Voting opened Tuesday for the 2023-24 ASI Presidential Election, about five days after a politically charged debate between the two candidates.
Write-in candidate Jake Zylstra, an agricultural business junior, is running again after first sparking controversy with an anti-trans comment in last year’s debate.
Zylstra is running against environmental management and protection senior Sam Andrews, who said he felt he had to spend most of the debate refuting Zylstra’s comments.
Andrews, who is queer and uses any pronouns, said he felt the comments were uncomfortable and harmful.
“I definitely stayed up thinking about them,” Andrews said. “I hope [the debate] shows who a clear candidate is.”
Zylstra participated in the debate last year as a write-in candidate, where he made a comment about “gender confusion” being the biggest issue facing Cal Poly students. This time around, Andrews says, he was expecting one or two comments, but “wasn’t expecting the entire debate to be focused on that.”
“When we received the questions for the debate, they’re already focused and noting, hey, we as ASI represent all students. Hey, what are you doing for the inclusion of all students on campus?’ It was honestly shocking how far away from those questions he was able to take his answers,” Andrews said.
Zylstra focused greatly on transgender athletes competing in a gender group different from their sex assigned at birth. Zylstra told Mustang News he felt it was his job to spark a discussion about the national political climate because he hasn’t heard students talking about them.
“I truly do seek to create the best environment for women athletes, and the most competitively fair environment,” Zylstra said. “I imagine in the coming years it is going to be a huge issue on Cal Poly’s campus. So I’m trying to get in front of the issue and make sure there are spaces for women to talk about their feelings on this issue, like the committee that I strongly want to create.”
Zylstra said “some of the women just find it very concerning for the future of their sport,” but when asked multiple times about whether he’s talked to athletes about this topic and have heard concern from them, he said “not personally.”
During the debate, Zylstra also said Andrews goes by any pronouns “to deceive voters and appear more inclusive than she actually is.”
“I expected Sam, her to be more, like, mad and aggressive and say, I don’t want to be called she/her,” Zylstra said, when asked how he felt about the debate. “But he was really actually ‘all pronouns,’ which I was very surprised. We definitely disagreed on some parts. I’m really interested to see the discussions that this debate is going to spark among students.”
When asked what motivates him to run despite the opposition to his views, Zylstra acknowledged the “love and support” he has received from students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and those who share similar views.
“[Their support] just means a lot to me. Also, I sort of like being controversial, because then I get tons of stories written and tons of people talking and tons of attention,” Zylstra said.
Zylstra said he hopes to maintain freedom of speech at Cal Poly, and ensure that “students are respectful of everyone’s perspective on life.”
“I think his comments about free speech not being respected here were directly shown to be false by his capability to have a platform and say the things he said,” Andrews said about the debate. “With that being said, I think that it is the duty of the students to make sure that those hateful ideas don’t lead Cal Poly.”
Two students watching the debate in the University Union Plaza said Zylstra’s responses “felt insulting and striking” and felt that he was “not speaking up for communities, but speaking for them.” They thought his religious perspective “clouded his judgment,” and that his responses contained many assumptions and generalizations.
Those same students liked Andrew’s previous experience working with ASI and clubs, especially on issues regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. They said he seemed passionate and that he was “paying attention” to the student body.
The voting period began Tuesday at 8 a.m. and will close on Thursday at 8 a.m. Voting is available at this link, or through the Cal Poly Portal and the ASI website.
The ASI president represents the general student body and acts as the official representative of ASI to the Cal Poly administration and the general public. The Board of Directors, also a part of the election, is composed of representatives from each academic college that serve as the official voice of students regarding student advocacy efforts and ASI corporate activity.
Watch the full presidential debate here.
Expand the dropdown menus below to see responses from the debate, minimally edited for clarity.
As ASI President, your role is to represent 22,000 students. How will you ensure you are representing and engaging with students who hold beliefs and opinions that are different from your own, both within the Cal poly campus and in SLO county?
Sam Andrews: I think that as a leader, the only way for an individual to represent a diverse set of opinions is to actively seek them out. I recognize that I as an individual am limited in my capability to represent worldviews and life experiences that I’ve not experienced. And with that in mind, do I intend to create a diverse cabinet of individual support, to become a leader who represents rather than just leading. And to support that I’ve actually already contacted every club on campus, all of their advisers, all the major leaders, to request that they share the major challenges they face, the parts of Cal Poly that they love the most and what I can do to support them. I’m collecting data on this and will provide it to the ASI president, regardless of who’s elected.
Jake Zylstra: I believe it is important in education for students to hear beliefs that are different than our own. I’ve met people that have completely different perspectives on life to the point where two people will hear the same thing and one person will consider it love and the other will consider it hate. School sadly seems to try to hide opinions that are different than our current culture. Diversity of thought is important to ensure students are learning and not being told what to think and how to think…The way schools confuse young children about their gender makes it systematic, medical child abuse, often done for political control, financial benefit for medical centers or ideology control. People need to know how to deal with a child who is curious or has questions about itself. The best way is to listen and then explain things in a loving way. End all child abuse and the for-profit medical abuse of trans people. Pharmaceutical companies should not be allowed to donate to political campaigns to influence patients’ treatment. The amount of gender questioning children has gone up 5,000% And we must be the big brothers and sisters to help guide them and explain things to them when they have questions.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a huge priority for ASI; share your past advocacy work as it specifically relates to supporting marginalized students on campus and how you will incorporate DEI in your role as ASI President.
Sam Andrews: DEI is personally extraordinarily important to me as a queer person but also as a physically disabled person. And I mentioned my identity here because it has driven my action at Cal Poly. I actually became physically disabled in my senior year of high school when I shattered my ribcage and pushed a rib through my lung out my back and partway into my spine. I came to college while learning not only to manage the chronic pain from that nerve damage, but also the physical limiting that I had never experienced before. What it was here that let me navigate that was a community of people who expressed challenges they faced openly…I in the past have worked to help address the challenges that they face as well and community support, for instance, posting signage in all community kitchens that shares links to food insecurity resources. In my sophomore year, I ran the “It’s On Us Campaign” against sexual assault. Last year, I co-authored the college based fee resolution to reject increasing it without supporting international or out-of-state students. And I’m currently working on installing a permanent thrift and reuse store to support low-income students or students from low income backgrounds. It’s been this group of people who’s taught me how to fight for myself whether it’s through medical care, physical therapy, personal care, I want to create a community that cares for each other.
Jake Zylstra: Freedom of speech is the only way to include everyone with such differing viewpoints of the world, from tribes In Africa that come to this school to people from big cities like New York, there’s so many different viewpoints that come to Cal Poly and they all deserve to be included. For me personally, when I hear diversity, inclusion, I think of my amazing coach, a man who includes everyone and made sure to represent his community by working for over 30 years as a business teacher before he retired, having a positive influence on all of his students teaching consent and the importance of having a good wife by your side. All the data says capital is becoming more inclusive. There likely is some truth to that, but I believe a large portion of that people is people who are not comfortable saying they’re white, in order to seem more inclusive. Like Sam, she goes by any pronouns. Her “This is Barbie running for president” campaign is inherently feminine. She’s wearing nail polish, so I will call her “she/her” and I encourage Mustang News to do the same unless she wants to announce that she doesn’t actually go by any pronouns. And she’s just saying that to seem more inclusive than she actually is. This is to deceive voters and appear more inclusive than she actually is. She has no intention of including anyone she’s working to remove Chick-fil-A on campus because it is a Christian-owned business. She wants to remove people who disagree with her from campus. I support free market. Students love their chicken. If students want to boycott Chick-fil-A and it was no longer profitable for them to stay in business, I’d be okay with that.
If elected as ASI President, what are your top priorities, and how are you qualified to ensure you are successful in achieving them?
Sam Andrews: Sadly, we don’t have time to talk about all the items I’d like to address. But I would like to talk about the major categories of my goals. And what I’ve put on my flier is accessibility, transparency and student empowerment. But let me define that a little further. So when I speak to accessibility, that means financial accessibility, physical accessibility and psychological accessibility. When I speak to transparency, that means communication, not only with ASI, but the Cal Poly Corporation and the university administration. And when I talk about student empowerment, I mean, connecting students with the ability to not only take their efforts and improve the university with them, but then see those benefits come to benefit them in the future.
So to discuss physical accessibility, for example, campus is not ADA compliant. That’s a serious infrastructural issue that we can address…We can even look to smaller issues of accessibility like how parking meters’ maximum parking times are often shorter than the shortest class periods. In terms of psychological capability, we not only need to improve mental health resources, we need to restructure systems so that students can prioritize their mental health without jeopardizing their academics for a financially accessible institution. We need our basic needs met before expansion elsewhere. And for a transparent and student-empowered institution, we’d have a direct point on making decisions in the Cal Poly Corporation and administration. Not just having a representative voice, but having an actual direct vote and having a publicly presented meeting.
Jake Zylstra: My top priority is to inform voters for this election. Educated voters will always vote right…I say this, not just for myself, but most importantly for the voters who deserve the best possible candidate to represent them. Congratulations by watching this debate. You are putting yourself into the educated voters group and you should go out and talk to people and educate them on the debate and inform them about the debate and what issues you support or don’t support. Vote for yourself because democracy fails when educated and informed voters don’t vote every vote counts.
Creating more affordable housing is something I talked about with the council and Councilmember Emily Francis during Meet Your Representatives that ASI puts on, which I would love to see advertised more. I met the SLO mayor just yesterday, Erica A. Stewart, who was ASI president in 1994…One quote from her, paraphrased, is: Get involved. Know the community and get involved…Whatever your passion is, this school wants to get you involved.
What do you think will be the greatest challenge for Cal Poly Students next year, and how do you plan on working with the University, the Cal Poly Corporation, and other groups to address that challenge?
Sam Andrews: I think that the biggest challenge that any college student faces every year is balance. And what I mean by balance is balancing academics, balancing personal relationships, balancing work, supporting yourself, managing outside projects, clubs, your career, etc. What we do as Student Government members and Representatives is we’re supposed to make that easier. We’re supposed to provide resources that can help people balance their lives. And we as a system have over complicated that. We have, as a result, made this more difficult than it needs to be. We can address that and simplify systems. For instance, in supporting extracurricular work, we can eliminate student vendor fees for students to support their own clubs. We can make a more accessible system so students can improve their academic performance. We hold the job of making life easier for students.
Jake Zylstra: The Kennedy Library transformation is going to be the greatest challenge that students face, where the library is scheduled to close for renovation Summer 2023. And hopefully will reopen Fall 2025. This has a budget of $77 million, which, if I was in charge of money, I would have used it to create more on-campus affordable housing. This will be very challenging because we will not have a centralized library system anymore. And we will have to rely on what the school calls temporary locations. But for many students this will be the rest of their time here at Cal Poly ,having to use a decentralized library system that will try to provide the same amount of resources and same quality experience that students have been accustomed to. We must offer the resources that students need to succeed. Like the computer lab and tech rental services. These services are necessary for lower income students. I’m sure by working together we will be able to create more study spaces to charge laptops with blazing fast WiFi, which is incredibly important to retain students. We must provide affordable, education resources to students so we do not lose good students because of financial reasons. The Frost Center cost $133 million. It will be an amazing study space. You should go check it out if you haven’t — it’s amazing. The Frost couple donated $110 million to Cal Poly Science and Mathematics to build that building. That is a CSU record amount.
How would you use student feedback in a way that would create meaningful changes in university policy?
Sam Andrews: I’ve already spoken to my interest in empowering students to have a direct vote in campus decisions rather than a simple representative of appeasement. I think the way that we do that is we take current meetings, we make them notable public events and we create direct interactions. So for instance, as president, if I’m elected next year, I plan to host public office hours in the UU every week, marketed publicly to directly connect with students. But on top of that, I plan to request that the Cal Poly Corporation and university administration host their meetings in a consistent location with a significantly greater lead time for announcement and focus on directly connecting with students, not just a very select few. I as an ASI representative was not aware that Dining was privatizing until the decision had already been made. I know other representatives who also had not been made aware until the decision was already made. We were informed via a single sentence at the end of a board report. The way that we address that is we don’t allow decisions to be made prior to communication.
Jake Zylstra: We have seen women’s voices silenced when Lia Thomas became the first openly transgender athlete to win NCAA Division National Championship. Someone who competed in the men’s category for three years prior with little success. Where Lia was allowed to use the women’s locker and where Lia exposed body parts to women athletes, some of whom were victims of sexual assault themselves and did not consent to sharing a locker room with a fully intact male. I would like to create a committee called Transgenders in Sports to get student feedback and create meaningful changes to university policy. It would not be my job as ASI President to say who can’t play sports. There’s a lot of political power in what Cal Poly does because other CSUs follow and I want that political power to go to the students and not the administrators. This club should not be a safe space, it should be a safe place for freedom of speech. There are plenty of places on campus like the Multicultural Center or the Pride Center, their safe space for this should be a place of discussion preventing issues that may arise. We need to have the place for proper political discussion as we have seen many schools do. There are adjustments that need to be made to account for differences and not simply ignore them as many will try and do. I want to hear everybody’s voice, especially woman and female athletes because women’s sports should empower women’s voices and not silenced them. The future is female. I love women. I love freedom speech.
What skills and experience do you have that make you stand out as a candidate?
Sam Andrews: I think that one item that differentiates me is that I can point to my past to show that I’ve been an effective representative in the past and can in the future. In my four years here, I’ve actually served five Student Government roles, two of them simultaneously. I set out two all-time student government records in university housing, one of them being the most legislation ever written and passed by an individual, the other being leading an administration which authored and passed the most legislation of any administration ever. I did that while simultaneously holding a position at ASI student government where I initiated document sharing practices that won me the lead award. In that time, not only have I maintained myself as a student with above a 3.5, but I co-founded a business that’s now hired 12 Cal Poly students and is nearing a successful exit. I currently act as a student mentor for multiple organizations, and a speaker for multiple classes, all while maintaining hundreds of hours as a volunteer consistently, which I plan to continue.
Jake Zylstra: When I was in high school, I was working really hard to be a basketball player for all of summer. And on the first day of official practice, I had a cardiac arrest and my teammate Dominic was there to catch me and gently lower me to the ground. Then my coach and his wife comes over and gives me some breaths and chest compressions to get my heart going again. Later, the paramedics and firemen showed up to give me nine shocks from the defibrillators and sent me to the hospital where I was induced into a coma for three days. And the first thing I heard when I woke up from a coma was that Donald Trump had won the nomination to be President of the United States of America. I’ve had many operations since this initial event. I have always been patient with the nurses with getting a defibrillator installed and then later switching to a pacemaker when that didn’t work and it caused shocks. I’m happy that doctors cared for me about my long term health and wellbeing when I couldn’t think for myself. CBS Sacramento posted a new story as a YouTube video and Turlock Journal posted a story about me. Also posted on Twitter was an event honoring the first responders that saved my life. I don’t ever quit and you shouldn’t either. And then having all the financial costs of that, universal health care would be great.
How will you act as a liaison between the Cal Poly student body and the University Administration?
Sam Andrews: I intend to demand representation. My experience with the Cal Poly Corporation and university administration is that it’s made up of highly capable people who do care for the good of campus but there is somehow a breach in communication. Students don’t feel heard, students don’t feel represented, students feel ignored of the last several major ASI resolutions, which surveys show have accurately represented student opinions. The vast majority were directly rejected either formally or entirely ignored. Again, I point to moving out of a representative system of appeasement to a representative system of direct action. I’d like to work with the CSSA, the Academic Senate, the Dean of Students etc who have also expressed frustration to increase the number of seats that ASI holds on the board of the Cal Poly Corporation and the university admin cabinet, as well as granting professors a significantly higher portion as well.
Jake Zylstra: You can’t trust administration to always protect your rights and not push an agenda, which is why we need to have more student involvement in government. We need more students involved in these committees and board of directors meetings. I do understand that the university administration does have good intentions for students. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion is the most important thing by far. Because without it the school will tell us what is true, which is what they’re doing by making the truth hate speech or making people get nervous when I say “truth.” Someone may be addicted to drugs and think I hate them because I want to take drugs away from them. I want to take away what’s destroying their body. As a Christian, I believe, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” You see people downtown whose lives have been destroyed by drugs, shouting at people and shaking. I don’t want that to happen to Cal Poly students. I truly want the best for people. This is how a leader should love, by pushing society forward and not telling people they are perfect the way they are — push policy to encourage healthy lifestyles among students, asking, ‘How can I help make the lives of students better?’ I love going to the Recreation Center and seeing people working to improve their health. Stuff that makes you feel good can be bad in the long run. And we need to encourage delayed gratification.
What do you think are the challenges facing student engagement with ASI across all 6 colleges, and how would you address them?
Sam Andrews: I want to address this from an ASI perspective but also a student perspective. From an ASI perspective. If we look back at the height of the COVID pandemic, when we cut events for safety purposes, we saw our voter turnout drop massively. So the conclusion that we can draw from that is when we have less direct engagement with students, students are less likely to directly engage with us. Reasonably, the way we respond to that is by increasing direct engagement. How I’d like to do that is, not only by holding office hours, like I mentioned before, but to increase the amount that ASI officers support club events specifically. I think clubs are the most diverse set of ways we contribute to campus as students and by providing support across those areas, we can create a diverse set of inclusions through ASI.
From a student perspective, I think that ASI has over complicated the club process, which again, I think is the major way we contribute to campus. I’d like to eliminate the student vendor fee, I’d like to provide an optional training for Cal Poly Now. I’d like to potentially provide a permanent space for storage and community action. I think that essentially supporting students in their interests is how we improve engagement.
Jake Zylstra: The college that comes to mind first is the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. They’ve been lacking experienced staff since the amazing [Dean Andrew Thulin] retired after 30 years of service to the school. We have the most advanced Dairy Science program in the state. We have an amazing dairy unit and creamery which I don’t see being utilized by students nearly enough and not utilized by Student Government. Let’s celebrate June Dairy Month with Cal Poly Creamery and have events like ice cream socials, free ice cream, milk and cheese samples. For other colleges, so many women are more beautiful than they realize and so many men are more handsome than they realize. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I love the high standards Cal Poly students have to succeed. People just need the slightest bit of love and affection. It will go a long way in their lives. People feel unloved. Celebrating men’s health month every month will help with this. Safer taught me that consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific. Together, we can end gendered violence, and make sure we keep people that silence survivors out of power. For the Orfalea College of Business, Joseph Castro, you’re fired. That’s not up to me. That’s up to Jeffrey Armstrong to rescind his appointment.
Food insecurity is a huge problem on campus. How would you begin to tackle that issue?
Sam Andrews: Food insecurity is an issue personally close to me. It’s actually something I’ve worked on in the past. 60% I believe — I am pulling this number out of my head so I’m not totally sure — is the number of Cal Poly students who consistently face food insecurity. I want to fight the privatization of Campus Dining. I recognize that the quality of food has been an issue of debate. But at the same time, when we take a portion of the money that is spent on providing students food and bring that to profit, we’ve lost the ability to feed a significant number of people.
Jake Zylstra: Well, we have many food programs services like the Real Food Collaborative, which seeks to give real food like fruits and vegetables. I grew up on a dairy, I love all the dairy foods, I love burgers and hamburgers and all that delicious stuff. And also the food pantry could definitely give students more resources and not have it be where they restrict your number of items you can grab. Keep students healthy, keep them active, healthy. Keep them well fed.
How will each of you make sure that this campus is physically accessible to everyone?
Sam Andrews: I’d like to shout out the Disability Alliance, a group currently working on redesigning campus, creating a more accessible place, etc. Two items that I’ve established that I want to work on as ASI president are not only taking infrastructure to directly address primarily transport around campus, creating accessible pathways, but also marking accessible pathways and also inviting students to input their work on the Cal Poly Master Plan. Having inaccessible pathways in violation of the ADA is unacceptable. And there has been a student movement to fight against it. Sadly, the DRC does maximize or does use the entirety of their budget at the moment, but working on increasing that budget is something that I would love to work or collaborate on.
Jake Zylstra: I have a plan to use funding from Cal Polly’s Facilities Department and Disability Resource Center funding to renovate space right next to Dexter that has no accessible seating. It has old wooden benches that give you splinters and the wood’s rotting away, as well as uneven brick grounds that are not wheelchair accessible. It actively just has random steps and I’d like to see the students design a new area like that because I love Learn by Doing and I love student involvement in government.
Sam Andrews: I do believe that you intend the best. I do believe that. I also noticed that you said, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” but I don’t think that you’re actively engaging with loving the sinner. I think that the way that you have discussed transgender people, women etc. is one where they are an outside group, not one where you are viewing them as a valuable person, but someone that you are not showing love to, someone you vilify. On top of that, your job as an ASI representative is to represent all students. The only exception is when someone has directly violated the rights of another but by being someone that you don’t like that’s not a violation of another person’s rights. I would speak to the way that I have lived as a genderqueer person is that my relationship with gender is essentially that I don’t care about it. Outside of the way that it’s had me raised, et cetera. The only time that I have ever experienced negative effects, the only time that I have ever felt violated was by people insulting me for that identity. I’ll end there. I think that I’ve said my piece.
Jake Zylstra: I am trying to represent all students. I’m trying to represent women that are having their spaces invaded and feel very uncomfortable, like having extremely religious women and then they go into the locker rooms and they just see a naked male to their perspective, you know? I mean, they’re religious. They don’t want to see that, they’re saving themselves for marriage, or they’re victims of sexual assault and they just don’t want to be exposed to anything. I am the candidate that will bring about the most long-term meaningful changes that you want to see.