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ASCSU Elections: ASCSU presidential debate intensifies campaign season

ASCSU+candidates+wait+to+start+the+ASCSU+Presidential+and+Vice+Presidential+Debates.
Collegian | Cait Mckinzie
Associated Students of Colorado State University candidates wait to start the ASCSU Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates March 26.
CTV Channel 11
Watch the full debate for ASCSU President.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of The Collegian’s 2024 ASCSU elections coverage. Coverage will include profiles of each speaker of the senate, vice presidential and presidential candidate; debate coverage; and coverage of any elections news. Search 2024 ASCSU elections on collegian.com to see complete coverage as it is published.

The Associated Students of Colorado State University, in cooperation with CTV, held a presidential and vice presidential debate Tuesday, March 26, in the Lory Student Center University Ballroom.

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The livestreamed debate offered the three presidential tickets a more formal campaigning opportunity, with candidates fielding questions regarding their motivations for running, their goals if elected and their qualifications. Candidates were also allowed to offer rebuttals, sparking heated exchanges between debate participants at multiple intervals.

Core topics of discussion included ASCSU’s relationship with students; diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; and student organization funding. Audience members and viewers of the CTV livestream were allowed to submit questions, allowing engaged students to voice their concerns directly to ASCSU officials.

ASCSU is aiming for another increase in voter participation after last year’s elections were determined by only 14% of the student population. The organization achieved a record-high 26% turnout in 2019 before participation was mired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This election cycle is the first in recent history to include an incumbent candidate, prompting condemnation from several ASCSU officials and challenging candidates who warn against the danger of “power hoarding” within the organization.

Sitting President Nick DeSalvo and current Chief of Staff Braxton Dietz spent much of their time reiterating their wealth of experience and record of results gained during their time in elected office. The administration recently announced their success in lobbying the Colorado General Assembly to ban the controversial U+2 residential policy at a state level, which the DeSalvo/Braxton campaign used to justify reelection to undecided voters.

“I don’t blame the student body for not knowing what ASCSU is or what we do because for the last 20 years, they’ve grown accustomed to ASCSU presidents coming into their classrooms, promising to fix U+2 and defaulting entirely on their promise,” DeSalvo said. “I made that promise last year when I campaigned for student body president, and I followed through on it.”

Echoing his first presidential campaign, DeSalvo touted his long endorsement list, with Fort Collins Mayor Jeni Arndt headlining. Both candidates continually emphasized their institutional knowledge of ASCSU, claiming it would allow their second term to be more immediately productive. 

ASCSU Director of Health Jorja Whyte and Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leticia Madrigal-Tapia, presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively, said they believe they can use their experience and connection to student organizations to improve internal ASCSU relationships, expand sponsored programs on campus and engage with students on a more personal level. Whyte and Madrigal-Tapia said they regard diversity, equity and inclusion as a cornerstone of their campaign, pledging to continue their commitment to bettering the college experience for marginalized students. 

“As it exists right now, ASCSU is not an inclusive space,” Whyte said. “Students don’t feel welcome to come into our office. … That needs to change. Having a background in policy and understanding the way that ASCSU functions is not enough. We also need to have our pulse on every single area on campus.”

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The pair also emphasized their campus involvements outside of ASCSU, claiming they will allow them to reach more students from diverse identities and fields of study. Whyte and Madrigal-Tapia appeared the most energized of the candidates onstage and criticized the incumbent campaign for their lack of meaningful community engagement — one of the core points of contention among the debate’s participants. 

Presidential candidate Ava Ayala, the current speaker of the senate, and vice presidential candidate Claudia Paraiso, the current speaker pro tempore, rounded out the presidential challengers. The duo, in line with the other campaigns, framed their experience within ASCSU as a significant advantage while subsequently pledging to use their diverse backgrounds to better support students outside of ASCSU. 

“I’m not in this role because I’m a political science major,” Ayala said. “I’m a zoology major, and I really love doing this for students. No matter what, I still plan to reach out and be there for students.”

Ayala and Paraiso also emphasized their commitment to government transparency and outreach, denouncing the current administration for its lack of inclusivity and full financial transparency. 

Although the first segment of the debate remained largely civil, the same cannot be said for the closing stages. Several questions from members of the audience sparked hostility throughout the room, with multiple attendees being silenced for violating rules of decorum. 

Voting opens for students through RAMweb for presidential, speaker of the senate and senator candidates April 1.

Reach Sam Hutton at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Sam_Hut14.

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