ASUN presidential candidates Dominque Hall and Andrew McKinney at the primary election debates in the Joe Crowley Student Union Theatre on March 2.
Staff photo // The Nevada Sagebrush ASUN presidential candidates Dominque Hall and Andrew McKinney at the primary election debates in the Joe Crowley Student Union Theatre on March 2.

The first week of ASUN elections kicked off on Monday, Mar. 2 with the primary election debate, which saw the presidential candidates answering questions about diversity, campus safety and more in the Joe Crowley Student Union Theatre. 

Questions were read by Romando Nash, the associate vice president for Student Life Services at the University of Nevada, Reno. 

In attendance were presidential candidates Andrew McKinney and Dominique Hall. Patricia De La Hoya-Velez was not present. 

De La Hoya-Velez did not respond to a request for comment about her absence. 

Primary elections, which will narrow down the field of presidential candidates, opened today, Mar. 4 and will close tomorrow, Thursday, March 5 at 5 p.m. Students can vote on WebCampus through the ‘ASUN Elections – Primary Elections (2020)’ module or in person at the Center for Student Engagement in the Joe Crowley Student Union.

The general presidential debate is on Mar. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Joe Crowley Student Union Theatre. It will see the remaining presidential candidates answer questions from the moderator and audience. General elections for all candidates opens on Mar. 11 and closes on March 12.

QUALIFICATIONS & BACKGROUND

The first question of the night asked candidates what they think Nevada is lacking and what they think they can provide. 

Hall said that the university and Reno are lacking diversity and lessons could be learned from UNLV’s and the Bay area’s diversity initiatives. She pointed out that the university has a 3 percent black student population. “It lacks the attention to grab marginalized groups,” Hall said of Nevada. She said she thinks she is the one to better the university’s initiatives on diversity. She added later that mental health needs to be addressed through better initiatives. 

McKinney said he agrees that Nevada is lacking diversity but said that the City of Reno is lacking sustainability as well, pointing out that the city doesn’t have composting. He added that the university does a poor job at participating in civil conversations between individuals holding opposing viewpoints. McKinney added later in his rebuttal that inflation, the housing crisis and food insecurity are issues “on everybody’s minds” and called for student representatives to be making changes to address these issues. He also shared that he goes to counseling services regularly and encouraged the audience to do the same. 

In a question from the audience, candidates were asked how they can make students feel safe when there are secret organizations on campus that spread hate. 

McKinney said he believes the question is in reference to Coffin and Keys and the Five. He said he doesn’t think these organizations have influence on campus and said he condemns racist and homophobic statments from the organizations. He said he has been accused of being a member of Coffin and Keys but denied the claims. He said he would take action against groups that say things that make students feel unsafe on campus. 

“I will make swift action to condemn it and I will make sure, in all my power, that everyone knows that secret organizations like that do not have power on this campus. The power lies within the students,” said McKinney. 

Hall disagreed with McKinney and said that she thinks the organizations have influence on campus. She said that the members of those organizations are prominent on the campus. She said that in a statement by Coffin and Keys, she was told not to run for president. 

“I just think we need to stand up to this organization and elect the person you think will do a great job not to represent that organization,” said Hall. 

An audience member asked candidates what their goals are during the summer break, which is used as a planning period for ASUN.

McKinney shared that he had an opportunity to work in Denver over the summer but turned down the offer so he could be in Reno for the planning period. 

Hall said that the summer is the perfect opportunity for the executive department and senate to work. She said that she would want to be at freshman orientations to receive information on the incoming students. 

In his rebuttal, McKinney said that he thinks it’s important for the next president and vice president to be in Reno during the summer in order to plan for the session. He said he would be in Reno to do so. 

Hall said she doesn’t think it’s up to the president and vice president to do everything and that opportunities are missed when the executive board is neglected.

EXECUTIVE BOARD & APPOINTED POSITIONS

In an audience question, candidates were asked what values they would instill in their executive board. 

McKinney said he wants to instill integrity and passion. He said he wants to recognize the hard work of the individuals within ASUN. He said he would also hold his board accountable, and mentioned his time as a manager for three years at Port of Subs. In his rebuttal time, he said he wants better support for Center for Student Engagement workers by implementing retreats. 

Hall said she would not promise positions in the spirit of transparency and fairness. She said she would also want to implement more trainings for the executive board members. She said she would hold her board accountable to make it efficient as possible. She later said that she would want her executive board to regularly communicate with administrators to build better relationships with them. 

Candidates were asked how diversity and inclusion would translate into the membership of their executive boards. 

Hall said the positions should be advertised more to attract a diverse board. She reiterated an earlier point that positions should not be promised. 

McKinney asked his competitor if she was alluding to him promising positions and denied the claim. He said he would advertise as much as possible for positions and would hire a board that would represent campus.

In Hall’s rebuttal, she responded to McKinney’s question by saying she was only making it clear to students that she would not promise positions. 

McKinney said that an issue is that underrepresented groups feel that they wouldn’t belong in ASUN and that he would want to encourage those groups to apply.

Candidates were also asked how they would apply ethics in the ASUN office. 

McKinney said everyone on his board would have integrity and ensured that there would be action against his board members if they said anything hateful. 

Hall said the Reynolds School of Journalism, which she currently represents as a senator, prioritizes ethics. She suggested implementing ethics training for officers when they are sworn in. 

STUDENT REPRESENTATION

An audience question asked candidates how they would represent the university student interests while sitting on the Board of Regents.

McKinney said he is running for president so he can do everything in his power to help the students. He said he is willing to say what students want, even if that opposes the views of the regents. 

Hall shared the multiple boards she currently sits on and said she thinks this will help her with her interactions with the Board of Regents. She said transparency and outreach are most important to have the student voice at the meetings. She said she would ask senators for help and would use Instagram story polls. 

Candidates were asked how their background makes them competent to take on initiatives regarding race, diversity and sexuality.

Hall shared that she is a first generation student, a sexual assault survivor and from a low income background and said that because she is a part of these communities, she knows what it takes to stop these issues. She said that relatability is important and that she would represent members of these communities.

McKinney brought up tweets he had made in high school that used homophobic slurs. He said he did not delete the tweets because he has never seen himself as a racist or homophobic person. He apologized and said that he can listen, learn and implement initatives for LGBTQ students. He said he wants to prove that he isn’t homophobic or racist and the tweets aren’t representative of who he is now. 

In her rebuttal, Hall said that her “preferred” vice presidential candidate Austin Brown represents the LGBTQ community. She said they represent many different communities through their identities and would be the best to represent the student body. 

“I also want to emphasize the fact that if you don’t represent certain ideologies, then nothing would be tweeted to begin with,” said Hall. “I understand you can grow from things but I just really want to emphasize the fact that if there is no hate in your heart, you wouldn’t say these things to begin with.”

McKinney responded to her claim and said that he didn’t think the tweets were evidence of hate. 

“This wasn’t an instance of me changing, it was an instance of me maturing. I wasn’t trying to use that term as a homophobic slur, I was just not informed or educated about what that term actually meant and how it affected people,” said McKinney. 

FREE SPEECH ISSUES & SAFETY

Candidates were asked how to make students feel safer in light of the anti-Semitic acts on campus last semester. 

Hall said the university has not responded adequately to these issues, which has allowed the actions to continue. She said she would want to work with different departments, faculty and administrators to quickly come out against anti-Semitism on campus. She added that the Jewish community needs to be better supported and suggested recognition of holidays in the Jewish calendar. 

McKinney agreed that ASUN has done a poor job in its response and reaction to anti-Semitic and racist acts at the university and said that as president, he would take swift action against such acts. He said he wants to inspire students on the campus to use their voices and to change the culture on campus. He later mentioned that his vice presidential running mate, Claudia Feil, is a member of the Jewish community. 

In an audience question, candidates were asked how they would deal with the white supremacists on campus. 

Hall said that she doesn’t think the groups have influence on campus and said she would condemn their actions immediately after they happen. She said she would want to team up with as many administrators, faculty members and students. She said that there needs to be stricter policies and more workshops. In her rebuttal, Hall said that she wants to provide a space so all students can have a platform for discussion among each other. 

McKinney said he doesn’t want to turn his back on white supremacists but instead wants to invite them to conversation to teach them. He said that if there is only condemning and no enlightening, then there will be no change in thinking. He said in his rebuttal that he believes that an act of hate towards one group affects everyone. 

An audience question asked candidates if they would push away controversial events, such as Culture Wars with Charlie Kirk.

Hall said she would not push the events away because she believes all students need to be represented. She said the issue with the Culture Wars event was the administration’s handling of the protestors. She said she would want to make sure all students would have the freedom to use their voices. 

McKinney agreed with Hall and said that he would also allow the events on campus. He said that he and current ASUN vice president Nicole Flangas attended the Culture Wars event because they wanted to talk to students and “gain insight.” He added later that he is an advocate for productive dialogue.

ASUN & BUDGET 

The candidates were also asked how they would make ASUN’s budget, which is funded by student fees, more efficient. 

Hall said she wants to give more to diversity and inclusion and possibly fund trips for the members of the department to travel to other schools in order to observe how their school is addressing diversity and inclusion. In response to McKinney, she said that the clubs and organizations need to be fully funded before adding travel funds. She also said that the Department of Programming’s funding needs to be organized differently.

McKinney said in his experience as a commissioner for clubs and organizations, there is plenty of money to go around, but said the issue was more about the lack of knowledge on how to receive support. He added that he wants ASUN officers to travel to more conferences so they can learn new ideas.

Hall said that the Department of Legislative Affairs should also travel so they can learn about legislatures in other states. 

Another audience question asked candidates what the Department of Legislative Affairs’ legislative priorities should be for the upcoming session of the Nevada State Legislature.

Hall said diversity and inclusion, campus safety and housing insecurity. She said that the department should work with the legislature to make housing more affordable for students. She also added that health and wellness should be a priority and shared that many students don’t have health insurance. 

McKinney said affordability as a goal and suggested informing freshmen of the expenses of off-campus living. He said that ASUN needs to use its connections in the state legislature to help students and people living in Nevada. McKinney shared that he does not have health insurance and agreed that health should be a priority. 

Taylor Avery can be reached at oali@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @travery98.