First MSA debate highlights social justice issues, personal hardships

The next debate, hosted by the BEC and RHA, will be at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26 at Bengal Lair.

Students eagerly gathered at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23 in Ellis Auditorium to hear the Missouri Students Association presidential and vice presidential candidates speak at the first debate of the election season.

Four Front Council and The Maneater hosted the first debate that centered around social justice, diversity and inclusivity.

Slates Haden Gomez and Chris Hanner, Jordan McFarland and Jonathan Segers, and Syed Ejaz and Heather Parrie have different approaches in how they will create a more inclusive campus. From the It’s On Us campaign to encouraging students to get training and presentations from different centers on campus, each slate has crafted their goals and initiatives, which they discussed during the debate.

1. What does it mean to you to be an ally to marginalized groups on campus?

Ejaz and Parrie want to make sure everyone has a voice and is empowered by taking practical actions and listening to people who are marginalized. To them, the word “ally” is a verb, not a noun, because it is something you have to do.

McFarland and Segers emphasized the importance of being involved in the community as leaders. In their eyes, everyone has a story and it is their job to make sure that their voices are heard.

Gomez said being an ally to him meant acknowledging his privilege, educating himself and using it to work for members of marginalized communities. He emphasized that the education “never stops” when it comes to being an ally.

2. What steps would you take to improve MSA’s communication with the social justice community from this past year?

McFarland and Segers would like to make students aware that anyone can be involved in social justice. Social justice actions don’t need to be “some Superman act,” McFarland said. They would like to re-explore having an office on campus whose sole purpose surrounds inclusion, diversity and allyship.

“We can’t take the risk of it not being there in years to come,” McFarland said. “We want to make those tangible changes to make sure that lines of communication stay there.”

Gomez and Hanner said that they have already been in communication with social justice centers while developing their platform. Gomez said he wanted to bring leaders of the social justice community together so that they could talk about issues that face their organizations.

Parrie wants to see an overlap between the Social Justice Committee and the social justice centers in addition to more collaboration between the Legion of Black Collegians, the Missouri International Student Council and other councils. Ejaz said MSA has a very wide reach and platform to influence and wants to sit down with different students and leaders to talk about how they can foster “a culture of inclusivity.”

3. What measures have you already taken to make sure you are educated on issues that affect marginalized communities?

Ejaz said as chair of the Campus and Community Relations Committee, he worked with the Social Justice Committee on various issues. He said he has the obligation to educate himself. Both candidates said their marginalized identities and identities of privilege have allowed them to have discussions and educate each other, Parrie said.

McFarland and Segers said they’ve grown up with marginalized identities. In their time at MU, they have worked on Hate Wall and have been Green Dot and Safe Space trained. They were the only slate to attend the Oct. 17 Green Dot conference. They encourage others in leadership positions to do the same.

Gomez said he and Hanner reached out to the social justice centers to educate themselves before they crafted their platform.

“Anything you see in there that we talk about, we know is 100 percent realistic and can get done over our time in office,” he said.

4. All 3 platforms mention that they would like to continue promoting the national sexual assault prevention campaign “It’s On Us.” How specifically would you like to do this?

Ejaz said their approach is to continue with education and couple it with a mandated Green Dot training. Parrie said they do not want more videos but rather peer-to-peer training facilitated by student staff in residence halls.

“The bottom line is that we want change the normative culture as it pertains to sexual violence and race relations the second freshmen step onto campus,” Ejaz said.

McFarland and Segers see sexual assault as a cultural issue, rather than a political problem. They would like to move away from victim blaming and facilitate what existing organizations are already doing to prevent sexual assault and help victims.

“Who are we to say that what these programs are doing is not enough?” said McFarland.

Gomez said he already had experience working with It’s On Us through his work on Enough Is Enough. He said they sat down with Director of Student Services Samantha Franks to discuss ways to further “It’s On Us” on campus.

Gomez also said they wanted to reach out to Greek Life and the Department of Athletics to coordinate their campaign with them.

“Unfortunately, there are still a lot of students that we have to engage on this issue,” he said.

5. Have you worked with student leaders whose organizations are run through the Multicultural Center, the RSVP Center, the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Women’s Center before? If so, how?

McFarland and Segers said they have experience working with leaders in the Wellness Resource Center and have also been part of discussions on how to be an active bystander. They would like to work with MSA to figure out how to bring everyone together to include minorities and marginalized students.

Ejaz said his proudest accomplishment is advocating for Tour Team to visit the centers located in the basement of the Student Center. Tour Team announced on Oct. 2 that they would include the basement in their tours through the Transparency website one year after MSA passed a resolution to encourage this. Parrie said those are safe spaces for people with those identities. The implementation of the policy is huge because a lot of students do not know they exist, Ejaz said.

Gomez emphasized again that he and Hanner had already reached out to the leaders of relevant organizations.

“The main thing they have told us is we should not be creating our own initiatives but working on promoting what is already there,” he said.

6. The chancellor recently announced that a new diversity training requirement will be implemented for incoming students starting in January 2016. Are you in favor of this new requirement? How will MSA use this new requirement to take further steps in creating a more inclusive campus?

Gomez said he and Hanner are “absolutely in favor of this program” but said it is a “step, definitely not a solution.”

Students see this training as something they have to do, which is why they don’t take it seriously, Ejaz said. Parrie said that minds are changed through peer-to-peer facilitation while pictures and simple definitions put the students behind.

“This is a sign to me that the university administration is tone-deaf,” Ejaz said.

McFarland said he supports the chancellor’s announcement. He would like to see students have a better understanding of diversity.

“These aren’t just numbers,” McFarland said. “They’re stories. We have to start showing that this isn’t going away. This issue is much much bigger.”

7. The McFarland/Segers slate’s platform discusses the creation of a new program called Mizzou ‘49 to recognize 49 students in the social justice community. What will be the criteria for choosing these 49 students and how does it differ from other awards and recognitions?

Segers said though academic success is a positive thing to look for in a candidate, they would not set a GPA requirement. They would like to pick these students based solely on their motivation for social justice issues.

Parrie said it is important to combat what is happening rather than creating a new program. She said the issue is that there has been too much talking and no one has been taking action. Ejaz said an award is not going to fix issues as much as sitting and talking with them.

8. This question is for the Ejaz-Parrie slate: The other two slates’ platforms say that they will enforce mandatory Safe Space, Green Dot and Diversity Peer Educators trainings for members of MSA. However, your platform doesn’t mention any diversity and inclusion training for members of MSA, only residence halls’ students and staff members. What steps will you take to ensure the members of your organization are educated on these issues?

Ejaz said that it does not need to be highlighted on a platform but rather expected of student leaders. He said they took it a step further, so that the normative culture is set from day one.

“In a span of four or five years, every student on this campus will be trained,” Ejaz said. “It’s not just MSA we’re focusing on. It’s everyone.”

McFarland and Segers’ platform features Inside Out, a program in which students in leadership positions complete diversity training.

“We can’t just focus on freshmen,” McFarland said, “We have to focus on people that have already committed to making campus better, our student leaders. “

Hanner said that he thought organizing training through RHA was impractical. He said he thought they should pursue “more creative solutions” to get more students trained.

9. The One Mizzou Initiative ended this year. Why do you think this program failed? What would you have done to improve the program?

McFarland and Segers said the program had good intentions but strayed from its original message. To improve the program, they would have done anything to keep it on track with its initial meaning.

“I shouldn’t have been able to go into Walmart and find One Mizzou on underwear,” McFarland said.

Gomez said that the initiative was made of “just words, not substantive actions.” He said the initiative should have included outreach to student leaders who could have given a more-informed opinion. He said he was actually a part of some of the talks, and that was how he knew they were based more on discussion than action.

Parrie said the reason for the program’s failure was lack of action. She said that you cannot put a Band-Aid on “all of the phobias” and think it will fix everything.

Ejaz said the notion presupposes that everyone is already One Mizzou. He said there are very divided communities on this campus and with campus starting to become honest about the issues it provides an opportunity to bring the communities together.

10. This question is for the Gomez-Hanner slate: In a Facebook post that Gomez made on Oct. 7, you mentioned you would like to amend the Title IX office’s process. What changes would you like to make and why?

Gomez said that he had taken the post down and apologized for it. He thought there needed to be more education about how Title IX works.

Hanner said that he and Gomez want to stigmatize the Title IX process, but that Gomez’s intent was misconstrued.

Gomez and Hanner said they had learned a lot from the post and subsequent backlash.

“Many people who commented (on the post) reached out to me, and that started my educational process,” he said. “We all come into the university with different levels of education on this issue, so it’s very important to me that we have this educational process.”

Parrie said as a sexual assault survivor, she thinks that instead of attacking the Title IX process, they should attack the people who put the stigma on sexual assault. She said instead of trying to improve Title IX for the accused, it should be improved for survivors.

11. What does accessibility look like to you on MU’s campus?

Ejaz said he wants to improve accessibility on campus and in surrounding areas in the city. Ejaz said he plans to make Memorial Union more accessible. Besides mobility, Parrie noted the importance of accessibility to mental health resources.

“That is what accessibility comes down to is making sure that all education is accessible to all students and making sure all students get the same level of education here on campus,” Parrie said.

McFarland would like to see the campus become more accessible to students facing “invisible illnesses.” He himself has dealt with this issue with severe arthritis in most joints and in both of his legs. He was also paralyzed on two separate occasions due to an allergic reaction to the H1N1 vaccine.

Gomez said his experience giving tours on campus made him more aware of issues of accessibility. The slate met with the Disability Center to learn about initiatives in the office that they could work with.

“I have given many tours to students who are on crutches or in wheelchairs, and (the effects of inaccessibility on campus) are heartbreaking,” he said.

12. What is your stance as representatives of the entire student body on student-led initiatives such as Racism Lives Here and Black Lives Matter?

Ejaz said MSA has chosen to stay away from uncomfortable situations until recently when President Payton Head made a “brutally honest” Facebook post. Parrie said it’s MSA's duty as the voice of students to recognize that these are people protesting to make change.

“Riots are the language of the oppressed and if that is what it is coming to, then it is time that we start listening to those protests,” Parrie said.

McFarland and Segers are in support of these groups’ actions.

“Who are we to do anything else but facilitate those goals as much as we can?” McFarland said.

Segers, who last week posted on Facebook asking for UM president, Tim Wolfe’s resignation, is passionate about increasing diversity awareness and respect.

“It shows that even our UM president doesn’t take it seriously,” Segers said. “It’s getting bogged down systematically.”

Gomez said he hoped to be able to advocate for marginalized students during his time in office.

“I will not ever be able to fully understand and come to grasp issues some students face on campus every day,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t educate myself.”

13. Why specifically do you want to be president or vice president of MSA? What would this potential position mean to you?

Gomez said he and Hanner had many opportunities through their involvement with MSA and other organizations to “have an in-depth look of this campus.” He said they had many ideas of how to improve MU for students and if elected, it would give them a “larger voice” to make changes.

He said if he were elected, there was “no checklist” of what needed to be done.

“Things on all of our platforms are only 50 percent of the issues we’ll probably run into,” he said.

Ejaz said the president is the chief advocate for all undergraduates to the administration, the city and the state. He said he has had to do much of the same things in his role as CCRC chairman. He said advocacy is something that he specializes in and loves.

McFarland is running for president in order to make sure that every student voice is heard. Their campaign focuses on the “invisible student.”

Segers is a transfer student, and upon coming to MU, discovered the hurt and confusion of many students. He wants to do everything he can to resolve this hurt.

14. How do you plan on communicating with international students to advocate for their needs?

Ejaz said he would work with Missouri International Student Council for the upcoming joint session. He said MSA comes from a point of privilege and working with MISC is how “we can educate ourselves.” Parrie said they cannot know what international students want until MSA sits down with them and asks.

“It’s not on us to make that decision for them of what they need,” Parrie said.

McFarland and Segers would like to increase communication with international students by making visual and audio aspects of resources, such as MyZou, available in multiple languages. This would be then made available at the other UM System campuses. McFarland said he couldn’t imagine living so far away from home, and he would like to make this transition as simple as possible.

Hanner said MSA already had a dedicated department to putting on events, but that he and Gomez wanted to implement a mentorship program to pair international students with other students to make them feel welcome throughout the school year.

“These students are not just international students,” Gomez said. “They are Mizzou Tigers, and they are a part of our family.”

15. From Twitter: In addition to international students, what about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is the immigration policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before they were 16 and before June 2007 to be exempted from deportation. Some slates misinterpreted the question.

McFarland said he had only heard about DACA referenced as “undocumented student deferment.” He said he was completely wrong when answering the question.

Ejaz said the way Mizzou and MSA market themselves is “very monolithic.” He said he would work with the admissions office because it is their top priority to ensure everyone has a voice.

McFarland said he would like to work together with the College of Education to determine what they can do to help out students with children. Segers, who is a tutor at Jumpstart supported McFarland’s response.

Gomez said that work on the issue would need to occur alongside the Office of Admissions. Hanner said there was not enough education on the issue.

"I am on the student recruitment team for the university, and we are not trained on how to respond to (that issue),” he said.

16. From Twitter: What is something you did in the past that was problematic and how have you grown from it?

Ejaz said he perpetuated microaggressions. He said he would assume that females would not understand something that his “privilege allows (him) to embrace.” He said that he has corrected that but has learned he can do more than just correcting himself.

Parrie said she took the route of silencing a member of her sorority when Parrie asked a woman to take down a post in which she called out a fraternity for an offensive theme party. She was worried it could create a bad image of her sorority.

“I will never have to react to certain kinds of oppression so I shouldn't assume that I know what is best,” Parrie said.

McFarland said that he came from a very troubled household where he considered himself a bystander to some of the issues they faced. Now he tries to keep an open communication with his family to make up for not involving himself with them in the past.

“I feel like I didn’t do enough,” McFarland said. “I hid behind a visage that showed calmness.”

Segers said that his biggest mistake in college has been acquiring and using a fake ID. Looking back, he sees that this was a mistake.

“Why risk the rest of your life based off of peer pressure or based off of a split decision?” Segers said.

Gomez said the post he made on Facebook criticizing the Title IX investigation process was problematic.

“I know there are people in this room — several people — who reached out to me not in hate, not in disgust, but actually to educate me on what was problematic about that post,” Gomez said. “I think that’s what we have to focus on, the education.”

Hanner said that as a member of the LGBTQ community, he made the mistake of assuming he was fully educated on social justice issues when first coming to campus.

“You’re always in a process of learning, evolving and understanding, and I’ve even come a long way within (the LGBTQ) community,” he said. “None of us have reached the finish line.”

17. What do you think needs to be changed with the mental health resources on campus and why? How will you advocate for those changes?

Ejaz said students need to be more aware of the resources that are available to them. He said this is why getting the MU Counseling Center’s number on the back of student ID cards was the first step. He said the resource centers have to be optimized to handle more students who need to use them.

Mental health is addressed in McFarland and Segers’ platform through their program Lean On. Their main approach deals with destigmatizing mental health and ensuring students that it is alright to seek help.

“We have to show the university that we care about mental health,” McFarland said.

Gomez said the mental health system currently on campus is inadequate.

“We have seen time and time again that the resources available to students are extremely limited, and the wait times are extremely long,” he said.

Hanner said that the Counseling Center was “wildly underfunded.” He said the center’s funding should be increased “more than it ever has been.”

“In the past, it’s just been an inflationary increase to match inflation, and not an investment,” he said. “We need to make an investment through (the student fee review committee) to improve that program.”

18. This is our final question. How do you plan to create and improve environmental sustainability and conservation on campus?

McFarland and Segers said it is the job of MSA representatives to facilitate already existing programs pertaining to environmental sustainability and conservation on campus. MSA is currently working with RHA to get a recycling bin in every residence hall room. They are trying to implement the same policy in Greektown, classrooms and Ellis Library.

In addition to on-campus initiatives to make MU more sustainable, Ejaz said MSA needs to focus on areas around campus. Parrie said instead of creating new organizations or committees, MSA should provide support.

Gomez said he thought RHA was already working on sustainability, and that MSA’s role should be to provide resources for them to continue the work. Hanner said MU was already in a good place regarding sustainability.

“We have one of the most efficient power plants in the entire country,” he said.

The next debate will be at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26 at Bengal Lair. It is hosted by the Residence Halls Association and the Board of Elections Commissioners.

For more information on the slates’ platforms, visit their websites:

Haden Gomez/Chris Hanner: [(]

Syed Ejaz/Heather Parrie: ([]

Jordan McFarland/Jonathan Segers: ([]

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