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Student Association VP candidates clash at recent debate

Today kicked off the two-part series of student government debate, the likes of which have not been held on the Queens College (QC) campus for years. Student Association Vice Presidential candidates Cayla Kempf and Brandon Castro sat down with Andrea Búzon (class of ‘21) to talk candidly about their politics.

Kempf, a current student delegate in the QC academic senate from the incumbent Students Serving Students (SSS) party, explained her motivations for the Vice Presidency. Kempf notes being inspired by the former Student Association leadership and points to her vast involvement in the Gender Love and Sexuality Alliance (GLASA) at Queens College. She describes herself as an “enthusiastic spokesperson” looking to promote diversity and inclusion within the QC community.

Castro, a junior history major, is running as a political independent against Kempf. Castro may be considered the ideological opposite to Kempf. Castro is a self described conservative, advocating for the withdrawal of the Student Association from social movements (e.g. Black Lives Matter), as well as promoting free speech. In Castro’s words, “[If elected] no partisan talk in my administration. Free speech, you should be able to disagree, question a movement, a trial, everything possible. You want info from all perspectives. I would not advocate for any political movements. Let students decide for themselves, or else you’ll be overshadowing other communities… I want to be that balance.” 

Kempf rebuked Castro’s remarks. When speaking to The Knight News about Castro’s comments, Kempf said, “I personally do not think he’s sending the right message. I don’t mind conservatives but we can’t step away from issues affecting our students. It’s very important to be involved, most of our students are people of color. It’s very important to amplify those voices as well so students feel comfortable being heard. That’s why the Student Association should take a step into those issues.”

Kempf and Castro seemed to concur on major policy issues. In regards to reopening the campus, both agreed that a hybrid option should be available and that students seeking to return to in-person learning should be vaccinated. Further, Kempf spent a fair amount of time describing her plans to integrate Greek Life and the Athletics groups with the main student body. She described her hopes to destigmatize both groups (e.g. the hazing stereotype for Greek life) while arguing for a positive platform that features both communities. Castro agreed with no further discussion. Lastly, when asked by The Knight News, both agreed that the student activity fee should be lowered until students return to 100% in-person activities. 

Both candidates offered differing descriptions of how they would advocate for the student body. As Kempf puts it, “I will be a very enthusiastic spokesperson,” whereas Castro remarked, “I do not represent every student, I represent myself but will try to represent as many people as I can”. Additionally, as for handling disputes within their administration (if elected), Kempf advocated for a peaceful approach while boosting the confidence of both parties involved. Castro emphasized that parties involved in a conflict must be accountable for their own actions–noting that they would set a bad example. 

The candidates also differed in their approach to handling the annual Student Association budget, which totals to over $100,000 per year. Kempf expressed that she would direct finances towards inclusive and diverse programming on campus (e.g. Zoom dance parties, advocacy events, etc.). Castro disagreed, explaining that he would use the finances to support clubs and organizations on campus. It’s worth noting that clubs have access to a significant amount of funds from student activity fees, via the Queens College Association. 

The Knight News spoke to Martin Mazzie, a senior graphic design major who tuned into the debate. Mazzie expressed that he was not particularly swayed by any one candidate, citing their concurrences on most policy issues. Mazzie wouldn’t confirm to The Knight News who he’ll cast his ballot for, explaining he intends to go into the virtual poll site with an open mind.

Saskia Van Horn, a junior economics major, expressed candid support for Students Serving Students. Van Horn is set to be Students Serving Students’ appointee for secretary, provided incumbent Zaire Couloute wins another election for the presidency. Van Horn also joined Kempf in criticizing Castro’s remarks during the debate, saying, “I respect his views, however, I think that our school is in the most diverse county of NYC and those social movements reflect our community. I see no issue with the Student Association advocating for those groups.” 

Elections for Student Association leadership begin 12:01 a.m. Sunday 4/11/2021 and end  4/17/21 Saturday at 11:59 p.m. This article will be updated with a link to an electronic ballot for QC students, as soon as it is made available. 

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