The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Student candidates debate university growth and initiatives

Student candidates debate university growth and initiatives - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Hayde Gonzalez Cejas, psychology junior and Texas A&M University-San Antonio Student Government Association (SGA) vice presidential candidate responds to a question from the moderation panel during a SGA presidential debate on March 31, 2023 in Classroom Hall Room 102. John Ortiz, biology sophomore (pictured above), is also running for the position of SGA vice president. Photo by Tim Danger Ramos.

Presidential and vice presidential candidates for the Student Government Association debated and advocated their campaigns on March 31 by speaking on student leadership, university growth and diversity, equity and inclusion.

The candidates for the 2023-2024 academic school year were each asked the same questions and allotted two minutes each to present their answer. Each candidate gave their opening remarks and briefly introduced themselves before the debate began.

Vice presidential candidates Hayde Gonzalez Cejas and John Ortiz were the first to debate.

What do you believe are the ultimate responsibilities of an SGA vice president?

In her response, psychology junior Gonzalez Cejas said the ultimate responsibility of the vice president is “upholding our constitution within our senate and following the constitutional responsibilities that are given to us as vice presidents.”

Cejas said that would include providing feedback to SGA senators and legislation that they are passing.

“We should be able to challenge them as our equals and help them grow and become better senators for the student population,” Gonzalez Cejas said.

Another responsibility that falls under the vice presidency would be to create better relationships with student organizations and ensure that the SGA president is supported by their constituents, Gonzalez Cejas said. 

In his response, biology sophomore Ortiz said his ultimate responsibility as vice president would be “to be a strong advocate for the student body and ensure that their needs are being met.”

Ortiz said he would work to create initiatives to help the student community thrive with policies like “increasing access to mental health resources on campus” and “improving campus safety.” 

“Ultimately, my goal as vice president will be to create a more inclusive and welcome campus environment to all students. I believe that working collaboratively with the administration and student body, we can create positive change and make our school a better place for everyone,” Ortiz said.

What is the purpose of SGA to you?

Gonzalez Cejas said “the purpose of SGA is to be a voice for the students by the students.” 

“I believe that the purpose of SGA is to be able to put out well-rounded citizens,” Gonzalez Cejas added.

Ortiz responded to the question by saying that SGA should be “transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of the student body.”

Ortiz said he would work to “create a system of checks and balances within the SGA to ensure that we are operating in an ethical and responsible manner.”

What are your main goals for SGA? If elected, what would you like to see accomplished and how would you accomplish it?

Gonzalez Cejas said her main goal is to create well-rounded senators and provide opportunities for senators and students. She also discussed the work she has done as an SGA senator so far.

Gonzalez Cejas referred to a bill she passed this semester for improving recreational areas on campus for service animals. 

“I also have advocated for the Dreamer student population and LGBTQ+ population within our senate, whether it be accessibility to financial aid or better health and sex education for them,” Gonzalez Cejas said. “It’s not about what I will do when I become elected, it’s what I have been doing already,” Gonzalez Cejas said. 

Ortiz said his main goal is to improve health services and security measures on campus.

“I believe that every student has a right to feel safe and healthy while pursuing their education and it is the responsibility of the SGA to ensure that these needs are met,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz plans to accomplish this by working on policies and programs developed with help from university administration and organizations.  

How will you work to be a liaison between university leadership and the student body?

In her response, Gonzalez Cejas emphasized the importance of working with students to build a bridge between university leadership and the student body. 

“To be a liaison, it wouldn’t just take myself, it would take other students,” Gonzalez Cejas said. “If I  were to be a liaison, a better one, it would require [student] feedback and help.” 

Ortiz said if he were to be a liaison, he would work to “prioritize transparency, accountability and accessibility.”

“I plan to work with university leaders to ensure that student perspectives are taken into account in decision making processes,” Ortiz said. “I plan to establish regular meetings with university leaders to discuss student concerns and ideas and to ensure that they are held accountable for addressing them.”

After the vice presidential debate, presidential candidates Tamana Paykar, Deane Gumila and Andrea “Drea” Martinez were next to debate.

Tamana Paykar, finance freshman and Texas A&M University-San Antonio Student Government Association (SGA) presidential candidate, addresses the audience during self-introductions at the SGA presidential debate on March 31, 2023 in Classroom Hall Room 102. Deane Gumila, political science senior and Andrea Martinez, psychology senior (both pictured above), are also running for the position of SGA president. Photo by Tim Danger Ramos.

What do you believe are the ultimate responsibilities of the SGA president?

Paykar, a finance freshman and computer science minor, said in her time as a senator with SGA she saw the presidency as a “vessel for the student voice.”

“As SGA president, you have to ensure that there is a shared governance,” Paykar said.

In her response, Gumila, a political science senior and criminal justice minor, said the president is the elected speaker on behalf of the SGA and Texas A&M University-San Antonio students. 

“An SGA president is someone who can help others while simultaneously learning from them as well,” Gumila said.

Martinez, a psychology senior and biology minor, said being the SGA president is about being able to “authentically represent all students.”

“Having someone you know you can talk to and know is going to be there for you is what’s most important to me and it’s important that the SGA president does that,” Martinez said.

What is the purpose of SGA to you?

Paykar answered by saying that the purpose of SGA is “purely student-centered.” 

She also said that SGA is a way for students to speak outside of the university’s community and see how other schools approach legislation and bills during events like SGA conferences and meetings.

Gumila said the SGA should act as a liaison between the students, staff and faculty at A&M-San Antonio. She referred to the duties of SGA as stated in their constitution by providing opportunities for students to be served in a way that improves their college experiences. 

“SGA provides a bridge for many students who may not think their opinions matter,” Gumila said. “The purpose of SGA is to make sure that our students know that their opinions, concerns and ideas all matter here.”

Martinez said SGA should be a student-based team effort to ensure that students are being heard.

“The purpose of SGA is to remember that you are working for students and you’re here for them. Knowing that you are representing multiple populations and not just one person,” Martinez said.

What are your main goals for SGA? If elected, what would you like to see accomplished and how would you accomplish it?

Paykar said she wants to implement “Ramadan Nights.” The school would partner with a local Mediterranean restaurant to offer free food to Muslim students who are in need of a meal after a day of fasting in observance of Ramadan. She also discussed her work with the current SGA president, Jacob Goldstein, on bringing a new student union building at the university. 

Martinez rebutted Paykar and said the idea of the student union was from last year’s SGA session. Martinez added that the legislation passed for the student union building addition was a collective SGA effort, not the sole work of Paykar and Goldstein.

Gumila said her goals as president are to lower the tuition and fees of students by introducing meal plan options for students living on-campus. This would replace the fixed fee that on-campus students pay every semester for their meal plans.

Gumila also plans to lower fees for commuter students by “providing fee waivers for parking passes based on their financial need.” Additionally, Gumila wants to partner with local childcare facilities to provide free childcare services for student parents.

Martinez said her goals as SGA president would be to follow through with her current initiatives as a senator, advocating for disability support services, the transfer student population, the LGBTQ+ population, Military students and women.

“Making sure I talk to those students and finding out what I can do to help them is what I’m currently doing now and what I want to continue doing,” Martinez said. “What do they need from SGA to help them feel supported and secure as a student?”

What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you? How do you plan to ensure every student is represented equally and receives the resources to be successful?

“Diversity, equity and inclusion has always been a part of me,” Paykar said.

Paykar wants to invite students and advisors from across the university to “be a part of the discussion and represent their issues.” 

“A flourishing community is never [achieved] from one person,” Paykar said.

Gumila said “diversity, equity and inclusion means being open to other people’s opinions, even though they may not align with yours.” 

“We must create an environment where individuals feel safe to express their views without fear of judgment or retaliation,” Gumila said. “By doing so, we can foster an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity and growth.”

Martinez said “diversity, equity and inclusion is making sure you listen to every single population on campus.”

Martinez said regardless of the size of any single group of people, they are still significant to the overall population on campus. Therefore, asking questions and listening to what’s important to them is necessary. 

“As of right now, SGA doesn’t have these types of conversations with these orgs or identity groups,” Martinez said. “I want to change that.”

Voting for SGA president, vice president and senators opened Monday, April 3 and will close Wednesday, April 5 at 5 p.m.

Students can cast their votes on JagSync.

About the Author

Amber Esparza
Managing Editor
Amber Esparza is a senior communications major and Managing Editor for The Mesquite at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Amber joined The Mesquite in spring 2021 as a Photo and Multimedia Editor after transferring from the Alamo Colleges with an associate’s degree in communication. Amber has extensive experience in photography, journalism and radio, television and film. In her spare time, Amber enjoys thrift shopping, doing deep dives on the music she’s listening to and watching movies, TV and YouTube. Amber hopes to build a career that can incorporate all of her passions for media and entertainment.

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