Racism, mental health issues define USG Presidential Debate

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USG presidential candidate Christine Jorquera spoke about her plans to push through a mental health crisis-friendly dean’s excuse on Tuesday, February 23rd. Photo provided by author

In a debate held Tuesday night, the six presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government gathered over Zoom to discuss their platforms. For the three presidential tickets involved in the annual event, key topics ranged from race to mental health to COVID-19 safety. 

The presidential candidates first discussed the importance of mental health resources on campus. They all agreed there needs to be an increase in resources devoted to ensuring the mental well-being of UConn students, and that mental health and academics go hand-in-hand. 

USG presidential candidate Christine Jorquera, a sixth-semester psychology and human rights double-major, said students are feeling “more than burnt out” from the stress of online classes. Jorquera said she’s looking forward to pushing through a mental health crisis-friendly dean’s excuse.  

“Students shouldn’t feel like they have to prioritize an exam or going to class instead of dealing with their mental health at that moment,” said Jorquera. “As a society we’re constantly pushing for productivity, and we’re constantly validating that more than our own sense of wellness and our own sense of just being okay with ourselves as we are right now.” 

Another key topic of Tuesday’s debate was the newly added chief diversity officer (CDO) position, whose goal is to ensure a culture of inclusion and diversity within USG. Candidates unanimously said they will hold this position to a high standard. 

USG presidential candidate Mason Holland, working with the CDO, hopes he can fix an apparent “cultural problem” within the organization. 

USG presidential candidate Mason Holland discusses the cultural problems of toxicity and elitism within USG and how he plans to support and protect students that don’t have a voice in USG during the debate on Tuesday. Photo provided by author

“USG does have a cultural problem. There is a culture of toxicity, of elitism, and that’s something that perforates through the institution,” said Holland. “I want to work with the CDO, to make sure that the supporting guidelines are strengthened and protections are increased for students that don’t have a voice in USG. There needs to be protection for students in order to feel safe.” 

Continuing on with the topic of race, candidates commented on a recent increase in hate speech on campus, and how they would lead USG to create a more safe and inclusive environment.  

USG presidential candidate Nicholas Xenophontos said he believes USG should not be the ones leading in terms of handling these situations, but instead should lend their resources and help in any way they can. Xenophontos also said that the university should work on adding courses to educate students about issues of race and expand on the one-credit university course on anti-Black racism, which has been offered this past semester. 

“If we really want to step up and stop these things that have been happening for some reason, we need to be addressing the culture more so than the reaction afterwards,” said Xenophantos. 

Finally, the candidates had widely differing opinions on what it would mean to defund the UConn Police Department, with the majority agreeing that a change – whether it be monetary or a reallocation of resources from police to mental health services – must happen.  

USG vice-presidential candidate Noel Mitchel shares his thoughts about defunding the police and proposes that his ticket would move the resources towards institutions supporting students during the USG presidential debate on Tuesday night. Photo provided by author

USG vice-presidential candidate Noel Mitchel said he thinks that when it comes to defunding the police, he would not opt for an outright defunding, although he does not rule it out of the question. Rather, his ticket would delegate and reconfigure resources toward institutions that are supporting students. 

“I think there’s a huge disconnect between UCPD and students,” said Mitchel. “There’s a lot of lack of trust that’s happening, and we would like to work with UCPD in building these workshops and programs to really help get the relationship between UCPD and the UConn campus a lot better.” 

Meanwhile, Holland’s and Xenophantos’s tickets took a more firm stance, saying that they would defund UCPD. 

The debate closed with candidates acknowledging the importance of this election for the student body, and emphasized communication between UConn students and those running for the presidency.  

“To be frank, this election is not about us,” Holland said. “This is about you. We are running for you.”  

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