Candidates argue efficacy of SA and definition of roles within the organization at Debate and Town Hall
Student Association Internal Vice President candidate Kendall Vining and write-in IVP candidate Ashley Fitzpatrick debated the functions of roles within the SA and the SA’s relationship to the student body, and presidential candidate Anna Margaret Clyburn discussed similar issues in the SA Election Town Hall and Debate on Monday, Feb. 17, hosted by the Thresher.
During the debate, Fitzpatrick said that she would be prepared to stand up to and confront Rice administration when their interests conflicted with the student body’s interests. Fitzpatrick, the Martel College SA senator, said that she had experience directly confronting administration figures such as Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman and would be willing to confront entities like the Rice Management Company, even if it meant that the administration might disown the SA as a legitimate campus body.
“If anything, I think that that would make the SA stronger,” Fitzpatrick, a sophomore, said. “I am very much prepared to continue to stand up for the student body.”
Vining, a former Martel New Student Representative, said that she would be willing to confront power structures within the SA itself by reforming the NSR role to empower students in that role.
“I’d often feel very intimidated [as an NSR] in Senate to not express my opinion … [voting members] were seen as a higher [authority] figure, because they had a vote, because of the title that they held,” Vining, also a Martel College sophomore, said. “I don’t believe NSRs should be forced to have an official vote [...] but I want NSRs to have an opinion vote, where they still engage in the process of typing in what they think that their college truly wants.”
Fitzpatrick said that her reforms of the NSR program would involve delaying applications for the role until after new students had the opportunity to learn more about the SA Senate and what projects they might want to pursue in student government.
“Instead of just needing to put them on any project on any committee, we can delay that start of the NSR program, let them figure out what they want to do,” Fitzpatrick said.
In a particularly contentious moment, Fitzpatrick responded to Vining’s discussion of her background as a member of a the group in charge of researching alternatives to the Rice Emerging Scholars Program and ways to expand the program. Vining said that she and the rest of the group submitted their research into the Survey of All Students and solicited responses through that platform. Fitzpatrick responded, saying that as a RESP student she was not able to share her input with the group.
“I thought that it was odd to me that this group that did include some RESPies was not actually reaching out to the RESP program to ask us what we thought about this, and how we thought that it benefitted us,” Fitzpatrick said.
This moment was not the only time the candidates clashed. In an argument over the role of senators in the SA, Vining said she plans to have members of the SA executive team periodically visit college government meetings to support the senator at that college.
“I want the SA, internally, to reach out to students. I think it’s unfair to expect the students to do it the other way when we should be doing it internally first,” Vining said. “I want to increase the SA’s presence in the actual college government.”
Fitzpatrick said that the goal of giving the SA a presence within college government is already fulfilled by the senator position, and does not need to be expanded further.
“College government right now is very separate from the SA, and I think that’s something that people actually kind of want to see happen more,” Fitzpatrick said.
At the end of the debate, the IVP candidates discussed whether or not the SA was still representative of or relevant to the student body. Vining said that the SA needs to improve its efforts with regards to diversity and inclusion within the organization.
“There’s a historic amount of Black senators who ran last year, and then I went to this ‘mandatory’ meeting for potential candidates, and the lack of diversity was just despicable,” Vining said. “The fact that Black senators, despite having a record number, are not coming back — that just says a lot to me.”
Fitzpatrick said that she had seen improvements in the SA’s representation of students and other Houston community members.
“I think we’ve been making big statements on issues that affect not only Rice students but also different people in Houston, like the Third Ward,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s still a long way to go, but I think that we’re doing pretty good so far, and that with changes with the way the SA operates, we can do even better to represent students.”
During the presidential town hall, Martel President Anna Margaret Clyburn declined to comment on which IVP candidate she preferred, but said that she looked forward to working with either candidate. Clyburn also discussed her concerns with being the only presidential candidate, a situation that she said may have stemmed from the increasing demands of the role.
“It is a large commitment and one that does require taking time that could be used for a paid job, away from that, or away from studying. I definitely think that to be able to run is to be in a position of privilege,” Clyburn, a junior, said. “I also believe that the SA has taken on a lot of larger projects and has made statements on more diverse issues this year, that are intimidating.”
Clyburn said that within the SA’s developing role as a first responder to campus controversies, the SA should work to sustain conversations around the controversies and take preventative actions against them.
“What I’ve seen as long as I’ve been at Rice is that something happens, people talk about it a lot for one or two, maybe three weeks, and then it dies down, and I’d love to see momentum around these issues continue,” Clyburn said. “I’m also hoping we can be more proactive [...] and not be in crisis management mode all the time.”
The entire debate and town hall is available to view on the Rice Thresher Facebook page. A higher-quality video, as well as our “20 questions with the candidates” series, will be online shortly.
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