diversity on campus, which was to hear more from diverse student groups, give all students a chance to have their voices heard, and have more of what they referred to as “difficult conversations.”
I was very disappointed by Gronewold’s answers to questions pertaining to diversity. When asked about defining diversity, Gronewold seemed to have difficulty saying “students of color” and opted instead for “people who are different from the typical cream of the crop.” This comment was later brought up during the student questions portion of the evening, as it seemed that Gronewold may have been insinuating that white students were better than others. Gronewold seemed to understand his blunder a little too late, but he also wasn’t able to clear up the insinuation behind his comment nor was he able to properly extend his thoughts on diversity. Though Hartman added to what Gronewold actually meant, it was clear that his comment could not be ignored.
Furthermore, when another student asked him if he had said something offensive towards the LGBTQIA+ community, Gronewold denied saying anything and even said he was falsely accused. Rather than focusing on making the student feel like her question was being heard and answering her question about how he would try to represent the LGBTQIA+ community, Gronewold decided instead to simply defend himself. Gronewold had said on multiple occasions that issues of diversity were important to him. I questioned the legitimacy of that statement based on his answers from the previous questions regarding diversity, identity, and race on campus.
I was also very surprised to hear Walker say that he didn’t think diversity was defined by race. While that is somewhat true–diversity comprises identity, opinion, privilege, values, and many other aspects of life–I felt that he didn’t understand that on Augustana’s campus, the issue with diversity is based on its having to do with race and ethnicity. Walker spoke of making sure everyone “felt at home” at Augustana and wanted to do so with more conversation with students and his own executive board, which was a solution I heard a lot from both tickets.
The reality of the situation is that even during these conversations about diversity, there are many students that still feel that their voices are not being heard, and it seemed neither ticket could give a concrete solution to how to make sure everyone truly felt included.
Overall, I think both tickets made incredibly strong points on the topics covered except that of diversity. In terms of experience and concrete plans, Gronewold and Hartman have a lot of ideas, but at the same time, Walker and McCorkle overall seemed to know more about the topics concerning students. The question of diversity was my make it or break it point for the tickets, and unfortunately, both left me very disappointed.

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SGA candidates unsure on diversity