SG Presidential Debate recap

Carter Mudgett, Student Government Reporter

Last night, March 1, the Spring 2021 Presidential Debate took place. Selma Besirevic (Charge Party), Lucas Richter (Inspire Party), and Rachel Saunders (Ignite Party), debated a variety of topics. Each candidate tackled lots of different questions from the elections office, one another, and students themselves. The debate was moderated by Elections Commissioner Madison Saul. 

The debate’s agenda consisted of three separate sessions, the first of which had a series of questions put forth by the Office of Elections. This was followed by the “fire round,” where candidates had the opportunity to direct questions to one another. The third session included questions submitted by students.

Charge Party Candidate Selma Besirevic is a first-generation college student with immigrant parents. She wants to be involved in Student Government (SG) and be that person who helps those who always feel like they are a step behind. “That’s why my party is big on diversity. Not just that physical diversity, but diversity of thought as well. It’s the idea of we’re all human and we all come together because we want success for one another. We are family, we are all Ospreys. […] I want to be that voice for students that feel like they have no one,” elaborated Besirevic.

Besirevic stated that the Charge Party operates under three branch ideals: you, your home, and your future.

Rachel Saunders is the Ignite Party Presidential candidate and the current Senate President. She had this to say to students at the beginning of the debate:

“I’m a UNF student to my core. I know this place and its people. I never planned to run for student body president. I didn’t ask parties if I could run with them at the beginning of my first full semester at UNF. I didn’t come to UNF looking to make a name for myself or to rise to the top of SG. I joined to find a community and to make a difference on campus, and now I find myself here. I took the time to learn about SG and what it can accomplish. I’ve sat in the meetings, sat on the committees. I spent the last year and a half developing the skills and the knowledge needed to be President.”

Saunders also stated that “I will never promise something I can’t deliver […] I understand SG’s budget intimately and I know what we can accomplish with the money entrusted to us by students.”

Lucas Richter, the Presidential candidate of the Inspire Party, introduced himself last. In the past, Richter served as an SG leader for three years as both a Justice and Chief Justice of the Judicial Branch. He has chaired the parking appeals board and the SG scholarship committee during his tenure. 

Richter went on to explain key areas for improvement, with the first being student engagement. “SG should be all in on engaging with every community in our student body. That means be more active on social media that we actually use, like Instagram, Twitter, and even TikTok,” said Richter. Additionally, the party aims to increase funding for UNF clubs and decrease the cost of education for students to “put money back in our students’ pockets.”

“Diversity is at the forefront of many of our students’ minds, and yet any real action on improving campus diversity has been ill-received and poorly planned out,” said Richter. “Diversity means getting the entire student body involved, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, major, grade level, or extracurricular activities. Improving diversity first means making sure all opportunities on campus are equally advertised and available to all students. Under our administration, we will make sure every student is aware and involved in what SG has to offer.”

Wrapping up introductions, the debate moved towards the questions of the debate. Below are just a few of the packed questions candidates were asked during the debate, with their responses. 

 Student Government graphic.

How do you plan to make the university a better place?

Besirevic had this to say: “Making the university a better place is what I like to apply to is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You need that physiological need to be successful in order to achieve everything else. […] The reality is, coming from a bigger university, is that we have more funds than a lot of other universities do in regards to ratio with population.” 

She went on to talk about how first the basic needs of the community need to be met before SG can move on to everything else. These fundamental needs would include but are not limited to:

  • Making composting available
  • Having a residence hall garden for students to grow their own food
  • Pushing student leaders to reach out to other organizations
  • Building the community and students involvement 

Ignite stands for three branches: safety, fun, and inclusivity. Saunders acknowledges that “there are a lot of things that can make UNF better,” but wants to start by improving what UNF already has. Some examples include:

  • Improving the SKYS program 
    • Expanding hours and adding more pilots
  • Improving Lend-a-Wing
    • Making new locations 
  • Add more study locations for students 
  • Add beer sales to Party in the Plaza to create a more fun campus

Richter stated that “UNF is already great, as previously mentioned, but we can’t truly be great until we go back to in-person classes. Unfortunately, we’ve been dealt a bad hand with COVID, but that doesn’t mean it will last forever. We need to work with the university administration […] What it really comes down to is doing everything we can right now, while COVID is still present,  to make things better for when we finally do go back to in-person classes.”

This would involve continuing capital improvements by making renovations and additions to the campus, such as the current swimming pool being constructed. He would also like to work with diversity, campus safety, and sustainability. While they are large tasks, Richter believes that they are things that will improve UNF.


How do you feel about the state UNF is currently in with the pandemic?

Besirevic believes that UNF is taking good care of its students during this time and is being very cautious. She prioritizes safety and wants to make sure that her peers are all safe before anything else. As time goes on, she hopes to gradually move back into a more normal campus. 

“If we’re not healthy, we can’t succeed in academics. Without our academics, we can’t succeed as an adult graduate,” said Besirevic.

Similarly, Saunders is proud that UNF has been able to keep cases so low and believes they have done the best job possible. She says that SG will have to be realistic about what they accomplish with their budget because of a low enrollment due to the pandemic. 

“Another huge focus of Ignite is mental health resources and giving COVID relief funding when [SG] can,” emphasized Saunders. 

As mentioned before, Richter does want classes to return to in-person but wants to do so safely. He said that “by continuing to do on-campus testing, we have lots of students that are giving vaccines to the most vulnerable in our community, and we want to keep up with that. Because UNF is a community within Jacksonville, not just our own campus.”

Richter stated: “We can do everything we can to make sure we have a grand reopening. Make sure there is an action-packed event schedule, making sure there’s a great concert headliner to start the new year […] So when things go back to normal and we’re ready to go, we’re gonna make sure it happens in the best way possible.”


How will you work with President Szymanski to achieve students’ desires?

Highlighting the needs of students and those who have a tough time communicating their needs, Besirevic said that she has already begun communicating with the administration at UNF. 

“We need to market to each other and build that unity, and really emphasize on Szymanski about making sure we follow CDC guidelines and being safe with all this pandemic stuff going on […] Making sure that students are heard, and I will be very, very, demanding,” said Besirevic. “Students come first.”

Saunders explained that having already been the Senate President, she has already begun building relationships with the administration, including President Szymanski, stating: “I’ve met him in the past, and I believe we’re on a good path.” 

“I have every intention of building a strong relationship with President Szymanski, which I know SG hasn’t really had a great relationship with him, but I’m willing to form a relationship with him in order to advocate for the student body. But I want to make it clear, I will never compromise the needs of the students” Saunders laid heavy stress upon the fact that “[she] is here to serve the students, not the administration.”

Richter says that he will make sure that he is representing the interests of the students above all else. “I’m not afraid to stand up and voice my opinion, and especially for what I feel is best for all of our Ospreys,” said Richter. “If he’s going to be tough, I’m going to be tougher. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground, especially on increasing enrollment and working with the orientation to make sure all of our freshmen are aware of what they have and what UNF has to offer.”


How will you improve school spirit and pride at sporting events?

“I don’t want to imitate any other university, I don’t want to follow suit or follow in the shadow of any other university. It’s about having the similarities to be on the same level as universities, such as my primary one: UCF,” said Besirevic.

Because the pandemic is making it so tough for students to partake in these events, she would like to employ anything possible to raise spirit at events. She believes that there is a lack of school spirit at UNF. Where other schools have traditions, such as homecoming, Besirevic says that “[she] has failed to recognize that” here at UNF. 

Besirevic wants UNF to return to a new normal but also evolve to include new traditions that hype up students with the intention of raising school spirit. 

Saunders says that “sporting events give us a great opportunity to start instilling pride at UNF. I want to work with athletics and further develop the Osprey awards app. It essentially gives you points to go to events, sporting or otherwise, on campus.”

Richter would like to make sure students actually attend and participate in sporting events on campus by incentivizing attendance. This would include:

  • Having food trucks
  • Having music
  • Getting the band involved
  • Making sure Ozzy is there

“That means starting with the freshmen, making sure they’re engaged with the campus as in orientation,” said Richter. “I also want to make sure that we’re active on social media, making sure that games and sporting events are advertised consistently. Making sure that they feel that I always have an opportunity to be on campus, to do something, not just with sporting events but with other events as well.”

Besirevic ended with this statement:

“At the end of the day, human is human. I have this drive, this initiative to take charge. I’m charged up to be this person to help you, no matter what the outcomes are, no matter who’s elected. I hope with this debate, the leading remarks will be ‘I’m there for you as a human’ because there is no difference between me or the other candidates here today. At the end of the day, I really do hope that you guys vote. Make sure to vote, we need some engagement. […] Until you vote, your opinion inherently goes unheard.”

Saunders closed out her part of the debate with these final remarks:

“Ignite is founded on the principles of safety, inclusivity, engagement, and true, honest representation of students. We’ve done the work and we know how to make UNF better. As you’ve heard tonight, we have more than ideas. We have plans. We have a plan for every single one of our platform ideas. We’re not going to try and sell you on grand ideas and accolades that sound good. We promise we will do everything we can to make them happen. You deserve leaders who live up to their promises. You deserve leaders who love UNF. You deserve leaders who respect your opinions and values. I hope you see these qualities in Emily and me, and I hope you trust the Ignite party with your vote on March 9 and 10.”

Richter ended with this statement:

“As student body president, I will dedicate myself to putting all issues under the microscope. Making sure we have effective steps to achieve concrete matters, like lowering the cost of education, improving student engagement, and increasing funding for our clubs. By leveraging my extensive experience with SG and building up a cabinet of the most dedicated and bright students, we can make sure every student has the opportunity to get the best education possible at the cheapest price.”

Elections are near and will take place on March 9 and 10. All students are strongly encouraged to vote. You can catch a full recording of the debate here.


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