Sam Houston State University students passing through the fountain area Wednesday had the chance to witness an impromptu debate and eat free pizza courtesy of SGA, the Student Government Association. The debate was held between the candidates of the upcoming Student Body Presidential election.
Running for re-election is Christopher Whitaker, a junior and a political science major. He faced off against challengers Christopher Yancy, another junior political science major and Michael Oder, a sophomore mass communication major.
The questions for the candidates were submitted by students on site. In exchange for their questions and participation, the crowd was treated to free pizza as they watched the debate.
Whitaker kicked off the event by announcing that SGA was seeking a grant for public transportation around campus. He said, “Traffic and parking are community issues, not just a student issue.”
According to Oder, the key to improving the quality of campus life is cooperation between all organizations. Yancy agreed.
“As president, I’ll push for more activities to occur on the weekend,” Yancy said. “I want all students to be proud of Sam Houston and to stay here on the weekends.”
When the issue of the name change was addressed, all three candidates boldly declared they would oppose any efforts to rename SHSU. Whitaker told the crowd about House Bill 1418, legislation intended to protect the university’s name that was submitted to Austin.
According to Yancy, an SHSU alumnus was appointed to the Board of Regents, which gives the university greater support in the state capital.
Oder said, “Over my dead body will this university change its name.”
Another topic raised by students in attendance was financial aid. Oder suggested that students learn the specifics of the FAFSA and the financial aid system. Whitaker said that he recently spoke with Rep. Kevin Brady about increasing the amount of financial aid available to SHSU students.
“I’m well aware that most of the students on this campus use financial aid,” Yancy said. “I will push for more scholarships and financial aid funding to be available.” Tension between campus religious organizations was another issue in which the candidates had similar opinions.
Yancy told the crowd that religion doesn’t have to be the issue that divides students. Oder said that SGA is a great mediator for issues between groups, religious or not.
In reference to Brother Jed Smock, the fiery minister who preached on campus in February, Whitaker said, “SGA recently passed a bill that declared SHSU a hate-free zone.”
Oder pledged to be there for the student body when asked how he could directly help the students. He offered the parking and traffic difficulties as an example. Oder said, “Parking is a problem on this campus. SGA is currently working on long-term solutions, but we need to focus on realistic short-term solutions.”
In response to the same question, Yancy said he could reach out to all students by integrating SGA and the student body. Whitaker said that being the candidate with the most SGA experience best qualified him to be president. He said, “I work with the city of Huntsville. I don’t just talk to them. I know the mayor and the city council. I know this community.”
When asked what qualifies him to be president, Oder cited his experience with informing the community as a staff member of both KSHU 90.5 The Kat and KSHU Channel 7.
“We’ve got to start talking with each other,” Oder said. “This is your home and SGA needs to speak with one unified voice.”
Yancy said that his work with the NAACP, SGA and with campus administration has prepared him to become president. He said, “I encourage you to examine the SGA leadership and think about what could be done differently.”
After reminding the audience that Election Day is April 10 and April 11, Whitaker closed the event by saying, “I’ve fought for you on the hill, in City Hall and at the state capital.”