Q&A: Student government candidates discuss mental health, campus involvement

Elections will open at midnight on Feb. 25 and close Feb. 26 at 11:59 p.m. on Owl Central.

(L-R) Celine Persaud, Joseph Burgees, Alex Zand, and Naya Diaz at the presidential debate in the SG House Chambers.

(L-R) Celine Persaud, Joseph Burgees, Alex Zand, and Naya Diaz at the presidential debate in the SG House Chambers.

Israel Fontoura, Managing Editor

Editor’s note: These answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Returning for this year’s election cycle, student body Vice President Celine Persaud and Boca Governor Alex Zand are both running for student body president. Persaud’s running mate is Joseph Burgese, former Supervisor of elections and Zand with Nayelli Diaz, director of Students Advocating Volunteer Involvement (SAVI).

The tickets share commonalities having prior experience in Student Government, involvement in Greek life and all being current juniors.

The tickets elaborated on their platform, campus representation, mental health and diversity. The panel was moderated by former Chief Justice Isaiah Moriarity. 

The hour-long debate is the only time the candidates are scheduled together to share their platforms before university-wide voting, on Feb. 25 and 26 and there will be in-person polling stations on Boca’s Breezeway and Recreation center, Davie’s Student Union and Jupiter’s Dining Hall.

What will you do to represent each of the FAU campuses all the way from Harbor branch to SeaTech?

ZAND: After speaking with students on a variety of the campuses, aside from FAU’s largest campus in Boca Raton, and asking them what they want and what they need, most of the students said the exact same thing. The students on the other campuses said that [they] themselves and their campuses feel underrepresented. So what Naya I like feel is very important is to represent every single campus. 

One thing in particular when representing the two other larger campuses in Jupiter and Davie is to fix and kind of perfect the shuttle service.

The latest that the shuttle runs is 6:30 p.m. from Jupiter to Boca. So, students that have late night classes Monday through Friday from seven to 10 and will take the shuttle from Jupiter down to Boca, but then they have no way of getting back up to their residence halls… so they’re finding themselves either having to catch a ride or most of the time, Uber, which is not cost-effective. 

We’re all college students, we don’t have the money and resources to do that. So one thing that I really want to do is to make sure that our shuttle service is perfected, and that we can also have a shuttle service from Davie to Boca as well because that one is not being run as efficiently and effectively as it should.

DIAZ: Also, allowing for menstrual products in every bathroom and every empty dispenser, expanding on OwlsCare contribution because it is in one area, as well as providing safe and private spaces. For instance, one of our campuses keeps their menstrual products in a very public area and their union and that is not the most discreet form of alarming for students to get what they need. 

Speaking from the perspective of one who constantly leads these products, they are expensive, and sometimes you do have emergencies, so having to run all the way to the other side of campus can be quite hectic. 

BURGESE: So as we would like to represent all of the campuses of Florida University, [the] first person you would obviously go to would be their governor so you can understand what the majority of the problems on each campus is, instead of making an executive decision right away. 

Once we are elected as your next vice president or president, we would like to have bi-weekly meetings with each governor of every campus so we can see firsthand what the major problems that each campus at [FAU] is. We would like to make executive decisions based [on] experiences of what we see not of what we hear.

PERSAUD: We also want to ensure that we’re transparent with everything we do because a lot of the times there’s decisions that are made without discussing and consulting with people who represent the other campuses and we want to make sure that stops and that we want to make sure that we’re including every single campus that FAU has, all six campuses, with every decision that affects the whole university. 

We’ve already done that, you know, within our roles now by visiting some of the other partner campuses, visiting Jupiter, and attending their town halls and understanding what their needs are there and also visiting the Davie campus and being in correspondence with them. 

What will be your number one priority as president and vice president? And how will you accomplish that? 

PERSAUD: Our number one priority will be to enhance student life and expand on student safety. One priority of ours of the student safety pillar is we want to have more mental health resources by lowering the counselor to student ratio at FAU. So the current ratio of counselors student ratio mandated by the state of Florida is for every 1,300 hundred students there’s one counselor. So we actually don’t even meet this benchmark at FAU. And something that we really want to do is to lobby for that and have asked for more counselors readily available so that students don’t have to get put on these waiting lists, where they’re waiting for so long to be seen by CAPS. We just think that this is something unacceptable that needs to be addressed, especially with all the troubles that have happened with mental health in the past couple of years. 

Another thing is we want to have more campus hotlines for students who feel endangered. So what we mean by this will be a 24/7 hotline that will be available for students, no matter what. No matter what emergency that they’re having. This goes into the whole mental health awareness and Sexual Assault Awareness and we believe that this would be something that would really help students especially when we’re feeling endangered.

BURGESE: Another thing we would like to put in effect is a lot more campus engagement. We noticed that as we’re walking through campus, we do not see a lot of interaction amongst students and we want to make FAU a more interactive campus for all of our students, not just a specific genre of students. 

So what we want to do is have more engagement centers for student organizations to congregate. Yes, we had the Student Union, but there’s not much to offer in the Student Union besides that, we just added an Esports area. So we want to do is grab the attention of multiple organizations to where they can actually want to go have meetings have events. So they feel like okay, the student body is here for us and they are giving us what we want not just giving a specific organization with the desired are giving all of FAU students from all backgrounds and all ways of life. So if they know they’re respected and they know that we’re here for them.

PERSAUD: We believe that this would help especially on the partner campuses because seeing how active and how many student organizations there are on the partner campuses, especially Jupiter and Davie, we believe that something like this would really help them expand on their campus events, have more attendance and would help their marketing resources as well. 

DIAZ: Our number one priority as president and vice president would be equal representation as we said before, because there is not currently equal representation, and as I said before, being proactive as far as students rather than reactive is our main strategy and making their experience here at FAU the greatest that it can be. 

Besides menstrual products, also post-college preparation, whether it be mental health after college, or also even finances and overall being an adult and preparing with what comes after college because many students don’t know what they’re going to do next and still helping them to be the most motivated and most confident is also one of our main priorities.

ZAND: One way that I want to represent the students is to represent the graduate students. The position of the student body president, his responsibility is to oversee the graduate and professional Student Association director, whoever sees the GPSA. And one thing that I want to do as student body president is to make sure that the GPSA is planning more effective and efficient programs as well as outreaching to as many graduate and professional students as possible. 

Another way to represent all students is to talk to every single campus and see how we can represent them because listening is the most important thing to do, but it shouldn’t stop there. When talking to the Jupiter campus one thing that they want to see is a bike share program because when going to the Jupiter campus, they don’t have restaurants and stuff for them to do. It’s all right across the street. So they’ve actually been in touch and gotten the bikes, but they need the approval from the risk management to do so. So I want to work with the Jupiter campus to make sure that we can finally execute the bike share program.

On the Boca Raton campus, parking is our biggest issue. Everyone in the room can attest that parking is our number one concern. So instead of me promising to create more parking garages or more parking lots, I can’t do that. But what I can do is try and advocate for electric scooters. Having electric scooters around campus is the safest and most efficient way and most feasible way for the university when telling us to park…  it’ll just make everything everyone’s lives a lot easier. 

PERSAUD: Actually the scooter electric scooter is a great initiative and something that we actually brought up last year to administrators and the university-wide administrators deemed it as unsafe to students because of the amount of incidents that have happened with other college campuses in the state of Florida. So I don’t really know if the status on that has changed, but that was the last update that I heard from the university-wide administrators on that.

ZAND: So yes, as you said, from what I’ve heard, the university has deemed unsafe. One thing that my administration has been trying to do this term is to try and get the electric scooters on campus. So one thing that I thought was the best thing to do is to partner with our current student body president, Kevin Buchanan, and have him discuss those in his meetings. We haven’t discussed extensively on those meetings, but he did say that the university has deemed unsafe, but we’re not going to take no for an answer. 

Our administration has continued to talk to a variety of electric scooter companies. And I addressed the university’s safety concerns and in response, the electric scooter companies that we’ve talked to have given us packet after packets on the safety measures that they put forth on dozens of universities. So when I’m student body president, I’m going to make sure that when I go to those meetings, I explained to them and address their safety concerns. 

What are your plans to support the graduate population?

ZAND: One thing that I’ve done as the campus governor is I’ve stressed collaboration through my programs. I oversee six different programs. One thing they have done a tremendous job [with] is collaborating between the Student Government programs underneath my cabinet. And one thing that I’m going to do is student body president is to continue that collaboration and have the GPSA work and collaborate with some of the undergraduate programs within Student Government so that they can both play bigger and better programs that work for every student, both undergraduate and graduate programs.

DIAZ: One main strategy in uplifting our graduate community would be outreach and inclusion with our experience and outreach through the student government or other organizations, more collaboration between our programs, such as those in the Governor’s Cabinet and the Graduate Professional Student Association will allow for a graduate student community to be just as active and included as our undergraduate community.

PERSAUD: GPSA has plenty of resources available that we want to make sure are marketed properly. Something that has happened within the [SG] Senate during this term [with] me as vice president and this administration is we have been able to replenish the travel money for grad students through legislation that was written by the senators. 

We hope to expand on this and create more funding resources for grad students because there’s definitely been a lot of complaints from the graduate students here about not having enough funding to be able to go to conferences and such and we want to make sure that this is no longer a problem so that our grad students can still continue to do some of the great research work that they’ve been doing.

BURGESE: I also think it’s also very important to market for the GPSA, so students can stay here at FAU and attend graduate school instead go to another university when they will finish all of their education [in] one place. 

I think it’s very important to have a representative from GPSA involved within Student Government and involved within the president’s administrative cabinet. So they have a voice as well, and not just undergraduates representing a graduate program. So it is very important that we continue to have a representative for every section of the university, and that includes having a graduate representative or representatives. It is not fair to have undergraduates determine the life of a graduate student.

Elections will open at midnight on Feb. 25 and close Feb. 26 at 11:59 p.m. on Owl Central. In-person polling stations will be located as follows: Boca Raton Breezeway and Recreation center, Davie Student Union and Jupiter Dining Hall.

Israel Fontoura is the managing editor for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email him at [email protected]