On February 18th, SGA presidential candidates Wilson Pava ‘19 and Itziri Gonzalez-Barcenas ‘19 clashed in a debate organized by The Davidsonian and moderated by Erin Davenport ‘18. For many in attendance, the event was an opportunity to get to know the small pool of contestants on a more personal level and resolve any confusions or concerns regarding their platforms.
Pava’s campaign originated from a conversation he had last semester at the Spanish Department table during lunch. After half-jokingly proposing that a bar in Commons would improve the drinking culture, he asked himself “Why don’t we put the crazy ideas up to get the conversation going?” From there, Pava slowly formulated a platform that focuses on mental health, school unity, and the alcohol culture.
Pava’s most prominent proposal was creating a student-run mental health hotline, pointing out that one half of Davidson students visit the mental health center at least once, and one quarter of students visit the center regularly. While he believes schoolwork is a major cause of the stress, he suggests that it also originates from divisions in school unity, e.g. separation between first-years and upperclassmen, up-the-hill and down-the-hill culture, and Democrats and Republicans.
When Sarah Gompper ‘18, a cheerleader, asked for his thoughts on the division between “nonners” and athletes during the debate, Wilson proposed that “SGA have two permanent seats for athletes, one male and one female” and more organizations be courteous of athletes’ practice schedules by scheduling events later in the day.
Pava finds the current drinking culture influenced negatively by mental health issues and thinks the key to safer consumption is to “put alcohol in a more accessible, but secondary role.”
He pushed to create “Club Union” in the 900 Union room by opening a bar and dance floor on weekends to mend divisions between upper and lower campus and “let the upperclassmen set the example [for drinking].”
Gonzalez-Barcenas’s campaign on the other hand was rooted in new perspectives gained from spending last semester in a domestic exchange program at Howard University. Spending time away from Davidson helped her develop a three-pronged platform that deals with sustainability, the Center for Career Development (CCD), and alcohol culture.
While she admitted that an ecologically-minded culture is difficult to instill, Gonzalez-Barcenas believes Davidson can make “small yet effective” improvements to its sustainability habits.
She emphasized that proper recycling in Union and reducing plastic use, among other things, are easy fixes for the student population and minor changes like replacing plastic silverware with disposable ones in the Davis Cafe should be simple for the administration. Moreover, her administration would push for more “sustainability scholarships” to student run organizations.
Another major issue for Gonzalez-Barcenas is the role of the CCD. She noted that other liberal-arts schools use “pathways” programs, which start career planning from freshman year. Despite her desire for more intensive career planning from the CCD, Gonzalez-Barcenas wanted the center to be “a central point but not the only point of contact for career planning” —i.e. create connections between the CCD, businesses, and student-led organizations like the Pre-Law Society to maximize the effectiveness of a job search.
Similarly to Pava, Gonzalez-Barcenas saw issues with the alcohol culture on campus and is especially concerned with the number of alcohol transports. While she doesn’t favor a rewrite of the college’s alcohol policy, she favored a top-down approach to the issue. One proposal was to include students on a committee with Chief Sigler and members of the administration. Another is a change in the way RLO is trained to handle alcohol-related issues.
Discontentment with the alcohol culture was not the only similarity between Pava and Gonzalez-Barcenas. To the chagrin of many in the debate audience, neither have any experience with SGA. Pava had never attended an SGA meeting before and Gonzalez-Barcenas attended her first the week before the debate.
There was also a shared emphasis on diversity during the debate. Gonzalez-Barcenas stressed the value of having both her and her running-mate, Osama Syed ‘19, both of whom were born outside the U.S., represent diverse viewpoints.
Pava’s running-mate, Andrew Coyner ‘20, occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum from Pava. When asked why he did not choose a female vice presidential candidate after his campaign’s focus on gender balance, Pava said that while he considered it, Coyner has time and again “challenged [him], held [him] accountable, and provided a different perspective than what I can offer”.
The debate highlighted an unusual election season featuring relatively inexperienced yet passionate candidates. Despite the concerns, both candidates expressed confidence during the debate toward both themselves and their competition.
“This is not a choice of the lesser of two evils” said Pava in his closing statement. “This is a choice of the better of two goods”.