By Alyssa De La O/@alyssadelao24
Recent mayoral forums held at San Antonio’s two public universities, The University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University-San Antonio, were opportunities for students’ voices to be heard by the mayoral candidates.
These forums help and encourage students to participate in important political process matters. Students’ votes are important. Students’ opinions are important to the candidates because they help them focus their priorities when he or she is elected. Therefore, it’s vital that students be engaged in these events.
However, there were notable differences at these two university-led forums in regards to student engagement.
As a student who attended both UTSA and A&M-San Antonio’s mayoral forum, I noticed a significant difference in the role students played in either forum. I’ll point them out, not to blame, but so that we can learn from these differences.
UTSA’s students had their questions directly answered by the mayoral candidates. The attendees at that forum were given pen and paper and asked to write their questions down. Those questions were routed to SGA officers, who then gave those questions to the moderators at the panel.
What did this do for UTSA’s students?
It helped them become more involved with the event and allowed them to receive specific answers to their questions. These students left the mayoral forum with the majority of their questions answered. They were also given assurance from the politician that appealed to the student individually.
This type of student engagement would have been beneficial to A&M-San Antonio students as well, but was lacking at our own forum.
Students questions were filtered by representatives for A&M-San Antonio such as university president Cynthia Matson who asked questions on behalf of the students. The candidates were numbered from one to nine, and moderator Michael Valdes would then rotate between candidates to answer questions.
How did this affect student engagement at A&M-San Antonio?
It disadvantaged the students from asking questions that were relevant to them. This left them with more questions than answers. This caused students to be left with no assurance on who they should vote for.
A&M-San Antonio had an advantage of having more candidates, nine, than UTSA’s four candidates, but it also made it more difficult for all candidates to answer the questions by the representatives. It also created disorganization.
UTSA chose the four top mayoral candidates because maybe it would make the event more organized and sufficient, and all of them would be able to answer at least the majority of the questions from the audience.
Education was a high priority topic at both university-led forums. UTSA’s smaller mayoral panel allowed the candidates to debate on how they would improve education in the city.
As for A&M-San Antonio, it was a struggle to receive a clear answer from any of the candidates. For example, when mayoral candidate Paul Martinez was asked how he would improve education on the South Side he did not speak about college education, but instead spoke about Pre-K for SA.
Not to say that UTSA does not find significance in education, but at A&M-San Antonio it is emphasized at the university that despite where we are located, the goal is give us a good quality college education. This topic is important to us as students and as a university.
UTSA had their president, the moderators, and their Mr. and Ms. UTSA to ask the questions that were given by the students, which made it less informal than A&M-San Antonio panel wise. This created a comfortable environment for everyone who attended the forum and professionalism from the panel helped with that as well.
Although A&M-San Antonio had a more formal panel, A&M-San Antonio’s one of the candidates was not being professional himself. Mayoral candidate Pogo Mochello Reese presented informal behavior to his fellow mayoral candidates and to the audience as well. He held a poster while other candidates were speaking that said, “No Liars. Our Masters.” He also referred Mike Villarreal as a liar.
How did this make a difference at A&M-SA’s forum?
This created an uncomfortable environment for everyone who was present at the event, and possibly made students feel unwelcome. When these events come our way, as students, we want to feel comfortable when expressing our opinions and concerns.
When going to the forums at UTSA and A&M-San Antonio, I noticed there was a different cultural background between the two. UTSA’s students were more concerned with housing, transportation and occasionally education while A&M-San Antonio emphasized on education, transportation, development on low-income side’s of the city, and partnership with the city. It was interesting to see how different the concerns they had on different sides of the city.
As a university, A&M-San Antonio continues to grow. Furthermore, by being able to provide this information, it will help A&M-San Antonio find a better and sufficient way to go about the next mayoral forum. We should focus on creating a student-engaged environment.