Candidates for SGA presidency debate key issues to win last minute voters

On Monday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m., candidates Alicia Page and Kyle Thomson gathered in the University Center to debate and discuss key issues that they would address as president of the Student Government Association (SGA) for the 2012-2013 academic year. Page and Thomson addressed issues specific to Western Carolina as well as across the UNC System.

At the opening of the debate, Page and Thomson were both asked to explain why they were running for the presidency of SGA and both discussed the impact that they hope to have on students.

“In my two years of service with SGA, I couldn’t see myself not running for president. SGA has unbelievable power that isn’t being used. We have the ability to help every student on campus,” explained Page. “As vice president, I created the Cuts Hurt initiative, which aimed to show how budget cuts have negatively impacted students at Western. The Cuts Hurt initiative is now being implemented at every campus in North Carolina.”

Thomson explained that since coming to Western Carolina in summer 2010, becoming a leader has become a goal of his. “The Academic Success Program was such an influential part to becoming a leader on campus. Now I am an RA on campus and helping students every day. It’s time to give back to SGA,” said Thomson.

Perhaps the biggest issue that Page and Thomson discussed was the budget cuts and how, as president, they intend to deal with the consequences of those budget cuts. Page started with personal experiences, and explained how she would try to help students that are in tough financial situations.

“From my personal experience, my Pell grant has decreased year after year, I’m a first generation college student and I’m supporting myself through college,” said Page. “I’d like to create a student scholarship modeled after UNC’s. It would give students money that they gave through their tuition and fees.” Page added that working with North Carolina representatives and voicing the concerns of students, is key to protecting the budget from further cuts.

Going along the same lines, Thomson explained that he would also like to create a bridge between upper administration and North Carolina representatives.

“I would exhaust every resource we have to help students. We need to offer ways to hear from students, and I propose holding monthly forums so we could hear from our students and hear the concerns that they have,” said Thomson.

Page and Thomson responded to a budget-related student question about classroom size and consequently, students feeling as though they are slipping through the cracks.

“Students come to Western for the one-on-one instruction and the small classroom sizes. With larger classes, I think it would be a good idea to set up a mentor program. If a professor isn’t available for consultation, having a student resource that is doing well in the class, or has performed well in the class previously, would be a good resource to have,” said Page.

Thomson explained that it would be important to work with upper level administration to work with teachers dealing with larger class sizes. Helping teachers learn how to deal with larger class sizes while stile forging relationships with students, explained Thomson, was essential to the success of Western Carolina students.

Another large category of debate was Catamount Pride and how it is lacking at Western Carolina.

“Catamount Pride is a huge part of my life. I’m at every game. We need to bring student pride at athletic events. We will truly bleed purple and gold,” said Thomson.

Page commented that although pride in our athletics program is important, Catamount Pride should extend beyond a football or basketball game.

“A lot of people have a narrow perspective of pride. For me, pride is in the quality of education that we receive. We need to be proud of our students. We need to recognize that there is more than one thing to be proud of at WCU; we are diverse. That’s what makes me proud,” explained Page. Several times throughout the debate, Page reiterated that recognizing students for their success is something that she believes needs to happen.

Following Catamount Pride, Page and Thomson were asked by fellow students what they intended to do about student retention at Western Carolina. Both Page and Thomson agreed that student retention is a huge issue that the Western Carolina community has problems with.

“I think we need to recognize the research that shows that students who are involved are more likely to stay at a university,” started Page. “We need to work with residential living to put on programs for freshman to talk about what types of clubs and organizations they would like to be involved in and then get them involved. Students who are involved and have a tight network are more likely to stay at a university.”

Thomson explained that as an RA, his main goal was to help students with their problems that may be causing them to leave Cullowhee.

“My number one concern is figuring out a problem that a student may have, and figuring out why they have that problem,” said Thomson.

Students at the debate expressed concern over the current parking issues at Western Carolina, to which Thomson and Page both empathized.

Page explained that building a parking deck at Western Carolina would increase student parking passes to somewhere around $470 per pass and that the increases in student parking over the past few years have been used to maintain the current parking available. Page, however, agreed that something should be done about commuter parking.

Thomson discussed his role as a traffic court justice, and proposed that during his presidency, he would try to inform freshman of where they can and cannot park to reduce confusion.

Page and Thomson debated for over an hour, taking several student questions and explaining their platform to those in attendance. SGA elections close on Tuesday, April 17 at 11:59 p.m. Students can vote online or in the UC or dining hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.