The first floor of Usdan was crowded with students on Monday night for a debate between Micah Feiring ’11, Bradley Spahn ’11, and Lowell Wood ’12—candidates for next year’s Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) president. The students discussed proposals for next year, questioned one another’s competence, and fielded questions from current WSA President Mike Pernick ’10 and students in the audience.
Feiring and Spahn, both current WSA representatives, debated each other’s past achievements and ability to be an effective leader while working with University administration. Wood, who does not have past WSA experience, pointed to the heated arguments between Feiring and Spahn as evidence that a fresh voice is needed in the WSA.
In their introductions, the candidates focused on their individual qualifications and goals as president. Spahn highlighted his past leadership experience, including his previous position as WSA Coordinator. Feiring described his top priorities for next year—preventing financial aid cuts, encouraging sustainability, and improving student life through changes to transportation, dining, and alcohol and drug policies. Wood emphasized the need to create more direct communication and connections between the WSA and the student body.
Responding to Pernick’s first question regarding top priorities for next year, Spahn discussed a plan to create a Student Leadership Stipend, which he hopes would allow more students to be able to take positions as student group leaders, by replacing work study positions.
“My first priority is increasing access to a Wesleyan education,” Spahn said. “That means increasing access to financial aid, that means making sure that students understand their financial aid package, but it also means that they are free to spend their time at Wesleyan however they want.”
Feiring responded by asserting that he has done more than either of the other candidates to support financial aid by co-sponsoring a resolution to ensure that financial aid cuts were not part of budget reductions. He also described his experience with meeting one-on-one with administrators, and his goal of working to oppose Scott Backer’s proposed open container policy that would ban alcohol consumption in public spaces for anyone.
“[The open container policy] is going to mean that students can’t go from one party to another with an open container, so they’re going to be encouraged to pre-game behind closed doors,” Feiring said, arguing that this would create safety concerns, in addition to inciting student outrage.
Wood emphasized the importance of having a drug and alcohol policy that does not punish minor infractions. He also discussed improving relations with Public Safety.
Spahn criticized Feiring for his failure to follow through on his promise to create an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program and his involvement in renovations to 190 High St. last summer that resulted in several student groups having difficulty accessing the space at the beginning of the fall semester.
“Micah’s been promising this for two years and he hasn’t delivered,” Spahn said.
Feiring argued that creating an EMT program has been in progress for ten years and that he finalized a constitution for the program that was approved by the WSA Student Life Committee and is currently moving forward.
Spahn also accused Feiring of not working effectively with Assistant Director of Student Life Scott Backer or the Board of Trustees.
“Is that what we want as a leader?” he said. “We want someone who yells and screams and says fuck you? That might work here but it doesn’t work at the top.”
Feiring responded that he has consistently stood up against Backer and brought up his leadership in raising funds for the planned student-run café, even pulling a letter from University Trustee Robert Allbritton ’92 out of his pocket. He criticized Spahn’s Student Leadership Stipend proposal for not being financially sustainable, arguing that student leaders should not be paid.
Wood responded to the continuing sparring between Feiring and Spahn by asserting the need for new voices.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. “We need some fresh blood. I’m not going to be fighting with everyone all the time.”
The three candidates expressed fairly similar views on issues including improving the Ride, expanding off-campus housing in order to reduce the number of students who end up living in triples, and improving campus accessibility for people with disabilities. In response to a question about Wesleyan’s impact on global climate change, Feiring proposed refunds to senior houses with low utility costs and increasing recycling and composting, while Wood and Spahn emphasized the importance of personal responsibility, like using refillable water bottles.
All three candidates emphasized the need to increase direct communication with the student body in order to increase WSA accountability and responsiveness to student opinion.
“We need someone who can yell and do lots of things,” Wood said.