Student Government Association presidential candidates debated campus safety and SGA money management Tuesday night at UCF's Nicholson School of Communication.
With several crimes recently afflicting the UCF area, candidates had eager responses to questions about campus safety. And while each candidate incorporates elevating campus security, each spins it differently.
"We want to sit down and lobby … We want to be able to work with Orange County, UCF Police Department," said student body president candidate Cait Zona. She emphasized that while some projects that generated much discussion proved unfeasible, such as building a pedestrian bridge over Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard, she still hopes to incorporate other measures of safety.
Candidate Brian Zagrocki emphasized the lack of streetlights on campus, and said he wants to focus on the Orange County Sheriff's Office response time to help with the crime rates at apartment complexes off campus.
"I live right next to Sterling," Zagrocki said, adding that he has friends who have been directly impacted by the crimes in that area. "It's important that we focus with Orange County [Sheriff's Office] since it is their jurisdiction."
Alex Bennett, Zagrocki's running mate, said she feels uncomfortable walking across campus to the library alone at night and presumes other women on campus may feel the same way. Bennett said that to combat this, she wants to build a better police presence and increase the number of streetlights on campus.
"The easy way out is to promise crazy things like cameras everywhere … but the cool thing about ours is that there's no financial burden," said candidate Richard Stein, who proposed creating an online portal where students can report harassment they experience on campus. Stein specifically emphasized addressing free speech zones, where he believes free speech is being misconstrued, with students being called derogatory names.
"Safety has multiple components — one is psychologically," Stein said.
Along with debating safety measures, candidates also contested over SGA's fiscal management. Debate moderator Devan Coffaro said that about $4,000 was spent last year on an SGA executive retreat, during which the student body president was permitted to leisure at a resort using the funds. Zona responded to the statistic with acknowledging that other agencies organize retreats, and if they are beneficial for the Cabinet, then she cannot "speak on their behalf."
While Zagrocki said he thinks retreats are "invaluable" for organizations, Mo Barhamje — Stein's running mate — had an opposite response.
"I pay for my own vacations, I try not to use other people's money," he said.
Although topics such as fiscal responsibilities elicited heated responses, the candidates agreed that although election statutes have changed, students who do cast a vote may be more acquainted with the different campaigns than those before.
This will be the first SGA presidential race in which free food and similar items are slashed out of statutes — and instead of slices of pizza, candidates will only be allowed to hand out promotional items such as business cards and fliers.
Coffaro cited that there was a 40 percent decrease in the SGA Senate race in September 2014 — when the new rules were first implemented — and asked the candidates if they think this decrease in voters will occur again with this year's presidential elections.
"This is the first time in many years … that we've had three different tickets," said Zona, who holds the role of SGA's Speaker of the Senate, adding that she hopes to get students more excited about the elections to help increase voter turnout.
Zagrocki said that although the changes may affect voter turnout, he thinks the biggest change will be that students will be more informed about elections.
Along with co-sponsorship by the SGA Election Commission, the debate was hosted by the Radio Television Digital News Association at UCF, UCF Knightly News and the Nicholson School of Communication. Another presidential candidate debate will take place at the Student Union's Pegasus Ballroom Thursday at 7 p.m.
Elections will run from March 30 to April 2. According to election statutes, the candidates who collect 50 percent plus one of the votes are named the new president and vice president.
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.