The Student Governing Association’s student body presidential candidates debated for the first time at the primary debate in the Student Union courtyard Thursday evening.
The two candidates are Ryan Kelly, junior in communication studies and speaker of the student senate, and Jansen Penny, junior in industrial engineering and chair of the Privilege Fee Committee. They discussed their platforms and topics of student concern, including tuition cost, diversity and the Multicultural Student Center.
Kelly started off by discussing his experience at Kansas State University and how he wants to give all students equal opportunity to succeed.
“It has been my experience at K-State to interact with a diverse community from all walks of life,” Kelly said. “What I’ve noticed is that so many questions surround diversity and inclusion efforts, surround social justice and surround multiculturalism at K-State. So, why are they so important? They’re important because they’re fundamental to the core mission of this university and to the core mission of our Student Governing Association.”
Kelly suggested that while K-State often emphasizes the idea of equal opportunity for all students, the reality shows otherwise.
“We look at retention rates across this university,” Kelly said. “Why is it that the black male retention rate is below 10 percent when compared to our white counterparts, who have a 40 to 50 percent retention rate? We have a responsibility as student leaders to advocate for these students, but this also extends past the academic experience into the extracurricular experience.
“Why is that all of our student organizations that are prestigious in this university — Student Governing Association, Student Foundation, Student Enrollment — are controlled by students who fit a similar demographic?” Kelly continued. “Why is that? It will be my job as student body president to change that. My job won’t be necessarily to be a vision maker — that job is for our students. My job as student body president will be to be a mission maker.”
Penny then talked about growing up on a farm and ranch in Colorado, a place he calls “Kansas 2.0.”
“I’ve spent most of my summer feeding cattle and driving a combine,” Penny said. “That’s a legacy I want to go back and maintain someday after I graduate from school.”
When Penny first arrived on campus, he said he could count on one hand how many people he knew within 250 miles.
“The place that I stepped foot on two-and-a-half years ago, where I knew no one, I now call home,” Penny said. “That is my mission for what I want to give other students here at K-State. Ali [Karamali] and I are about empowering you, and that is what our vision has been from the beginning. Empowering you to give to your fellow students what they need, whether it be food insecurity or financial insecurity. Empowering you to unite and invite that unity that we do have here at K-State. And lastly, empowering you to own your education. Empowering you to own your own wellness. K-State has so many places on campus where you can go for help.”
Penny said he chose Karamali, sophomore in chemical engineering, as his running mate because he was looking for someone with a different background and life experience than himself. Kelly said he did the same with his running mate, Anna Spencer, junior in nutritional sciences.
“When I asked Anna [Spencer] to run with me this past December, I could not have been more excited to work with someone who is so different than me, but agreed on so many different issues,” Kelly said. “Anna wants to give back. I want to give back.”
As the debate got into the specifics of student issues, one of the first that Kelly mentioned was challenges of prejudice.
“I would say with recent events on campus, specifically racially charged incidents, what we’ve seen is a wedge that’s been driven into the heart of our campus community,” Kelly said. “Some racial events, fraudulent or real, have a very real effect on our student body, and that effect is what we have a responsibility to address as student leaders.”
Penny stated the number one issue faced by students was cost and affordability.
“If they can’t even afford to be here in the first place, that is an issue,” Penny said. “No matter what your gender or sexual orientation, we are all paying to be at K-State and we all have those bills in our inbox.”
When asked what they thought qualified them for the job of student body president, the candidates agreed that titles and positions were meaningless.
“What qualifies me for this job is my openness to listen and create here on campus,” Penny said. “No title can do that for you.”
The candidates also agreed that no single campus resource, such as the Counseling Services or the Cats’ Cupboard food pantry, could be labeled as the most important because students need a variety of different resources to succeed.
On the topic of the coming Multicultural Student Center, Penny said students must be aware of it for it to be effective.
“If we get a brand-new building over here, and it’s not utilized, it’s not accepted on this campus, that is a waste,” Penny said. “There are great things to come with diversity and inclusion, and the Multicultural Student Center is that first step.”
Kelly said we must know what we mean when say “multicultural.”
“We also so often use that word: ‘multicultural,’” Kelly said. “’Multicultural Student Center,’ but do we know what that means? Do we know what multicultural means at K-State? To me, it means identity groups that feel underprivileged, unheard at this university; they feel like they don’t have the resources that every other student group has. That is why Anna and I are running under the platform of community and making sure that we expand the definition of ‘multicultural’ so that we know exactly who is going to go into that Multicultural Student Center.”
While he doesn’t believe he or anyone could represent everyone on campus, Penny said he would have different people on his team that would cover the diversity of K-State. He said he knows how to interact with people from a different background than him because he grew up with a family that took in foster kids.
“Throughout the years, we have had over 30 kids come into our lives and into our home and stay,” Penny said. “I know what it’s like living with someone from a totally different culture, different age, walk of life, sexuality, even. I know how important it is that we celebrate our differences. I’ve grown up with that my entire life.”
On the topic of the K-State Principles of Community, Kelly said he believes there is no enforcement of the principles, and that is a problem.
“There is no enforcement to the Principles of Community,” Kelly said. “Students do not have to abide by them, students don’t even have to listen to them. I didn’t even know they existed until my sophomore year.”
Kelly also said he wants to see a lower tuition cost.
“We are pricing our students out of higher education,” Kelly said. “We need to be intentional about what we are spending our dollars on, and we need to utilize existing infrastructure at this university to make that experience worthwhile for our students.”
The last question the candidates were asked came from a student poll: What single thing would you highlight about the K-State experience?
Penny highlighted the importance of responsibility and how he wants to help students connect to the available resources on campus.
“Over the past two and a half years, I’ve seen so many resources that K-State provides, so many opportunities for growth, so many areas that we can go out and change and become better, but if you aren’t responsible and if you don’t take that initiative, it will not happen,” Penny said.
Kelly described the value of the student voice, and said this relates to his idea of “your vision, our mission.”
“K-State is so unique in that aspect; no other university provides the amount of credibility and value on what students have to say than this university,” Kelly said. “I won’t lie, being a student at K-State is hard. A lot of times, it is very, very difficult, but what we can do as students is voice those concerns.”
For his closing statement, Kelly encouraged the students to consider what the candidates on stage truly stood for, not just their flashy titles in SGA.
“[Consider] what they have done in the positions that they have held,” Kelly said. “What they have done at this university to advance progress.”
Penny stressed the point that he is simply another student.
“I’m standing on stage in a navy suit, talking about numbers and stuff, but that really doesn’t matter,” Penny said. “I’m a student, just like all of you. I have 15 credit hours, I have a tutor, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do in a few summers. Ali and I are not perfect. If you want perfect candidates, we are not the ones for you, but we will be your candidates. We will fight for you and we want to empower you.”