DEBATE: Student body presidential candidates discuss campaign platforms, privilege fee, mental health

Michael Dowd (left) and Vedant Kulkarni (right) take the stage for the Student Body Presidential debate.

With quick opening remarks, the student body president candidates Michael Dowd and Vedant Kulkarni took the stage in SGA’s 2021 Student Body Presidential debate to discuss their campaign platforms.

Jackson Berland, sophomore in theater and Wildcat 91.9 employee, and Bailey Britton, junior in mass communications and the Collegian’s editor-in-chief, moderated the debate.

Berland: “Kansas State has identified strategic goals to incorporate diversity on and off-campus — are they doing enough? If elected, what would you be doing to continue these goals in the future?”

Dowd, senior in animal science and global food systems leadership: “The model moving forward should be allowing for more individual day-to-day interactions where we have conversations about diversity and inclusion. … So, we would like to implement this type of model and create a coalition of teachers. We’re going to call it the ‘Inclusion Coalition.’ Having teachers pledge to have daily conversations or even weekly conversations about inclusion and how students can implement that in their lives.”

Kulkarni, international affairs director and senior in management information systems and mass communications: “I believe K-State is not doing enough. There is much more needed to be done. … President [Richard] Myers laid out the 11 Step Action [Plan] last year, it still — all of it still is in progress. Where’s the progress? We have to be sure that our progress is not stagnant but it continues to improve and it continues to progress. … Inclusivity is not just about race or other issues, it’s about LGBTQ inclusion, it’s about including students with accessibility issues and these all aspects, when they come together, then and only then can K-State truly make progress in respect to inclusivity.”

Britton: “Some students say the campus privilege fee is too high, but rely on the services that the fee funds. How do you see the privilege fee evolving?”

Kulkarni: “Campus privilege fee is definitely high and having to pay campus privilege fee while our environment is largely operating online is not something that I am in favor of. … Under my administration, we will make sure students know if their fees have been increased and why they are being increased. And our ultimate goal will be to not have fees increased at K-State.”

One objective of Kulkarni and Maggie Billman’s, sophomore in secondary education, campaign is ridding costly educational resources like TopHat and Wiley Plus, and instead, have professors give quizzes through Canvas.

Dowd: “The transparency that students need to hear when their fees are increasing is something Cameron [Koger] and I so dearly stand for, and we have experience in this realm.”

Both Dowd and Kroger, junior in marketing, have experience on the privilege fee committee, eliminating wasteful spending and helping to find more frugal ways to implement student dollars.

“Our goal is to make sure that fee doesn’t increase, but also to make sure that the money that is being allocated is being allocated to services that students truly need right now.”

Berland: “Nationwide, the price of college is on a steady incline while the value of a college education is staying the same. What will you do to make sure the price of a college education continues to be accessible to incoming students as possible?”

Kulkarni: “It all requires working together with the faculty and the faculty senate over here. In SGA, we represent the student body’s voices … all of us, in Cabinet, in senate, we work together, we analyze what’s going wrong with K-State … and then together, working on it to make sure that it becomes more holistic and inclusive.”

Dowd: “We’re already experiencing dramatic changes in how we learn, but I think, more importantly, higher education — holistically speaking — will change so, so incredibly. Part of that is because we are having reduced funding from the state of Kansas and then at the same time, we’re facing a decline when it comes to enrollment.”

Dowd said he believes partnerships with businesses will help decrease the cost of tuition, and to get more out-of-state students to come to K-State, Dowd said he wants the administration to find more creative solutions to have more students become interested in KSU.

Britton: “Both of your campaigns prioritize mental health. Currently, Counseling Services is the fourth most funded privilege fee entity, but it is funded several million less than the third-highest entity. How do plan to improve access to mental health resources on campus?”

Dowd: “In our platforms, we’re really looking forward to creating an accessible platform for students to sign up for counseling services. We can book an appointment through Lafene [Health Center] online, but we can’t book a Counseling Services appointment unless we call someone. … We need to keep advocating to make sure that students are still getting reached by these services even though we are virtually disconnected.”

Kulkarni: “Making sure that there are counselors who are inclusive when it comes to their counseling providence and, at the same time, making sure that each department has resources available for mental health is something I’ll be working on immediately should I be elected as student body president.”

Berland: “We have seen the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in return, how it has affected what a college experience looks like. Has the university done enough to ensure the integrity and the safety of our students? What would you do in the future?

Kulkarni: “K-State is doing a great job, I would say when it comes to [COVID-19] with implementing safety measures and having Lafene as a vaccine distribution center. … It would be the job of [the] student body to make sure that they follow the regulations given by the CDC, given by the K-State departments.”

Dowd: “Moving forward, we have a lot of work to do because this pandemic is not over and the end is not in the near future. And, so we have to continue to be wary of the implications of the pandemic, and that means providing clear and consistent communication.”

Britton: “Should an independent student organization promoting values contrary to that of K-State be provided funding by the Student Governing Association?

Dowd: “If an organization violates the student code of conduct, it shouldn’t be an organization. It shouldn’t exist on this campus. If it directly violates the student code of conduct, then there’s no legal precedent for it to even exist here on this campus.”

Kulkarni: “Hate has no place at K-State. Period. … We do not welcome any sort of bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, racism or anything at K-State whether it’s through any organization or any individual.”

Berland: “If elected, what is one thing you want to be known for during your time in the presidency?

Kulkarni: “I would like to be known as a student body president who was most inclusive, who was out there with the students, who amplify student voices … we are a family, in a family we take care of each other.”

Dowd: “My mission is to be the type of leader who reaches out and makes every single student on this campus feel seen and heard. … The method of us to do that is really to create a culture in which we are connected and we are very much involved in every aspect of student life.”

My name is Sean Schaper, and I'm the news editor for the Collegian. I’m a junior in journalism with a secondary focus in film studies. I grew up right outside of Kansas City in Leawood, Kansas. As a first-generation K-Stater, I look forward to leaving behind accurate coverage for the current and future Wildcat community.