Coalition of Colors challenges ASG candidates on dedication to diversity

ASG president and executive vice presidential candidates discuss their diversity platforms at a debate hosted by Coalition of Colors Wednesday evening.

Skylar Zhang/Daily Senior Staffer

ASG president and executive vice presidential candidates discuss their diversity platforms at a debate hosted by Coalition of Colors Wednesday evening.

Jeanne Kuang, Assistant Campus Editor

Students across campus cultural groups said at a Wednesday debate that they are unsatisfied with the Associated Student Government candidates’ diversity platforms.

“The idea (is) that they only speak about diversity when they come to talk to diversity groups,” Alianza co-president Sobeida Peralta said. “It just gets down to who is more genuine about things. It’s just hard to find someone that actually cares and that cared before campaigning.”

The Coalition of Colors, which encompasses nine socio-political groups, hosted the debate, which Communication senior Jazzy Johnson moderated. The four candidates for ASG president and their running mates discussed empowering the multicultural community, reaching out to international students and persuading administrators to address issues of inclusion on campus. The contenders for academic vice president and student life vice president briefly introduced their platforms to the audience before the debate.

About 40 students attended the debate in Swift Hall and asked challenging questions about the candidates’ concern for campus inclusion.

Presidential candidate David Harris stressed the importance of “understanding how different people’s cultural background affect the way they think.”

“I’m starting to understand what it means to at least appear to be privileged,” he said, noting that he had been unwilling to think about diversity and inclusion until he was forced to when ASG discussed the ski team party that sparked a campus dialogue about inclusion last year.

Presidential candidate Benison Choi acknowledged that campus culture surrounding diversity needs to change.

“I think it’s very important, not just to reach out to students, but to do our best to create a safe space for people to talk about who they are,” the SESP junior said. “I think Northwestern … it’s just not the perfect space where people feel comfortable learning not only about themselves but about other people.”

Weinberg junior and vice presidential candidate Henry Brooke said he wants to enable students and groups to bring up issues themselves rather than have ASG “fight for you.”

“We do not know the problems that you face, which is why we can’t speak on your behalf,” Brooke said. “What we can do is put you in contact with the people you need to be talking to. … We don’t know what the problem is, you guys do. That’s why we are here to help you and not to tell you what we are going to do for you.”

The candidates also mentioned other hot-button topics related to inclusion, such as campus mental health services. In the past, some minority students have expressed dissatisfaction with the resources available at Counseling and Psychological Services. Students asked how the candidates would support and promote cultural student groups if elected.

Presidential candidate Ani Ajith, a Weinberg junior, said currently ASG-funded events for minority interest groups rarely attract outside students. He suggested finding ways to share culture beyond their small groups, potentially through partnerships.

Ajith, a former Daily staffer, proposed a “mental health screening day” in partnership with CAPS and For Members Only to “show that it’s something that’s important to all of us and break down these barriers.”

“This space, maybe on Deering Meadow or wherever we’re having it, is as much your space as it is mine, because we are Northwestern students and fundamentally, we are human,” he said.

Students challenged candidates toward the end of the debate, asking whether they truly knew the issues faced by multicultural student groups and whether they were interested in the groups solely for votes. Candidates had a limited amount of time to respond to these claims due to time constraints.

Audience members said the debate was stewed in rhetoric and ultimately unsatisfying.

“I just feel like a lot of things are just still platform-like,” said Peter Limthongviratn, outgoing external president of the Asian Pacific American Coalition. “If you’re going to represent a community that has continually felt marginalized on campus and oppressed on campus, you need to understand how your identity and privilege are going to affect those communities even if you want to help because there is going to be that disconnect.”

Limthongviratn said he questioned whether the candidates are genuinely devoted to diversity when the topic was only a focus at the Coalition of Colors debate and not at Tuesday’s ASG-sponsored debate, a view shared by Peralta. This year, the coalition has decided not to endorse a candidate, but individual groups are still able to do so. Alianza has endorsed Ajith and his running mate Alex Van Atta, the pair announced Wednesday night following the debate.

“It’s a judgement call,” Peralta said. “You don’t want to endorse a candidate that seems like he or she just came here to get the vote.”