On Dec. 7, 2022, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., The Drew Acorn and WMNJ hosted the presidential debate for student government. Current student government president Nate Roark (’23) started off the event by expressing gratitude for his role as president. Roark gave special thanks to students who used their voices during his presidency; not only were they heard but acted upon. He stepped away saddened that his time was coming to an end but confident that Drew students will be left in great hands.
Next, Nicole Sydor (’25), Editor-in-Chief of The Drew Acorn, and Medina Purefoy-Craig(’24), general manager of WMNJ, discussed the format of the debate. Opening statements would begin with three minutes for each presidential candidate and one minute for each vice presidential candidate, followed by a series of predetermined questions with two-minute answer slots, one minute for the opposition to respond, and thirty seconds for the original candidates to rebuke. The debate would continue with questions from the audience and end with closing statements.
The debate started off with a coin toss. Presidential candidate Gabriel Benhaim-Killian (’23) began his opening statement by providing background information about himself and his mission. Benhaim-Killian explained that he transferred from American University because of the cold and competitive environment. He said, “Drew University welcomed me with a strong warm community as a commuter.” If he is elected student government president, Benhaim-Killian plans to promote diversity and give everyone a voice. Benhaim-Killian’s vice presidential candidate, Alison Turner (‘24), outlined that she is the co-president of the Sociology Club and third member of her family to attend Drew University. Turner emphasized that she wants to give a voice to queer people of color.
The other candidate for student government president is Ashley Kibel (’25), a commuter student from Wayne, NJ. Kibel began her opening statement by mentioning the various clubs she is involved in. Kibel emphasized that “the experience of any student is crucial.” Her mission is to address commuter concerns, dining concerns and students’ mental health on campus. Kibel’s vice presidential candidate is Jocelyn Freeman (‘25). Freeman said, “I don’t get to go home more than two times a year. I am determined to make this experience the best it can be. I am ready to make a change.” All of the candidates were very enthusiastic and thanked audience members for joining via Zoom and in person.
After opening statements came to a close, both candidates answered sets of questions and elaborated on their goals. Benhaim-Killian explained that his team offers a new perspective. Neither Benhaim-Killian nor Turner have experience in student government, but they believe this provides them with a holistic point of view. Turner added that she wants to address the challenges that come with organizing events and engaging students. Benhaim-Killian and Turner emphasized that it is sometimes difficult for Drew students to find groups that they identify with, and they plan on bringing in a range of different people and speakers to help Drew students expand their social circles. Both candidates want to better understand the difficulties clubs face. They plan on having a diverse cabinet with people who have experience and are willing to put their best foot forward. Benhaim-Killian and Turner advocated for creating a space for people of all backgrounds to be heard. Their three priorities consist of sustaining the institution financially, hearing student’s opinions and getting the student body involved. Turner added that she wants to improve commuter access to Drew. She wants to involve commuters in student government initiatives and grant them access to residence halls. Benhaim-Killian pitched a platform where all commuters could talk to each other, and he expressed an interest in making changes to the Commuter Lounge. He also emphasized that he wants to increase the jobs available on campus to students with financial struggles.
Kibel and Freeman’s main priorities are supporting club leaders and valuing mental health. For example, they plan to offer monthly check-ins for club leaders and increase mental health resources for student athletes. Their cabinet will consist of Action Scholars, who are dedicated to community service. Freeman and Kibel also proposed creating a Common Hour during which no classes are held. This will give students a chance to relax in between classes and attend club meetings. Freeman and Kibel would also create student government office hours. These sessions would be open to the whole student body to voice any concerns they may be having. Freeman and Kibel agreed to work with the Budgets & Organizations Board (BOB) to help increase club funding. Freeman emphasized that one priority of the team is to create closer relationships between clubs and student government. Kibel wants to reach out to more commuters and promote a space where they can express their concerns. Freeman emphasized her desire to change the common habit of considering international students as international students first, rather than just as Drew students, to promote inclusion. Kibel emphasized that she will be in constant contact with the next University President to avoid unnecessary budget spending. Freeman has been working on creating a calendar to update students on events occurring on campus, and she suggested using The Path to promote events instead of Instagram because of Instagram’s randomized algorithm.
Mid-debate, the projector overheated and cut off the power for about 10-15 minutes.
During this time, all of the candidates conversed with one another. Although they were running against each other, this didn’t stop them from being friends. After the break, both Freeman and Benhaim-Killian answered questions pertaining to Title IX. Freeman clarified that Title IX addresses “not only sexual assault but also gender discrimination, rape and sexual harassment.” Freeman said, “94% of cases go unreported.” She mentioned that she wants to increase Drew students’ awareness of the Red Zone, a six-week period at the start of freshman year during which individuals have the greatest chance of being harassed or sexually assaulted. Freeman advocated for helping individuals find resources to report instances of Title IX violations. Benhaim-Killian proposed taking initiation week more seriously. He also mentioned that 40% of Title IX survey respondents did not feel like it was necessary to report Title IX violations, and he advocated for changing this narrative.
The last three questions of the debate came from audience members. These questions pertained to privilege, action, political idols and commuter parking spaces. In their closing statements, both teams emphasized the need to vote. Freeman ended her closing statement by saying, “I don’t care who you vote for, but vote.”
On Friday, Dec. 9, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., voting for student government president will take place on The Path and in areas around campus. Go Vote!
Nicole Giao is a sophomore majoring in international relations and minoring in French.