Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) Presidential candidates Tess Loarie and Brian Kragh participated in a virtual ASI Presidential debate on April 15, addressing a number of prominent issues facing Cal Poly’s community.
These issues include support for marginalized students, insurance of students’ basic needs, ASI’s involvement on campus and the transition back into in-person classes.
The debate was moderated by Brady Caskey from Mustang News and Parker Swanson from the ASI Board of Directors.
The ASI President has a number of responsibilities including overseeing the passage of all legislation from the ASI Board of Directors, appointing their own ASI Executive Staff and acting as the student body’s representative when interacting with Cal Poly’s administration and the general public, according to the ASI website.
In his opening statement, political science junior Brian Kragh, outlined his campaign platform of CARE, which stands for campus/community engagement, anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion, reform in campus institutions and environment and sustainability.
“I decided to run because with so many students suffering from the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic, we need leadership and student government that will advocate for tangible change that’s most suitable and will help students thrive in the long run,” Kragh said.
Kragh noted that his experience in student government and past work on local political campaigns have given him insight into what it means to actually make change for Cal Poly’s community.
In her opening statement, liberal arts and engineering junior Tess Loarie said she has served on the ASI Board of Directors for the past two years and was elected by her peers to serve as chair of the board this academic year. She said that she was initially hesitant to run because of her dislike for empty campaign promises and unrealistically grand platforms, but instead chose to run by highlighting the work she has already done in ASI.
“My campaign basically says, ‘This is what I’ve worked on, this is what I’m working on right now and if you like the work that you’re seeing, then maybe I have your vote for re-election so that I can continue to serve you in the future,’” Loarie said.
Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each question with a one-minute rebuttal after both candidates had initially answered the question.
The debate began with a broad question asking each candidate, if elected ASI president, what their top two priorities would be and how they would go about achieving them.
Loarie began by acknowledging the decentralization of ASI as an organization and proposed better community outreach to interact and support the student body.
“If you’re not a student who’s directly involved in ASI Student Government, you probably don’t know very much about what we do or how we operate,” Loarie said.
Kragh agreed with the needed increase in presence of ASI in students’ lives by acknowledging the mere 17% student turnout in last year’s ASI presidential election and advocated for better outreach to the student body.
Loarie proposed better partnerships between ASI and campus organizations to retain student input while directly having an effect on student’s lives.
“I really encourage ASI to focus on really hearing from students and working on our organizational ego to figure out how we can authentically support students by leveraging our resources,” Loarie said.
Kragh focused his top priorities on supporting freshmen and transfer students in their transition back to in-person classes.
“I’m aware that there are freshmen students that have not even visited [San Luis Obispo] County,” Kragh said. “As ASI president, I want to organize in-person events following public health guidelines, to allow for freshmen and transfer students to connect with administration, faculty members, and also use ASI resources to create a guide on resources for freshmen.”
Kragh also said he wants to provide more accessibility for students to thrive on campus. He plans to do this by focusing on policies that will benefit low and first-generation students and allocating resources and funds to support cultural organizations.
Loarie agreed with the need for accessibility as it specifically relates to ASI. She acknowledged the work she, along with the ASI Board of Directors and leadership team, are currently doing to approve student scholarships for all ASI members to increase the accessibility of ASI to all students.
Transition back to in-person learning:
Both candidates addressed their interest in facilitating a smooth transition back to in-person classes and ensuring a reopening of Cal Poly that will prioritize students’ safety while also building community.
Kragh addressed this issue by advocating for community-based solutions and allocation of student fees to ensure public safety.
Loarie addressed the importance of acknowledging students’ different comfort levels when returning to campus. She said she believes Cal Poly should continue to follow public health guidelines in the fall, in terms of social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE), but also stresses the importance of proper communication with the student body.
“The more transparent we can be in terms of what we’re doing, that’s when a student is going to feel comfortable coming back onto campus and re-engaging when they know that we are being safe and mindful about their health and their safety,” Loarie said.
In terms of community building, Loarie said she wants to focus on students’ mental well-being with the transition back to in-person classes by acknowledging students’ concerns with social anxiety and body image.
“We’re thinking about safe and quiet spaces for students who may be struggling with social anxiety or safe spaces in the Rec [center] for students who may be struggling with their body image,” Loarie said. “There are lots of very simple changes we can make to visible spaces on campus to make sure students are really comfortable re-engaging when they’re trying to come back to campus.”
Advocating for marginalized students:
Loarie explained her past work in advocating for marginalized students including her work in allocating ASI funds to Cal Poly organizations that help provide basic needs to students. In addition, Loarie has worked with the Cal Poly Pride Center to ensure they have a physical space to provide students with a safe and inclusive space come this fall.
“I think many of these projects come from listening to student needs and as a student who holds a lot of privileged identities, it’s certainly not my place to decide what marginalized students need or don’t need, it’s my job to listen and to support,” Loarie said.
Kragh said that diversity, equity and inclusion will be woven into any advocacy work he will do as ASI president. He also acknowledged that while he was an ASI Board of Director his sophomore year, he contributed to passing an endorsement that would require all students to take an ethnic studies course starting 2024. Kragh noted that he has also advocated for the funding of cultural organizations like the Black Academic Center, Dream Center and Cross-Cultural Center.
His future goals include creating a long-term action plan to adequately fund campus organizations that support students of color and reform the partner school program to attract higher rates of historically marginalized students.
Kragh said he also plans to have conversations with the administration about how they’ve handled incidents of racism in the past.
“I’ve spoken with students of color and many of them are worried about the way administration has responded to these events in the past,” Kragh said.
In Loarie’s rebuttal, she acknowledged the need for a more holistic view of diversity, equity and inclusion in every aspect of ASI.
“One thing that ASI’s been brainstorming this year is how do we increase internal accountability and internal cultural competency as a whole so that [diversity, equity and inclusion] is treated as a lens by all folks and not just a couple of folks who are on the DEI committee,” Loarie said.
In terms of basic needs, Kragh’s biggest focus is supporting students’ food and shelter needs. He also voiced his concern for the recent on-campus rent increase of 9% for apartments and 6% for residential halls as this coincides with the mandatory two-year housing requirement rollout.
“I’m really concerned that this is going to displace low-income students and students of color,” Kragh said. “I really want to work with some even community organizations to try and curtail the effects as ASI president.”
Loarie explained her recent work in ensuring students’ basic needs through the reallocations of the ASI budget this year to fund the Cal Poly food pantry for three years and a one-time grant of $35,000 to Cal Poly Cares.
“While this was great, I really think we need to continue to be critical about how we use our money and it’s really student government’s job to get in the weeds and do our best to advocate for students’ basic needs,” Loarie said.
In the last question provided by the moderators, the candidates were able to address the biggest issues affecting campus and how they plan to address these issues.
Loarie noted that issues of cultural competency can be solved through student education in order to become a more supportive and empathetic campus community rather than performative in its activism.
Loarie also noted the scale of these prominent issues.
“This is a monumental task, and I’m going to be completely honest that it’s not a one-year project,” Loarie said. “It’s not something that I’m going to be able to finish, but if we want a campus culture that supports students, then these are the issues we need to be focusing on.”
Kragh noted that he believes the biggest challenges facing Cal Poly include lack of diversity and inclusion and he said he hopes to combat this through funding cultural organizations and committees. He also said he hopes to engage more with the Cal Poly student body as ASI President.
“As student government, we pride ourselves in serving as the official advocates for students, and I think we need to be more of a resource in helping students,” Kragh said. “By using our connections between faculty members and administration we can ensure that we can have a successful student experience for next year.”
Associated Students, Incorporated (ASI) elections are open from today, Wednesday April 21 at 9 a.m. through tomorrow, Thursday April 22 at 9 a.m. During this time, Cal Poly students will have the opportunity to vote for their respective college’s Board of Director positions as well as the ASI President for the 2021-2022 academic year. Voting will take place on the ASI Website.
Winners will be announced Thurs, April 22 at about 11 a.m. on the ASI website and social media channels.