On Wednesday evening, candidates for the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) Executive Committee faced off against each other in four Zoom debates, moderated by Sabrina Lin ’21, Kate Lusignan ’21, Nina McKay ’21 and Harry Sherman ’21. In the presidential debate, candidates Ryan Britt ’22 and Wilder Short ’22 answered questions related to the pandemic, student mental health and accessibility.
The debates opened with each candidate delivering a 90-second opening statement. Britt, who is currently the president of the Class of 2022 and has previously served as chair of student affairs on BSG’s Executive Committee, said his experiences as a first-generation, low-income (FGLI) student have prepared him to support Bowdoin students as BSG president.
“I’ve struggled in many ways throughout my time here as a result of who I am and where I come from, and it has driven me to a passion to try to support others who might be feeling similar,” Britt said. “I’d be truly blessed to continue the work I started as a sophomore as your next BSG president, while also making sure to work as collaboratively as possible with the many leaders across our campus that are advocating for what they are also passionate about.”
Short, who has previously served as chair of facilities and sustainability and president of the Class of 2022, emphasized his leadership and people skills, explaining his goal of being approachable and accessible to the student body.
“I’m unabashedly a people person,” Short said. “Family, friends [and] community members alike have made me who I am today and have shaped my goals and values in life, especially here at the College … For that, I thank you and hope to give back however I can. And I know what I do best and what I can do best is help people.”
After opening statements, candidates discussed what BSG has done in the past year that they disagreed with or would do differently. Short explained that he wished BSG had been more communicative with the student body.
“I think that student government has, unfortunately, taken a step back and not been as proactive, whether that be assembly or class councils alike, in advocating for students, reaching out to students, keeping up messaging for students,” Short said. “I think over the past three years, this is a frustration that’s been common and I think it’s only been exacerbated by the pandemic … I think an email once or twice a week, while it can be annoying, is certainly better than no communication at all.”
Britt, on the other hand, said that he wished BSG’s communication with the administration had been more effective.
“I saw a lot of us trying to advocate for things with the administration directly, and I think because of the nature of this semester, they put a lot of what we were proposing on the back burner and really didn’t take that seriously because of the unprecedented time of being in a pandemic, which is very frustrating,” he said.
Candidates then responded to specific questions about their tenure on the BSG and accomplishments in previously-held positions.
Short cited his role getting cameras put up in the dining halls as chair of facilities and sustainability, as well as his experience bringing together different class years for a laser tag event as class president.
“It was actually really a nice event to go to because it was interacting with kids that we hadn’t interacted with before,” Short said. “That’s obviously a big concern of mine heading into next semester, just how we sort of tackle that similar issue … I think that’s a bit of a jumping board for me to head into next semester with.”
Britt discussed his success planning an alternate Family Weekend event for students whose families are unable to visit campus, as well as his advocacy for a BSG proposal that would create a committee composed of students, faculty and staff to discuss mental health issues.
“I feel like there’s a really big disconnect between how the administration thinks we’re feeling and how we talk about how we’re feeling,” Britt said.
The candidates then further addressed mental health issues on campus.
Short said he hoped BSG members would undergo mental health preparedness training in order to serve as better resources for students.
“[Mental health] is a subject on this campus that’s unfortunately taboo. It’s stigmatized, unrightfully so,” Short said. “I think having just at the very basic level some understanding of what some of our peers may be going through as an assembly can perhaps be the fire needed for some people to step up and be a bit more vocal when it comes to getting things passed or done or spoken about with the administration.”
Britt criticized the College’s Mental Health Moments emails, emphasized the necessity of hiring more staff at Counseling Services and, like Short, discussed the importance of destigmatizing conversations about mental health on campus.
“[One goal is] trying to cultivate a culture of where you’re allowed to talk about what you’re struggling [with],” Britt said. “I understand we’re all super ambitious people, and that excelling is something that we have all done our entire lives. I don’t think struggling should be something that cancels out excelling and I feel like that’s kind of how it is looked at in our culture at Bowdoin. I’m personally someone that’s willing to be outspoken about my experiences, and I hope by that leadership, other people feel the same way in the future.”
Candidates for chair of academic affairs, Philip Al Mutawaly ’24 and Sophia Pantzer ’24, and candidates for chair of facilities and sustainability, Bella Turk ’24 and Luke Bartol ’23, also faced off in their own respective debates. Candidates for uncontested positions—Andrew Kaleigh ’24, Miranda Baker ’24, Carolina Escobar ’24, Katalina Echavarri ’24 and Anna Constantine ’23—answered questions from Sherman in their own Zoom breakout room.
Sabrina Lin ’21, Kate Lusignan ’21 and Nina McKay ’21 are members of the Orient.