SA Presidential candidates go head to head in live debate

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The two primary challengers for Queens College’s Student Government President seat met Thursday for a comprehensive debate. The debate, streamed live on Youtube, pitted incumbent Zaire Couloute of the Students Serving Students (SSS) party against challenger Luis Villa of the Students Advocating Progress party. 

While Couloute and Villa seemed to agree on the majority of issues present, their backgrounds in student leadership are quite opposite. Couloute’s sister, Carmine Couloute, was the original founder of the Students Serving Students party, a fact that she acknowledged as one of the factors in her decision to seek re-election. Additionally, Couloute has served in the QC Academic Senate and has held a seat on three major administrative boards on campus, in addition to her current experience as President. 

Villa is comparatively new to the political arena. Villa is a part of Couloute’s administration, serving as the co-chair of the Student Association Public Relations committee, a title he has held for 2 years. Additionally, Villa noted during the debate that he is a club leader, namely the President of the QC Arts club. Previously, Villa also served as the Co-Chair for Public Relations at Laguardia Community College.Villa insisted on being committed to serving students, if elected.

Couloute readily addressed a wide variety of issues during the debate. Couloute noted her involvement in the QC re-opening committee, as the sole student representative. She also touched on her hopes to promote more involvement in Athletics, Greek life and to cater events to include non-traditional students. Further, Couloute briefly mentioned her plans to unveil a platform that would allow students to join clubs with ease, analogous to how Club Day Spring 2021 was structured. 

Couloute’s opponent, Luis Villa, spent the majority of the debate emphasizing the need to amplify the voices of club leaders on campus. Villa spoke out in favor of strengthening the Congress of Club Presidents (CCP), a governance body that unites club presidents. Villa also concurred with Couloute on a variety of the issues brought up during the debate (e.g. reopening, engaging students, etc.). 

Villa addressed the controversy of his running mate, Brandon Castro, and his conservative ideals that seemed to cause concern amongst students. Villa cited his selection of Castro to be his running mate as evidence of his willingness to compromise with students across the political spectrum. Castro’s positions are points of contention among the candidates, particularly his desire to pull the Student Association out of the various social movements in which it is currently involved. Couloute’s own running mate, Cayla Kempf, already expressed concern with this idea at the Vice Presidential Debate. For her part, Couloute, when asked about the matter, opined that “I think in a campus community, respect for others should be a priority, especially as a student leader.” 

Enrique Peña, a senior majoring in political science and current student senator (SSS) spoke to The Knight News after watching the debate. “…we are in a crisis and CUNY students are suffering for so many different reasons, so we need leaders with ideas that we have not seen before,” said Peña. When asked about Students Serving Students (SSS) retaining its incumbency, Peña remained cautious yet confident, stating, “I don’t like to just consider anything a victory until it’s absolutely over and the last vote is counted.” 

The Knight News reached out to Queens College President Frank Wu’s office for comment, in light of the controversy presented by Villa’s running mate, Castro . The following statement was received: “The college encourages students to participate in the Student Association electoral process and consider the qualifications and views of all candidates. The opportunity to become an informed and active voter is a cornerstone of our democracy.” 

Ultimately, both candidates agreed that their interests ultimately lie in the same place: putting students first. Couloute finished her remarks by saying that “QC is such a gem. I will fight for a more connected QC, one that serves students.” Likewise, Villa vows to adhere to his “one goal,” whatever it takes.

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