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Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies hosts second student body president debate of 2024

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Student Body President candidates Jaleah Taylor and Laura Saavedra Forero speak at the Student Body President Election Debate in New West on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Taylor and Saavedra Forero outlined priorities of their platforms and answered student questions.

The UNC Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies hosted the second debate for the two 2024-25 student body president candidates on Thursday. Jaleah Taylor and Laura Saavedra Forero outlined the priorities of their platforms and answered student questions during the event.

DiPhi president Deniz Erdal, Daily Tar Heel University Editor Lauren Rhodes and Agora Fellow Willow Taylor Chiang Yang moderated the debate. The candidates answered 11 predetermined questions. Each were allotted seven minutes for response and time for rebuttal from the other candidate, followed by two questions provided by the audience.

In an interview with The DTH, Taylor said that if she had to pick one of her previous accomplishments to highlight for voters, it would be co-founding the Black Pre-Law Student Association. She said she thought it spoke to her ability to provide students with a place for community.

“When I think about being student body president next year, I think about opening more doors for students, especially marginalized students who don't always have those opportunities,” she said.

Saavedra Forero told The DTH that professionally, her previous term as Campus Y co-president represents her leadership style, but her ability to survive on campus as a wheelchair user has been the most difficult experience of her life.

“I’ve been able to navigate systems that weren’t built for me and not only navigate them for myself but become and be a constant advocate for a large number of students,” she said.

Free speech

Saavedra Forero and Taylor agreed that every student should have the right to share their beliefs but should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of others.

When asked about their perspective on the University remaining neutral on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Saavedra Forero said it is critical to take clear stances on issues and her values do not allow her to remain silent. Taylor said she believes it is important for the University to not be biased.

“The utmost priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students,” Saavedra Forero said. “When I talk about radical love and being able to exist safely and authentically in a space that includes being able to voice your concerns, being able to share your values and demonstrations and protests are a big part of that.”

Relationship between students and the Town of Chapel Hill

Both candidates said it is easy for students to feel like they live in a bubble rather than as part of the larger Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.

Saavedra Forero said her plan for improving the relationship between students and the Town is to establish mutual aid practices that benefit the wider community, including prioritizing sexual and reproductive health and expanding food pantry options.

Taylor said she intended to continue some of the relationships the University has already built with the Town – such as a contract between student government and the town council outlining expectations for house parties – and raise awareness about town council meetings.

UNC Board of Elections lawsuit

Taylor was questioned about her previous intent to file a lawsuit with the Student Supreme Court against the Board of Elections after Saavedra Forero's addition to the ballot on Monday. Taylor said the aim was to make sure the election was fair and to ensure no candidates were able to collect signatures after the designated time.

"I don't suspect that the lawsuit will have any impact on the campaign," she said.

Priorities

Saavedra Forero said mutual aid and accessibility were her biggest priorities, and she said establishing a campus that is closer to being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is not out of the picture. Saavedra Forero said her campaign is founded on the idea of radical love.

When asked what parts of her platform she would prioritize and what she would be willing to compromise on, Taylor said she believed her plans were concrete enough that she would be able to accomplish many of them, including regular meetings with student organizations.

“I think what makes our platform unique is the fact that we have explicitly laid out exactly how we plan to do those things,” she said.

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What's next?

Following the debate, DiPhi held an executive session and endorsed Taylor for student body president.

DiPhi member Ryan Kalo said that while they think the work Saavedra Forero does is important, DiPhi’s decision to vote for Taylor was based on her experience with student government as the undergraduate student body secretary.

Erdal said it is important that students vote in this election when considering the power of the University’s student government.

“I think we have a chronic issue of low turnout and elections and so I think it's very important for students to go and make their voice heard,” he said.

Early voting began on Thursday and will continue on Friday, with Election Day being Feb. 14. Students can vote online on Heel Life or receive a hard-copy ballot from the Student Life and Leadership office.

Editor's Note: While Lauren Rhodes is the University editor at The DTH, she was not involved in the editing process of this article in any way. 

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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