The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) presidential debate was held yesterday between incumbent WSA President Zachary Malter ’13 and WSA Coordinator Arya Alizadeh ’13. Approximately 60 students attended parts of the debate, which was held on the first floor of the Usdan University Center.

Both candidates began with opening statements in which they outlined their platform and  what differentiated them from their opponent. Alizadeh primarily focused on how to make the WSA more approachable for students while keeping the Assembly as efficient as possible.

“I’m running for president really to make it a school for students,” Alizadeh said. “What that means is not only enabling the student body to have its voice heard but also enabling the WSA to be a very efficient body. I think I’ve had a lot of experience in a managerial role – both on the WSA and outside of Wesleyan. I think the way I enable individual people to do the best work they can will translate into having a very solid student assembly that will truly represent your views.”

Malter spoke about his accomplishments as president and what he would like to work on in the future; he also noted his desire to make the WSA more approachable through partnerships and other programs.

“I think my track record is one of proven results,” Malter said. “But I’m definitely hoping to improve on that next year. I’ve been working a lot with the WSA to make the WSA more accessible for students, more transparent and more representative of student views, particularly through partnerships with other student groups. The WSA can be that much more effective when it’s working with other student groups. Next year’s going to be a big year.”

After the opening statements, each candidate responded to nine questions provided by the WSA Elections Committee, online submissions, and the audience. Some of these questions included what they saw as the purpose of the WSA, the chalking ban, disability rights, corruption within the WSA, and how they would represent underrepresented students and groups on campus. After both candidates had responded to the question, they each received time for a rebuttal statement. After these questions had all been asked, each candidate made a closing statement.

Several of the attending students responded positively to the debate, stating that they felt it helped them make a more informed decision about the election.

“I thought it was really good,” said Juliana McLain ’14. “It wasn’t as controversial as last year’s, but I thought both candidates gave really productive thoughts. I definitely felt like I learned a lot about each of the candidates.”

There was a lack of consensus about a clear “winner” of the debate; several attendees commented that both sides successfully articulated their own points.

“I don’t think either candidate strictly outperformed the other one,” said Evan Weber ’13. “I think they both did a pretty good job. There were clearly some differences on questions but a lot of things they agreed on.”

Others claimed that several easy questions prevented the debate from being a substantive source of information about the candidates.

“I thought that both candidates prepared pretty well, although one stood out more than the other,” said Matt Lichtash ’13. “I thought the questions could have been a little bit tougher. There were a lot of softballs that were thrown out there that had really obvious answers that both of the candidates played really safe on.”

Anwar Batte ’13 said that these standard, easy-to-answer questions resulted in rather unproductive discourse.

“It was fine, it got repetitive,” he said. “The extra responses [rebuttals] weren’t used creatively at all. Candidates pretty much just said the same thing they said the first time they responded to it. I wish crazier questions had been asked.”

Despite this criticism, WSA Information Technology Coordinator Syed Ali ’13, who moderated the debate, reflected positively on the experience and praised the questions asked of the candidates.

“I think it was really exciting that we had such a huge turnout, especially at the beginning,” said Ali. “It shows that there were a lot of people out there who were interested in getting to know more, that people aren’t voting just based on whom they’re friends with and they’re actually interested in the issues. I think there were a lot of interesting questions asked by the audience and people online.”

Both candidates appeared pleased with their performances and ability to articulate their platforms to the audience.

“I think it went well; it was fun,” Malter said. “I thought the questions were fair and people got a sense of what I’ve done, my level of follow-through, the partnerships I’ve formed with students, and my plans for concrete, tangible changes in student life next year. Hopefully people will look at what I’ve done and talk to their friends on the WSA to get more perspective and I think if people do those things they should be informed enough to make a good decision.”

Alizadeh echoed many of these sentiments, while also praising the turnout for the debate.

“I think probably the most exciting thing about it was that we had people who weren’t on the WSA here for the first part or people walking through [Usdan] to hear what was going on,” Alizadeh said. “I think it would have been nice if we weren’t both so repetitive, but I think the debate was good. I think another great part of it was the questions from the audience and the questions online. I got my point across and that was the idea. The point of this debate wasn’t to look better than Zach or make him look bad. The point of it was to get Sam’s and my point across, which I think we did. It’s now up to the student body to decide whose platform they like best, who they think will lead a better WSA.”

The election, which began yesterday on April 23, will continue until Friday, April 27 at midnight. Students can vote online through the voting page of the WSA website.

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