With the ballot finalized and election season for UNC's new student body president fully underway, candidates Lamar Richards and Keshav Javvadi discussed graduate student needs, COVID-19 precautions and racial equity in their first debate Wednesday.
The debate was hosted by the UNC Graduate and Professional Student Federation and took place over Zoom for one hour. Each candidate had two minutes to answer their question with a one-minute follow-up. Questions were submitted by students beforehand or asked in real time by those who chose to watch live.
The moderator began the debate by asking the candidates why they wanted to be elected as student body president.
Javvadi said that, while Student Government does great work and has a lot of passionate students, it is not often as representative as it could be.
“If we can break down these areas in Student Government that exist between marginalized communities and Student Government, then we can truly claim to represent the students,” Javvadi said.
Richards said he realized there were not many other students involved in the Undergraduate Senate who looked like him and were part of a marginalized community — representative of part of a systemic issue that he wants to fix, he said.
“Through the means of student body president, I can work to effectively address these systemic issues, while also putting in place institutionalized practices that are more inclusive, not just in undergraduate Student Government, but professional and graduate,” Richards said.
Graduate and professional students
The debate then shifted focus to the graduate and professional student experience at UNC, and how each candidate plans to address surrounding concerns.
Javvadi said he wants to include a meeting to orient individuals in undergraduate government and GPSF together, to cement better relationships and communication skills between the two groups.
“We need to have these open channels of communication in order to ensure that, whenever we represent student issues or student voices on student issues, graduate and professional students aren't left out of those conversations,” Javvadi said.
Richards spoke on the importance of collaboration between the undergraduate executive branch and the GPSF.
“This idea of fostering a space of collaboration, not going to start something new, but instead bolstering support for those existing organizations, which includes GPSF and includes Equity Collective and minority student graduate organizations,” Richards said.
The moderator then asked the candidates about what their response to COVID-19 would be at the beginning of next semester.
Richards said the University must continue to support undergraduate, graduate and professional students financially, and especially UNC staff.
Richards also spoke on the importance of promoting COVID-19 vaccination within the student body.
“We must communicate," Richards said. "As we talk about a vaccine, many marginalized communities and students of color become scared, and rightfully so, given the history of this country in terms of health care.”
Richards said the University must communicate this message proactively starting now, and talk about the benefits of the vaccination, while siphoning in more student perspective.
In terms of the pandemic, Javvadi said the University has not only a responsibility to its own students, but to the surrounding community.
“Mandating, and working with the University to mandate that all students who come back to campus have a vaccination, or we have a plan with the University to vaccinate them promptly among arrival," Javvadi said in regards to his COVID-19 response.
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