The Bates College Student Government (BCSG) Presidential Debate took place on Wednesday night and featured one representative from each candidate pair speaking about their vision for the 2021-2022 school year.
The debate, moderated by Imti Hassan ’23 and Jacob DiMartini ’22, took place over Zoom and lasted for just over an hour, featuring questions compiled by BCSG as well as student submitted inquiries.
The pairs running for co-presidents are Rachel Retana ’22 and Sean Vaz ’22, Joseph Visconti ’24 and Huck Triggs ’24, and Kush Sharma ’23 and Marcos Pacheco Soto ’24. Sobie Sobolewski ’22 is running for president with Georgina Scoville ’22 as his vice president. Retana, Visconti, Sharma, and Sobolewski took the lead in debating over their ticket’s competing visions for next year.
Sobolewski was the first to begin with his opening statement. “I have spent numerous hours working as a class representative and as a member and chair of the athletics committee to bring substantial changes,” he said.
He also spoke to the creation of Fem Folx Fitness nights, which provides a supportive environment for exercising and lifting.
Sharma spoke next and highlighted that he and his running mate, Pacheco Soto, are both international students, hailing from India and Chile, respectively. “Our motivation to be your co-presidents relies on our growing passion for social justice and political activism that started when we were both young, as we grew up in socio-political climates that were fueled and filled with turmoil throughout our lives,” he said.
Visconti, a first-generation college student, emphasized his passion for Bates. “Huck and I, if elected, will stand to be genuine and passionate role models through hard work, humility, and absolute honesty,” he said.
Retana finished the opening statements with a land acknowledgement and a description of her and Vaz’s experiences as women of color at a predominantly white institution. “Sean and I have consistently found ourselves navigating spaces where we have had to advocate for ourselves,” she said. They are both first-generation college students, women of color, and children of immigrants.
Three out of four of the candidates are in favor of abolishing Campus Safety, a position that has been advocated for by organizations such as the Black Student Union and the Bates Leftist Coalition.“We have surpassed the point of reform and are calling for the abolition of Campus Safety and [the redistribution] of funds towards alternative community support services,” Retana said.
Visconti spoke to his running mate’s own experiences with the department, which include being forced to his knees by an officer and reportedly having a nightstick used on him. Their plan, which was echoed by other candidates, includes redistributing funding and responsibilities to Junior Advisers (JAs).“JAs will get incentivized by having housing reduced and a monthly stipend, paid for by allocating funds from Campus Safety pension funds and other miscellaneous expenses within campus safety,” he said.
Currently, JAs do get monthly stipends, though it seems unlikely that BCSG is legally allowed to redirect money from the Bates pension. Sharma and Pacheco Soto support the dissolution of Campus Safety, as well. Sharma repeatedly referred to the office as “Security,” and stated that “we can’t even think of reforming” the department.
The only candidate who did not support the abolishment of the department was Sobolewski, who believes the office can instead be reformed. “As a potential president in this position, I think the abolishment of Campus Safety, while a good idea, may not be practical,” he said. “I would turn to removing Campus Safety from the residential component of Bates. I would transition them to more of an emergency related situation.”
Issues of Inclusivity on Campus and the CRT
Retana believes that inclusivity on campus is negatively impacted by the Office of Intercultural Education’s (OIE) “ridiculous turnover” in the past five years and stated that the department has not been given enough funding. She also spoke about the isolation that many BIPOC students feel due to being “dropped into a white space like Bates in a white space like Maine.”
She and Vaz are also proposing that the jurisdiction of affinity groups change from Campus Life to the OIE “so that they are provided more adequate and efficient support while maintaining a relationship with administration.”
Visconti stated that the “lack of diversity” in Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) creates a less inclusive environment on campus.
Sharma agreed with Visconti. He spoke about his own experience talking to somebody in CAPS, and explained that he had trouble relating to his counselor on various issues.
Sobolewski spoke to issues of inclusivity that he acknowledged he did not necessarily face as a student athlete, with the support system of coaches and teammates. In addition, he agreed with Retana that the OIE needs more funding to better support BIPOC students. “I think there should be the same amount of care and consideration in place for hiring staff in the OIE” as there is to hiring faculty, he said.
Tensions rose when Sobolewski and Sharma clashed on ideas over town halls. Sharma stated his support for open town halls, while Sobolewski believes they are a “flawed concept” and said that in the past, student attendance has been “pretty abysmal.”
Sharma stated that “anyone can talk about policies,” but implementing them is harder.
All four candidates support the implementation of a Critical Race Theory (CRT) requirement.
Sharma believes that it is “preposterous” that anyone could be against the CRT. Additionally, candidates also expressed their concern for the rising tuition.
Retana proposed a tuition freeze where each class year would pay the same amount of tuition for all their time at Bates, without influx. She also believes it is important to create a “transparent specified outline of where tuition is being distributed.”
Visconti began his statement by demanding “free tuition for all students.” He continued that “one of my initiatives will be to work with certain representatives to divest the current endowment in oil and gas and reinvest in venture philanthropy and impact investing, which has yielded good results.”
All four candidates restated their earlier messages in their closing statements, which all centered around their goals to represent the Bates student body and the changes they wish to put in place.
Voting takes place on Garnet Gateway from April 16-19.
Disclaimer: Vice Presidential candidate Georgina Scoville ‘22 is the Design Editor for The Bates Student