With Undergraduate Student Government presidential and vice presidential running mates Reese Brooks and Reagan Brooks not in attendance, a scheduled debate served as a chance for their opponents, Shamina Merchant and Shawn Semmler, to field wide-ranging questions at the Ohio Union Sunday evening.
Questions regarding mental health, student safety, college affordability, the ballot initiative, and USG General Assembly’s use of the secret ballot — all of related to specific platform bullets of Merchant and Semmler’s campaign — were asked throughout the event.
The Brooks brothers campaign was unable to attend the debate due to a national conference for Students for Liberty they had to attend in Washington, D.C. The duo co-founded an Ohio State chapter of the organization.
Connor Greenwood, USG judicial panel chief justice, ran the debate, asking the candidates questions relating to prominent issues for students. The candidates also answered questions from the audience.
Merchant, a third-year in information systems, and Semmler, a third-year in finance, highlighted their campaign as not about specific policy points, but an overall vision for the future of USG.
“We have listened and outreached to students and heard their stories and used those stories to inspire how we approach new policy,” said Merchant, the presidential candidate. “If nothing else, we want students on this campus to feel like they are heard by USG and that USG has responded to them.”
A significant issue in the election is the opportunity students have in deciding whether or not USG should act on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for Ohio State employees as part of the ballot initiative during the election.
Merchant and Semmler remained mum on specific action they would take on the issue, but said they support students for creating the initiative.
“We are excited to see how students ultimately show their voice through voting here on this ballot initiative,” Semmler, the vice-presidential candidate, said. “We are looking forward to this conversation blossoming to an overall conservation on how to fairly compensate students.”
When the running mates were asked if they supported allowing USG to use the secret ballot, an issue that has sparked controversy this semester, neither candidate gave a clear answer but spoke instead about plans to have more transparency with senators in General Assembly by having office hours and more constituency events.
“We want to see [transparency] not only in the [senate] chamber, but also externally,” Merchant said. “We have been talking in the future too about our goals for having quarterly policy check-ins and senator office hours and other ways that we can make sure that this transparency and accountability is there throughout the year.”
To boost student safety, Semmler said he wants to expand the off-campus living area for which Buckeye alerts are sent. Buckeye alerts are sent to staff and students via text and email to notify them of emergency situations on or near campus.
“What I fear is that students just like me feel disconnected from what their living environment actually is, and they don’t have the chance to be sure that emergency situation is being dealt and that situation is being documented,” Semmler said.
Merchant said mental and physical health also is a part of student safety at Ohio State.
“We want to expand options for students to be able to get to emergency medical services,” Merchant said. “It’s absolutely absurd that a student who has just suffered from a concussion has to figure out how to get an Uber because there is no place within walking distance to get urgent care.”
Merchant said she and Semmler want to approach the issue of mental health by trying to expand current resources on campus on top of advocating for more counselors and shorter wait times when seeking help.
One of the main policies of the Merchant and Semmler campaign is academic affordability. Specifically, textbook affordability and elimination of course fees are costs they want to tackle.
“Shawn and I are currently actually working to try and faze out course fees over time through our experience in [University] Senate Fiscal [committee],” Merchant said. “[We] are committed to continuing to expand ways we are looking at the overall cost of attendance.”
The running mates said they know not everyone will agree on all policy points, but all ideas and beliefs are welcome in USG.
“The idea is that you belong and that you can speak your mind and that you have a place here at Ohio State,” Semmler said.
Voting for the USG general election will begin noon Monday and will close Wednesday at 11:59 p.m.