Write-in independent candidates for Associated Students Internal Vice President (IVP) spoke at a forum on Tuesday, April 12, focusing on Senate reform and mental health issues as they promoted their individual campaigns. The IVP presides as the chair of A.S. Senate meetings and oversees most internal A.S. operations.
Both contenders for the position, second-year philosophy and psychology double major Manushi “Nushi” Yapabandara and second-year political science and history of public policy double major Natalie Jordan, are running as independent write-in candidates. Third-year black studies and feminist studies double major Ernesto “Ernie” Piña, then listed as a third candidate, did not attend the debate and has since dropped out of the race.
The two candidates responded to questions from A.S. Elections staff and audience questions submitted via text message.
Yapabandara emphasized diversity within A.S., saying the organization is currently “not very friendly for students of color.”
“I want to increase diversity in A.S. by facilitating [a] legislature that would welcome students of color into A.S.-dominated spaces,” Yapabandara said. “It’s about time that we encouraged people to come in.”
Jordan listed her plans for disabled students on campus, including designated study and test-taking space, an alternative transportation program and a loan closet for certain medical equipment. As a former senator, she had previously worked with the Disabled Students Program (DSP).
To increase student involvement, Jordan also said she plans to establish a “student staff” to maintain senators’ accountability, integrate iClicker voting into senate meetings and build a student thrift shop.
Both candidates spoke of a need for retention in the A.S. Senate, given the six resignations by senators this year. “We are having the highest turnover rate in 20 years, I believe,” said Yapabandara. “Last time people were dropping like this it was because of political turmoil. Now it’s because of drama, which is very unfortunate.”
Yapabandara also tackled the issue of free speech, arguing that students must not use that freedom to “invalidate” the experiences of others. Recent chalking incidents around campus have polarized students as to what constitutes free expression.
“There are a lot of things that may or may not trigger other people,” Yapabandara said. “Hate speech is not okay — that is not even covered by the first amendment.”
Yapabandara also stressed her goal to expand campus spaces for those struggling with domestic violence, referring to her own experiences. “I am also a survivor of domestic violence, and I know that it’s the worst feeling when you’re trying to escape something so horrible,” she said.
Jordan emphasized “breaking down barriers” of mental health within the Greek community, which garnered much applause from supporters. “There are not many divides between a Greek student and a regular student,” she said.
To that point, Yapabandara recommended Greek life involvement via a Facebook group where members of fraternities and sororities could post updates and keep A.S. informed about their work and events.
Current IVP Kimia Hashemian attended the forum and praised both candidates afterwards, saying she liked Nushi Yapabandara for offering a different perspective as a non-traditional student. When asked by The Bottom Line if she thought one candidate stood out over the other, Hashemian said Natalie Jordan excelled “knowledge-wise.”
“On A.S. and Legal Code, Natalie did stick out because she has experience,” Hashemian said.
After the forum, Yapabandara told The Bottom Line she felt the questions asked were not fair to her. “I think there were really a lot of a certain political party here — won’t name names,” she said, referring to the audience members. She said the questions were oriented toward “someone who already had Senate experience.”
“Considering that people were allowed to text in questions, I felt like that was a little bit unfair,” Yapabandara said.
Jordan declined to state why she is more qualified than her opponent. “I just don’t like to do that shit-talking stuff,” she told The Bottom Line after the forum.
Voting for A.S. elections begins on Monday, April 18 on GOLD and will continue through Thursday, April 21.