Associated Students presidential Candidates, Brandon Mercer and Nicole Dominique, faced off in their first official debate in Ballroom B of the Student Center on March 3.
Current Associated Students president, Anthony Gallino thought the hour and a half long debate went well and was pleasantly surprised to find most seats in the room were filled by concerned students.
The debate consisted of 18 questions on a variety of topics from problems faced in the California State University system as a whole, to issues indigenous to Sonoma State.
Garett Knight, the elections commissioner, allotted the candidates three minutes to respond to each question and a one-minute rebuttal to their opponent’s response.
One of the recurring themes of the night was communication. Both candidates agree there is a definite lack of communication between the Associated Students and the student body. Both Mercer and Dominique believe much more can be done to inform students about campus issues and allow them to voice their opinions and help change policies.
Mercer and a fellow Sonoma State student developed a plan to brief students on campus issues and improve direct communication through popular social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
“Social media is definitely the next frontier of communication,” said Mercer. “We came up with an idea of a one-minute weekly presentation where a representative from AS gets up and runs through what’s going on on campus.”
Dominique believes email is the best way to reach students on campus and that “posters definitely [catch] their attention” as well.
She also wants to establish a connection with students by showing her physical presence on campus and speaking to them directly.
“Face-to-face communication is way better,” said Dominique. “That connection is really going to show you care. It’s really important for us to get ourselves out there and get ourselves known.”
To Mercer, it’s crucial to “develop a communication bridge between the committee meetings Associated Students representatives sit on and the student body.”
While he does believe establishing his presence on campus is paramount, social media remains the most effective medium to relay information to students in his eyes. Much of the student body is concerned about the lack of school spirit. More often than not, it seems as though students wear merchandise from universities other than Sonoma State. The candidates
were asked how they would increase school spirit and unify the school to remedy that issue. This posed a question of the university’s image as a whole.
This is where Dominique’s insight as a transfer student from Fresno State University comes into play. She informed the audience that the community rallied behind the Bulldogs and supported Fresno State students in all their endeavors.
“The community loved being a part of the college campus,” Dominique said. “I would love to get the community involved and get their support. We should invite them, get them involved, and let them know what’s going on campus.”
Mercer agreed that the surrounding community has a large impact on school spirit; however, he believes they do not view the school in a positive light.
He worries the great things Sonoma State students do in the community are “overshadowed by all the issues we’ve had with the community so far.”
In addition to that, Mercer wants to continue the growth of major Sonoma State traditions such as Big Nite and Noma Nation, and make sure campus events continue to be well-attended and enjoyed by students.
The candidates addressed another concern of many Seawolves; the lack of diversity on campus.
Mercer touched on the improvements the university has made to diversify the student population.
“25.3 percent of students in the freshman class were Hispanic [in Fall 2014]. Sonoma State has shown we are broadening our student base, bringing in more students from diverse backgrounds, expanding our Educational Opportunity Program and opening the doors for students who were underserved in the past.”
Despite all of that progress, Mercer still believes “there’s so much more we can do.” He wants to use Associated Students’ power to advertise the HUB, whose mission is to promote diversity on campus.
Dominique wants to ensure that “our university is a university [where] everyone feels safe and accepted.”
“Although there may be a lot of feelings that our campus is diverse,” she said, “there are a lot of students that feel it is not. We have to show how diverse our campus can really be and make this a home-away-from-home type of campus.”
Mercer and Dominique feel that students don’t take advantage of Sonoma State’s abundant resources and they strive to increase student involvement, targeting transfer students specifically.
“As a transfer student myself,” said Dominique, “I think one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced here is definitely student involvement.” As a new student, she felt “like [she] was lost on campus and [thinks] that’s something we could work on to change.”
Mercer said the problem lies in the lack of publicity of Sonoma State programs, “the transfer students aren’t necessarily marketed to on campus,” he said.
Our campus lacks similar programs for transfer students that freshmen and sophomores are introduced to earlier on, helping them establish a stronger relationship with the school and student body.
“Without that backbone and sense of community, they don’t have the initial foothold that many of our residential students have coming to Sonoma State’s,” said Mercer.
The candidates discussed ways to make Sonoma State a more appealing transfer destination by welcoming students and helping to alleviate the financial difficulties many face as they transition from a junior college to a university.
Mercer and Dominique agree that there is much to be done to improve classrooms and create a more positive learning environment for students in addition to creating a more welcoming social atmosphere.
According to Dominique, many classrooms are not equipped to handle the amount of students enrolled and they do not contain sufficient materials essential to certain classes. While the university tries to remedy this issue, she believes “students are not seeing action, they’re not hearing about where progress is being made and they feel their voices are not being heard.”
Mercer agreed with her assertions and claimed AS should “strive to provide a seat for every student and up-to-date technology.”
Mercer and Dominique concurred that the ultimate goal is to serve the students and represent the collective voice of the student body, rather than represent their own personal vices. Despite some technical differences, it’s clear that Mercer and Dominique share a common goal; to help Sonoma State and its students reach their utmost potential.