ASG presidential candidates debate mental health, Northwestern in 2020

ASG Presidential candidates Aaron Zelikovich, Ani Ajith, Benison Choi, and David Harris debated on Monday evening. The debate addressed issues such as mental health, meal plans, and ASG’s role on campus.

Melody Song/Daily Senior Staffer

ASG Presidential candidates Aaron Zelikovich, Ani Ajith, Benison Choi, and David Harris debated on Monday evening. The debate addressed issues such as mental health, meal plans, and ASG’s role on campus.

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

The four candidates for Associated Student Government president took the stage Tuesday at the McCormick Tribune Center to spar over the proper role of ASG, what their top priorities would be as president and what they want Northwestern to look like years after they graduate.

The debate wrapped up a series of four ASG-sponsored debates prior to Friday’s elections. SESP juniors David Harris and Benison Choi and Weinberg juniors Aaron Zelikovich and Ani Ajith maintained a friendly tone throughout the 90-minute debate, punctuated by fist bumps between Choi and Zelikovich after several of their answers.

The candidates began with four-minute opening statements to reiterate their campaign platforms in front of about 75 students, most of whom were involved in ASG or affiliated with a campaign.

Harris, who is running with SESP junior Jo Lee, led the responses by establishing his belief that ASG is the only student group on campus that can affect the lives of all students.

“We all find our acronyms on campus. We all find the student groups to affiliate with,” Harris said. “With ASG, we can ask the question, ‘How can we make Northwestern a better place?’ and answer it any way we see fit.”

Choi, running with Weinberg junior Danny Kim, used his statement to recall his disappointment with the lack of welcoming he found when he joined ASG Senate.

“I have been in student government since third grade,” Choi said. “I was the kid who changed your colors. I was the kid who took attendance. … I go into Senate the first day. It’s not that great.”

Zelikovich, running with Weinberg junior Henry Brooke, began his statement by asking all the ASG senators in attendance to stand up for recognition, calling them the “life and blood of ASG.” Zelikovich said Senate’s core importance lies in its representation.

“This is the only student organization that brings students from all over campus to one room,” he said.

Ajith, a former Daily staffer running with McCormick junior Alex Van Atta, wrapped up opening statements by sharing his goal of making ASG more inclusive.

“There are 8,000 students here, and there’s a universe of things that we’re doing,” he said. “It’s up to us to go out and look for them, to broaden our Northwestern experience. That’s why, over the past two or three years, Alex and I have been deliberately trying to seek out a lot of different communities.”

The four candidates then proceeded to a question-and-answer session, where they answered a series of questions from moderator Alex Deitchman, a Weinberg sophomore, including what their top two priorities would be upon becoming president.

Choi evoked his campaign platforms of “Enable,” reflecting his belief that Senate needs to be more friendly to new students, and “Engage,” which refers to increasing student group interaction. Zelikovich said his perception of student desires has changed over the campaign period, but his two focus areas would be bringing a unifying force to Senate and fostering community safety, which together encompass alcohol, transportation and mental health.

Ajith and Harris each also called greater support for mental health a priority. Ajith also emphasized student engagement and Harris referenced a broader shift in ASG culture with a focus on reforming meal plans.

The candidates also got a chance to flash some tongue-in-cheek creativity during a “lightning round” of one-minute answers with no rebuttals, including a question about how they envision NU looking in 2020.

Zelikovich said he foresaw the football team in the Rose Bowl, Ajith said his eighth-grade sister would be graduating from NU, Harris said a statue of football coach Pat Fitzgerald would be erected by then, and Choi said he wants “students to be able to run around naked” with happiness.

“Can we rebut the nudity point?” Harris joked.

The candidates will meet for a final time Wednesday at a debate hosted by the Coalition of Colors.