Tensions were high as candidates in this year’s undergraduate student government elections wrangled over their qualifications and platforms at a debate Wednesday.
Candidates discussed how they would address affordability issues, advocate against President Donald Trump’s policies and better engage the student body at the debate, which was held by the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Election Board in Moore Hall.
The debate often became contentious, with several contested candidates criticizing their opponents’ qualifications for running for office.
Neha Quraishi, who is the Bruins United candidate running for internal vice president, said her independent opponent Vivy Li’s limited experience with USAC makes her unqualified for the position.
“I acknowledge that you work in the (Associated Students UCLA) events office, but I don’t believe that you booking them a room really helps student groups,” Quraishi said. “I will not let this position go into the hands of someone less qualified than myself.”
Li replied that Quraishi was not as qualified as she claimed she was and was not fully aware of all the funding opportunities for student groups. Li said Quraishi once came to the ASUCLA Event Services Office asking for help with the Student Union Event Fund because she did not turn in the fund’s application on time.
“I was surprised,” Li said. “I thought she would know more about (the Student Union Event Fund) – I personally apply to all of them.”
During the external vice president portion of the debate, Bruins United candidate Sophie Butler criticized independent candidate Jack Price’s proposal to cut the EVP office’s spending and give surpluses back to students through housing and food security scholarships. Butler said it is not possible to reallocate funds from the office.
“These funds have been allocated to USAC by students – it is illegal to reallocate these funds elsewhere,” she said. “You are not going to be able to give any money back to students.”
In response, Price said his platform would make the EVP office more efficient and transparent to students.
“We are going to figure out what the office is spending money on, and once we do that, we are going to report back to the council and let them know how much money the office really needs,” Price said.
Several candidates also criticized their opponents’ platform feasibility.
Independent transfer student representative candidate Sayron Stokes criticized Bruins United candidate Ashraf Beshay for his proposal to push for a two-year housing guarantee, calling it unrealistic. She said it would be better for the office to advocate for increased transfer housing through other means.
“Instead of pushing for a two-year housing guarantee, we should ensure that triple occupancy is at full capacity and that adequate housing is being built for different kinds of transfers students, including veterans and formerly incarcerated students,” she said.
Beshay replied that Stokes does not have the same connections with the administration that he does, and claimed she did not meet with administrators or student groups to develop her platforms.
“How can we serve students when we are not speaking to them?” he said. “Feasibility is not a question for my platforms – maybe it is for my opponent.”
Some of the independent candidates said their lack of slate affiliation will make them more responsive to student needs. This year, two slates, or campus political parties, are running candidates. Bruins United is running nine and Defend Affirmative Action Party, a new slate at UCLA, is running two.
Price said he thinks Bruins United candidates are insular and care more about their slate than about helping students.
“I really worry about the idea of a slate as a family – if you only worry about your slate, what are you doing for students outside of the slate?” he said.
Chloe Pan, who is also running for external vice president as an independent, said she thinks many students are dissatisfied with USAC due to infighting between different slates.
“I ran as an independent so I could represent all students,” she said. “I want to give a voice to students and student groups that are already working on advocacy.”
The Trump administration and its policies were a recurring topic throughout the debate.
Gustavo Gonzalez-Ramos, who is running for general representative with the Defend Affirmative Action Party slate, said his slate wants to create community defense networks on campus that would protect undocumented students from deportation.
“If (Chancellor) Gene Block does not declare UCLA a sanctuary campus, he should resign,” he said.
Nicole Corona Diaz, who is also running for general representative with DAAP, also called on Block to resign if he does not do more for undocumented students.
Bruins United general representative candidate Celina Avalos said she plans to provide scholarships for students who have difficulty paying the application fee for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a former President Barack Obama-era program that defers deportations for undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children. The program’s future is unclear under the Trump Administration.
“As a Latina woman of color, I know what it means to be marginalized,” she said.
In addition, the debate also featured uncontested candidates who briefly spoke about their platforms and vision for their office.
Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh, the uncontested Bruins United candidate for president, said she plans to serve as a facilitator and create a dynamic council that prioritizes student issues.
“The challenge we face is enormous and the magnitude of the uncertainty of tomorrow demands that we come together today,” she said.
Click here for full coverage of the 2017 USAC elections.