Four of the six candidates for 2017-18 ASUCI President took the Pacific Ballroom stage last Thursday evening for UCI’s third annual presidential candidate debate. Lydia Natoolo, Carl Olson, Siddharth Baranwal and Justin McNeil each spoke about their platforms, and addressed audience questions, which ranged from questions about candidates’ past experience to their personal integrity and ability to serve diverse groups of students at UCI. David Cazares and Anneus Garcia-Kawasaki were not present at the debate.
During the first half of the debate, moderators asked eight questions directed to all candidates, to which each had one minute to respond. After this portion of the debate, current ASUCI President Tracy La asked candidates her own questions and finally, the stage was opened to questions from the audience.
During the debate, Lydia Natoolo, a biological sciences major and political science minor, outlined her background in ASUCI and other service organizations on- and off-campus. Her platform is centered on providing career and basic needs resources to students, and securing resources for underrepresented campus groups, such as transfer students, international students and students with disabilities.
“As president of a nonprofit overseeing a hospital with 25,000 patients, nothing has been easy for me,” said Natoolo. She mentioned that she hopes to work closely with her commissioners to enact policy, because being president is “not a one-woman job.” Natoolo emphasized the importance of working together with Senators, commissioners, and ASUCI’s hundreds of student members to best represent the needs of students.
“I will choose passionate students to lead the commissions, so that they may best represent 25,000-plus students,” she said.
Siddharth Baranwal, a third-year mechanical engineering major, spoke about his years of experience with ASUCI, from his first year as an intern to his work as a Senator and Student Advocate General.
Baranwal emphasized his concern for marginalized communities in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election, the subsequent executive orders temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and the proposal of a $20 billion wall on the Mexican-American border. He also expressed his support for women’s resources and resources for transgender and gender nonconforming communities on campus.
Carl Olson, a fourth-year exercise sciences and violin performance double-major, focused his campaign on bringing opportunities to all student groups, improving mental health resources and encouraging campus unity. He spoke about his leadership in campus organizations such as College Republicans at UCI (CRUCI) and the Transpolitical Forum (TPF), involvements which later drew criticism from audience members and students.
“As executive chair of the Transpolitical Forum, I’ve worked to bring together students with different ideologies, and I hope to superimpose that structure on ASUCI. At the end of the day, everyone has to trust each other and work together to achieve the goals of the campus,” said Olson.
During the question-and-answer segment of the debate, student attendees questioned Olson about derogatory comments he has made as a member of CRUCI and TPF and about his involvement in bringing controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos to campus twice last year. Photos of Olson holding an anti-Black Lives Matter sign at a Yiannopoulos event, as well as screenshots of him using homophobic slurs and denouncing feminism, surfaced last week on Facebook.
“You have said that your campaign is going to battle sexual assault and mental illness specifically,” asked an audience member. “How do you plan to empower mental health on this campus when you have personally been involved with inviting Milo Yiannopoulos, who has a history of attacking students with mental health issues, trans students, students of color and black students specifically? How do you plan to represent all students when you have personally been involved with bringing such a [speaker] on campus? When you have personally attacked students on campus?”
Olson replied that ASUCI’s Office of the President also helped bring Yiannopoulos on campus last year, and also that as a member of TPF, he was obligated to attend the Yiannopoulos events.
“I’ve been on [UCI’s class Facebook pages] and I’ve seen evidence of you being anti-LGBTQ, saying Black Lives Matter shouldn’t exist … Who do you represent besides white males?” another student asked.
“I’m involved in all aspects of politics, and that’s how I was testing the waters,” said Olson. “Have I made questionable decisions? Yeah … But I’m not just representing white males, because I’m up here for all students who can’t be here tonight … who span all nationalities and genders.”
Justin McNeil, a third-year business economics major, spoke about his status as an outsider to ASUCI with a “diverse friend group at UCI,” who hopes to “break the insider group status of ASUCI.”
McNeil argued that the biggest problem facing UCI students is that “faculty always puts the dollar before the students,” which results in bureaucratic issues like dropping students from classes for not paying fees immediately and not providing students the resources to navigate situations like academic probation.
Ballots are open online at elections.uci.edu during week 3, from Monday at 9 a.m. until Friday at 5 p.m. Candidate platforms can be found online at asuci.uci.edu/elections.