Student Life Column

Sukesh: James Franco was clear winner of Student Association presidential debate

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

James Franco, a long-time Student Association member, was Student Life columnist Aishwarya Sukesh's pick for winner of the SA presidential debate.

Student Association presidential candidates James Franco and Tyler Rossi took to the stage Sunday night to convince the Syracuse University student body that they deserved students’ votes. While both candidates were clearly invested in the debate, Franco ultimately took it home and proved his competence as a candidate, while Rossi showed that he lacked the deep understanding of SA policies that Franco has.

In the opening remarks of the debate, both parties spoke briefly about the goals of their respective campaigns, touching on subjects including mental health, diversity and campus safety. Franco and Rossi presented different perspectives on some of these issues, but also showed agreement on others.

Rossi, who was endorsed by SU quarterback Eric Dungey, described a platform for his presidency that would consist of four phases: reconnect, restructure, redo and produce results. While this platform is ideal, Rossi, during the debate, failed to produce the concrete ideas to defend his four-phase plan.

Angie Pati, Franco’s vice presidential candidate, said her and Franco’s goals center around proactivity and identifying issues before they become issues. She also spoke about advocacy, diversity and health. Unlike Rossi, Franco addressed all the points his campaign made in the opening statement during the debate.

Mental health was among the most important issues discussed at the debate. While both candidates presented some strong ideas about how to increase mental health accessibility, it was clear that Franco had a clearer understanding of the ins and outs of the Mental Health Report written by the current SA administration than Rossi did. Rossi’s comments on the report, which included calling it “beautiful,” made it seem as if he never read it.

Franco clearly read the report, because the mental health initiatives he described during the debate, including the peer listening service and the goal to hire more counselors at SU, derived from the report.

“(The counselors) do great work in that office. They just don’t have the resources quite yet,” Franco said. “So that’s something we definitely want to focus on in the coming year and the coming years, plural.”

Because mental health is a prevalent issue at SU, Rossi should have had more to say about the topic, rather than just commenting on the report’s beauty.

Along with mental health, diversity was another hot topic of the night, especially regarding the “sanctuary campus” discussion. Rossi completely alienated himself from a good part of the student body when he said SA’s sanctuary campus bill was a mistake.

“Becoming a sanctuary campus makes us less safe,” Rossi said. “Not only does it put us on the radar, not only does it put us on the map as a target, but all federal dollars given to this university given to you, me and everyone else alike are in jeopardy.”

While it’s understandable that Rossi preaches to stay within the confines of the law when it comes to the sanctuary campus movement, he should have acknowledged specific solutions to the challenges international students face under President Donald Trump’s administration. Instead, he blatantly undermined the influence of the bill and presented a lack of understanding as to what a sanctuary campus is, which Franco pointed out.

Beyond mental health and the sanctuary campus movement, the candidates discussed the SA bylaws and how to better provide services to SU’s international student population.

In terms of bylaws, Rossi proposed an idea to update and clarify the bylaws to avoid mistakes and violations regarding them. It’s important that the bylaws are re-evaluated to earn back the trust of students who feel disenchanted with SA due to the investigation into President Eric Evangelista’s administration. But the current SA session has already introduced a Bylaw Review Committee to serve this purpose.

In discussing services to international students, both candidates agreed that efforts should be made to desegregate housing and better integrate international students into the SU community. Franco and Rossi — whose running mate, Roy Tin, is an international student — mentioned working more closely with the Slutzker Center for International Services. Franco went one step further than Rossi and presented an idea for a multicultural committee within SA.

During the debate, Franco and Rossi both proved they can brainstorm solutions to the problems that SU’s student body faces. And while both candidates clearly see a need for change within SA, Franco was ultimately more successful in presenting how that change would be made, which is more important than reiterating a slogan.

Aishwarya Sukesh is a freshman magazine journalism and psychology dual major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at aksukesh@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @AishuSukesh.

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