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SBP candidates split on mental health during first debate

Garima Tomar and Savannah Putnam participated in the first student body presidential debates of the election season on Sunday.

In the first official debate of the campaign season, the Greek Student Body hosted the two student body president candidates, juniors Savannah Putnam and Garima Tomar, on Sunday.

Representatives from each of the four Greek organizations on campus — the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Association, the Greek Alliance Council and the National Pan-Hellenic Council — moderated the debate, asking candidates what their stances are on Greek community issues such as hazing and Greek unity, as well as issues affecting the student body at large such as diversity programs, mental health programs and underrepresented groups on campus.

Putnam emphasized using student voice to implement change on campus. When asked how she would address unifying the undergraduate and graduate student bodies following their split, she said she wants to create student feedback systems in both student bodies so that the voice in student government is driven from the bottom-up.

“Student voice is a powerful mechanism of change,” she said. “And the University needs to tap into that to create positive, tangible change.”

Putnam said she would use that student feedback in creating her policies, so they would be flexible to student needs and would be used in student government’s stance on university issues.

“Student policy should be an exact reflection of what the student body finds most valuable,” Putnam said. “My platform is built off of advocacy, advocating for students who don’t feel like they have voices in student government and therefore don’t have a voice with the administration.”

Tomar also emphasized the use of student voice, but through establishing a connection with University administration, reforming student government and reallocating student fees, taking a more active stance than Putnam.

“The biggest part of my platform is directly giving the power of student government back to students themselves,” she said.

Tomar said based on her three-year experience serving on the Student Fee Audit Committee, the most impactful change can be done through student fee money and advising the Board of Trustees on student organization funding.

“Right now student government sequesters about 40,000 student fee dollars a year for unattended student programming,” she said. “And I think the best way to support student organizations is to return that money back to the students through helping student organizations.”

The candidates were most divided on mental health and how to improve current campus programs.

Putnam has put mental health at the forefront of her platform. She said that after watching a friend struggle with mental health and be failed by Counseling and Psychological Services, she wants to reform CAPS to make it more responsive to students.

She said she also wants to reform LFIT, particularly the unit on tracking your diet, and add "mental fitness education."

Tomar said she did not feel CAPS needed to be reformed. She said the program is currently underfunded after losing 50 percent of its funding two years ago and is directly supported by student fees. She plans to work with the University to advocate for more of that funding to go directly to CAPS.  

Both candidates showed concern for students and emphasized the need for more student voice on campus and in the University system as a whole in their platforms, but each have different priorities in what actions need to be taken to make that change. The election is on Tuesday.

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