WMU students were given the chance to submit questions to the Western Student Association presidential candidates during a presidential debate Wednesday, March 17. The debate featured Jacobi Wright, a fourth-year student, and Alexis Morris, a junior.
Morris currently serves as the vice president for University Pride at WSA. Morris is also active in the Residence Housing Association and the Campus Activity Board.
Wright is currently the vice president of WSA and is in his third year in the organization. He is a fourth-year student with a double major in Aviation Flight Science and Aviation Management and Operations.
“I believe that WSA needs real and actionable change,” Morris said. “Right now WSA is not a community. It is an organization where we show up, we pass legislation, then go home. I would like to see WSA move in a direction culturally and just because we recognize the work that we do does not supersede who we are as individuals.”
Wright said his campaign will focus on WSA’s mission as a catapult to prepare for the future of the organization.
“We have the passion and I want to share that with our fellow Broncos,” Wright said. “And I want to do that by creating these one-on-one relationships and continuing that throughout or cabinet and inversely throughout the entire student body.”
Both candidates were asked to describe the current social and political climate at WMU. Wright described the environment as “divided” between the colleges.
“They’re not talking with each other, they’re not working together.” Wright said. “They’re focused on competing with one another and that’s a problem.”
Wright suggested colleges come together to figure out how WMU can be a better university, rather than how each college can improve on their own. Morris agreed with Wright, but said she would describe the university as “volatile.”
“There is so much animosity between individuals, groups and organizations and colleges that we get to a point where we don’t even know ourselves,” Morris said. “This is why the university goes through a rebranding process every three or four years because they tell us who to be, rather than embracing who we are.”
Morris also spoke on her regret of not speaking up sooner about how people were treated within WSA when many members experienced “burnouts” and “turnovers” this academic year before they left the organization.
“If I had gotten closer to them sooner, maybe we would have been able to retain that talent,” Morris said. “Western deserves passionate students. When we see passionate students leave our organization, it happened 4-5 times this year, it starts to become the question of what can I do as an individual. I recognize I could have done more to support the individuals during that time.”
Regarding the “turnouts” and the “burnouts” in WSA, Morris explained how when she is building her team next year, she will make sure the team is engaging on a personal level.
“Culture is built and set by the leaders,” Morris said. “So, if you say there will not be BS in my organization, there will not be. That is my intent.”
Wright added that he will put time and energy into his time as president into connections to solve this problem. He also said he wants to give more power to other branches of WSA.
“(The executive branch) has a lot of power right now and I think that contributes to a little bit of burnouts,” Wright said. “We can give a little bit of power back to the students, back to our senators, back to our representatives. Because they are eager to do the work. We can absolutely give them that opportunity for collaboration and extend outside our organization.”
Wright touched on how he regretted WSA’s lack of connection with RSO’s. He said the organization was not on the same standard last year due to COVID-19, but more could have been done to keep the connection.
“I’m a firm believer that we need to be connecting more with our RSO’s,” Wright said. “They have a lot of members, that’s an easy way to connect to more students…RSO’s are helping our students. They’re building our students up for success. They’re giving them the resume experience and networking opportunities.”
Morris also noted that many international student organizations are hurting due to COVID-19. She said she wants to focus on support them come back next year, as well as making WSA a comfortable place for international students to have their voice heard.
Wright also added that his running mate, Djessy Motumbo, is an international student on the team. He said he is hopeful that they will receive many applications from other international students if they are chosen to serve as president and vice president. Wright added it’s not just about diversity, but inclusion as well.
“There’s a problem happening at our university,” Wright said. “Our ranking for diversity and inclusion fell this year. Why did our ranking for diversity and inclusion fall? Because we have the wrong focus. Were focused on t-shirts and targeted ads for students. We need to be focused on showing everyone that diversity and inclusion matters to us, not to the perfected dollars going to the university.”
Voting for president and vice president begins Monday, March 22 and ends on March 26. Votes can be cast at ExperienceWMU when polls open.