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Penn's NEC moderated a debate featuring UA presidential candidates on Sunday.

Credit: Marcus Katz

This year’s Undergraduate Assembly presidential debate was hosted in Huntsman Hall on Sunday night. During the debate, monitored by the Nominations and Elections Committee, presidential candidates and College juniors Aidan McConnell and Jane Meyer faced off regarding a variety of campus issues.

McConnell’s running mate is College and Wharton junior and Wharton representative Bill Ding, and Meyer’s is College sophomore and SAS representative Ray Clark. College junior and NEC Vice Chair for Education Elizabeth Oppong moderated the debate session.

Meyer has served as communications director and social justice director during her time on the UA. Her main platforms include sexual assault bystander information training, increased open expression on campus, improving campus mental wellness, improving Penn Transit and Penn’s relationship with the West Philadelphia community.

McConnell has been involved in the UA’s Budget, Social Justice and Dining, Sustainability and Facilities committees over the past two years. He dubbed his campaign “Action plan,” an acronym representing his platforms, including programming on sexual assault prevention, technological improvement, international student needs and others.

The debate opened with prepared questions addressing a variety of issues affecting the Penn community.

The two candidates addressed mental health issues at Penn, especially focusing on stress related to recruitment and internships.

“It is a multifaceted problem and there is no panacea. It’s important to engage students in peer support,” Meyer said, mentioning peer programs such as Penn Benjamins.

McConnell shared his own personal story of recruitment stress and emphasized the importance of bringing a human face into the picture by engaging with student organizations such as Penn Hillel. He also mentioned his plan to “reach out to career counseling services” at Penn.

Regarding the extension of International Student Orientation, both candidates acknowledged the importance of considering the actual cost of the program through conversations with the administration.

McConnell also shared his goal of building a “Pan-house” that will unite international students and help foster dialogues.

The debate then moved to questions introduced by members of the audience, ranging from the voices of women of color on campus to Penn’s involvement with the Philadelphia community.

Meyer and McConnell take different approaches to fossil fuel divestment, but both agree that administrators will play a large role in the process.

Meyer endorsed divestment, emphasizing the importance of student voice. McConnell, on the other hand, said that he initially opposed fossil fuel divestment but envisions a “broader, better communication with the Penn administrators.”

One member of the audience asked the candidates about the biggest challenges they foresee if elected and how they plan to overcome them.

Citing the number of student groups and administrative branches involved in Penn legislating, McConnell said he will find a balance among those voices by “mediating these discussions” and fostering positive relationships.

Meyer identified her greatest challenge as her lack of previous experience on the UA executive board, but she said she has “faith in mentors of mine,” — including the UA president and vice president — “who will be able to show me the ropes.”

In their closing statements, both candidates encouraged interested students to ask questions. “We’re representing you, and your voice is so important,” Meyer said.

The NEC will host a virtual debate on Monday and another live debate between presidential and vice presidential candidates on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Starbucks below 1920 Commons, with a dessert reception. Sunday’s debate can be watched in full on the Penn Student Government YouTube channel.

Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that Meyer is working on a plan to pair domestic students with international students to aid their adjustment process. This project is in fact being spearheaded by Daniel Kahana, a Vice Presidential candidate and College sophomore, and Meyer is not playing a role in the project. The DP regrets the error.

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