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Saint Mary’s student government tickets face off in debate

and | Thursday, February 21, 2019

For the first time ever, candidates running for president and vice president at Saint Mary’s College had a chance to debate each other, instead of simply making speeches before a crowd.

Saint Mary’s interim president Nancy Nekvasil acted as moderator for the four candidates. The current president and vice president for the Saint Mary’s student body — seniors Madeleine Corcoran and Kathy Ogden — were also present for the debate.

Ann Curtis and Lina Domenella | The Observer

The candidates — junior ticket Emma Schmidt (president) and Andrea Ruiz-Montoya (vice president) and junior ticket Terra Nelson (president) and Olivia Allen (vice president) — were given two minute-rounds to give introductions, make closing remarks and answer questions from the crowd.

Five questions were submitted by graduate and undergraduate students at Saint Mary’s College. The questions included challenges on student diversity, the Catholic faith and the future goals of the College.

Both tickets said they have plans to implement more diverse programs and create a space for diverse students to feel more comfortable.

“We plan to implement a preview day for students of all minorities,” Nelson said. “If you’re passionate and excited, you have a place at Saint Mary’s and we want you here.”

Emphasizing the need for minority students to feel more at ease in choosing Saint Mary’s, Schmidt and Ruiz-Montoya said dialogue is important to make the College a better place for minority students.

Schmidt said “we believe communication and collaboration is key in making students feel at home.”

A question was posed about how the candidates will strengthen the Catholic identity of the College.

In response, Nelson said they want to focus on the growth of Campus Ministry and to dive back into tradition. Nelson and Allen also said they wish to put a focus on non-Catholic backgrounds, so that students of other faiths might feel more comfortable and at home at Saint Mary’s.

Nelson said approaching students when they first arrive on campus is vital to bringing them into the Catholic tradition. 

“A lot of freshmen who come to college may enter with a strong faith, but they tend to turn away from it with the everyday busyness of college life,” she said. “It’s not really something that is talked about, but I want to focus on it for the years to come.”

Schmidt and Ruiz-Montoya said they agreed with their opponents and raised another point about the Saint Mary’s identity.

“We want to help students view Saint Mary’s as a place to grow as a woman in faith,” Schmidt said.

Looking toward the future of Saint Mary’s, Nelson and Allen said they want to reconstruct freshman orientation with a new focus on sexual assault, while Schmidt and Ruiz-Montoya said they want to put a new focus on campus security and mental health resources.

In order to make students feel safer on and off campus, Schmidt and Ruiz-Montoya said they are campaigning for two new policies.

“We want to set up a mental health emergency line so that we can have on-call representatives to help students through crisis,” Ruiz-Montoya said. “We also want to have Blinkie run on Sundays, because there are many students who go to Mass on Sundays at the Basilica and it can be hard to go over there, especially during the winter months.”

Although the candidates did agree on many points, in some cases they emphasized their different views on the Saint Mary’s experience.

Nelson and Allen have worked within student government at Saint Mary’s, including with the current student body president and vice president, and Nelson said their experience with the College’s governing bodies is analogous to that of a wedding caterer.

“If you want someone to cater your wedding, you want someone who has catered before,” she said. “And metaphorically, we have catered that wedding by previously being on student government.” 

Though Schmidt and Ruiz-Montoya have not worked on student government before, Schmidt said this allows them to understand the needs of “normal” students.

“We give the perspective of a normal student, having not been on SGA before,” she said. ”I believe that is our strength.”

Several students were eager to share their perspectives on the debate following the event.

Saint Mary’s freshman Colleen Dunn said it was interesting to hear both sides.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I’ve never seen a smaller debate like this,” Dunn said. “I am happy with what I did see, and I liked that both platforms focused on inclusivity.”

At the end of the night, both campaigns left the students with their words of wisdom.

Schmidt said she knows even in the event of a win, change will likely come slowly.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “We understand that it will take time to have real change here at Saint Mary’s.”

Nelson and Allen said they were glad to have the chance to improve the place they love so much.

“We care about this college and we want to improve it,” Nelson said.

“We have been a team from the beginning, and we are humbled to represent our favorite place and second home,” Allen added.


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