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Monday, December 22, 2014

Race for GPSA president touches on campus safety

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By Garrett Goeckner / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Hasan Faisal (left) asks a question regarding campus security to GPSA candidates Sharif Gias and Priscila Poliana during Thursday public forum. This debate, the second in a series of four debates, featured heated discussions about campus diversity, discrimination and security.

news@dailylobo.com

GPSA presidential candidates Sharif Gias and Priscila Poliana discussed on Thursday how they would have responded to the recent incidents of sexual battery and racism on campus.

At the second of a series of debates on Thursday both candidates made reference to the alleged Jan. 27, under-clothes groping of a female student by two men at Johnson Field. They also referenced the Feb. 4 alleged groping of a female student over her clothes by a man near Castetter Hall.

The candidates remarked as well on the March 1 incident in Coronado Hall in which black student Dominic Calhoun received a racist note on the door to his room. The note, which was drawn on his roommate’s dry-erase board, depicted an image of a stick figure man drawn in black ink with a noose leading from the figure’s neck to the word “N****r.”

Gias, an international Bangladeshi student, said he is no stranger to discrimination. He had previously attended a historically Black college, Delaware State University; worked for an investment company in St. Louis, Miss., a “very white” area of the country; and taught for three years at the University of Wisconsin.

“I have experienced racism,” he said. “Since I have faced racism before, I feel I don’t have to scream when it happens.”
Instead, Gias said that such experiences made him focus on constructive responses to such incidents.

At the University of Wisconsin, Gias worked with university administration to create a diversity team along those lines.

“If something bad happens, I don’t want to just make a statement saying ‘I’m sorry,’” he said. “Instead I want to take action so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Gias also said he has a plan for increasing diversity at UNM that is not necessarily based on demographics such as race. He said the plan must include faculty, not just students.

“We need to make this University diverse in experiences, not just in color,” he said.

Poliana, an international student from Brazil, after a review of her platform approached the topic of diversity through the filter of campus safety. She cited the recent sexual batteries on campus as well as the incident of a female College of Education professor’s being attacked outside of Simpson Hall on Feb. 19.
“Women are under attack on this campus,” she said.

Poliana also discussed the recent racist incident in Coronado Hall.

“I don’t take this lightly; this is not just harassment,” she said. “This is an attack on students of color.”

Poliana said campus safety would be one of her largest initiatives if elected, along with securing graduate student funding and bridging the historic divide between student bodies at main and North campuses.

She also said that through her personal student connections she has seen and heard about a lot of problems on campus, and would continue to use those personal networks to effect change.
“I’m not saying we need to create new strategy plans,” Poliana said. “I already have one. I’ve been doing this.”

The Q-and-A session of the forum included heated exchanges over both candidates’ platforms, experiences and how each could benefit the University community.

An audience member asked how each candidate would have handled the incident in Coronado Hall.

Poliana said she already joined in with African American Student Services’ efforts to create a task force, which plans to study the occurrence of these incidences on campus. The task force will then petition UNMPD and the UNM administration to respond to future incidents with recommendations based on the study’s results.

However, she said her involvement was not tied to the election.
“Regardless of the outcome of this election, I will be involved in this endeavor,” she said.

When pressed about long-term solutions to such racial incidents on campus, Poliana said the task force amounts to a long-term plan, because it will take the recommendations of many and work to create permanent changes in campus security.

In response, Gias cited his experiences outside of UNM and academic services, which he said Poliana lacked.

He criticized Poliana’s saying that she would use the same networks she’s been using to effect change in campus security.

“Coming from outside GPSA, I will bring new ideas to resolve our problems,” he said.

Gias said he would want to have graduate students go through campus security training for their own safety, especially because many graduate students work long hours and often walk around campus at odd hours.

Poliana said Gias had not provided specific details about his accomplishments, while she has a proven track record at UNM.

“I already know many community members and I’ve been invited by them to work on their initiatives,” she said. “I want to know about the experience that you have and how it’s relevant in the context of the University.”

Hasan Faisal, a doctoral candidate in civil engineering, asked what they would do to increase graduate student attendance to graduate workshops and if they would add new ones. The graduate workshops include sessions on securing funding and assistantships, and writing theses and dissertations.

Poliana did not address increasing attendance. She said she would use the workshops to prepare graduate and professional students for jobs after they graduate.

“One of the things that I’m noticing is that students come here, get a quality education, but then, what next?” she said.
She also said students should take advantage of the faculty/staff club on campus with its weekly happy hour, to promote interdisciplinary networking for research and jobs.

“Networking is especially important in a university context because a lot of those jobs aren’t even advertised,” Poliana said.
Gias said Poliana did not offer any concrete ideas.

“There’s a difference between a dream and action,” he said. “We need to build a bridge and reduce the gap.”

In response to Faisal’s question, Gias suggested that graduate students should have a place to go to if they need help in areas outside of their expertise, such as computer programming, language analysis or budget analysis.

“Through GPSA I would like to create a forum so that if a student needs technical help, they can go there and find someone,” he said. “First I reach them, and then I help them. If I can’t reach them, I can’t help them.”

GPSA Presidential Debates

Today
An open-forum debate discussing the importance of increased integration between main and North campuses.
Domenici Large Auditorium
on North Campus
4 to 5 p.m.

Saturday
General debate with questions from a
panel of GPSA Council representatives.
Domenici West Room 3010
9 a.m.