Students and candidates convened in the Hughes-Trigg Atrium for a Q&A Session with the student body officer candidates Tuesday, April 3.
Nathan DeVera and Davis Wells are fighting for the position of SMU’s student body president.
Victor Sanchez, running for Vice President, and Darian Taylor, running for Secretary, are unopposed and have secured the position for the next school year.
Also present was Kathy Hines, who is running for Graduate Affairs Officer.
Both Sanchez and Taylor had the same message: they’re unopposed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a platform.
The cornerstones of Sanchez’s campaign are organizational growth, student health and campus safety.
“We need more members in these [student] organizations, we need more students involved… That is where the creativity comes out. That is where initiative comes out,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also wants to implement new free-weight machines in Dedman Center.
“I think that would be a good incentive to get more people in there,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also wants to increase campus safety, by “getting a student-led committee to channel information in Student Senate directly to SMU PD,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez currently serves as the Hispanic-American senator in student senate. He also served on the Senate Finance Committee.
“A huge part of my platform going into Hispanic Senator last year… was to get complete funding for all Latino and Hispanic organizations on campus,” Sanchez said. “I believe things went really smoothly.”
Sanchez and his friends also founded a campus organization.
“I also, along with a couple of my friends, we started an organization my freshman year, and we now have over 50 members,” Sanchez said. “It’s called the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs.”
The three hallmarks of Taylor’s campaign are information, communication and organization. Taylor said one of the biggest problems with SMU is “no one ever knows what’s going on.”
“There is a lot of things that the Student Senate and administration do that the regular, everyday student does not know about,” Taylor said. “And I want to be that person to let people know… how we can help them achieve their goals.”
This sentiment coincides with his plan for organization. Taylor wants “students [to] feel as if they can come to the Student Senate, talk to the administration directly, so that they can have their voice be heard,” Taylor said.
“I think if we have information, communication and all in an organized way, we can have a better student experience on this campus,” Taylor said.
“I am only a sophomore, and I have done a lot of things,” Taylor said. “I work with Dr. Mmeje in a one-on-one capacity, who is the Vice President of Student Affairs. I also get to serve on the SMU Conduct Board.”
Working on the SMU Conduct Code with the SMU Conduct Board is one of Taylor’s responsibilities.
“I can bring that experience to my time as Secretary,” Taylor said.
Kathy Hines, a graduate student in Perkins School of Theology, mentioned the division between undergraduate and graduate students.
“There is an issue with separation… We need to solidify our relationship,” Hines said. “We are one and the same.”
Hines discussed her past experience as executive director for a health center in Plano.
“I had to pull sources in order to bring the community in, serving the people, and giving back to the community — the purpose for which we were actually there,” Hines said.
The candidates found common ground later in the event, but at the beginning, their plans as president varied.
DeVera currently serves as student body vice president, which he described as the right-hand man to the student body president.
“I’ve learned a lot,” DeVera said.
In his opening statement, DeVera discussed his desires to “tangibly amplify the student voice, and what that looks like is getting students… in meetings with other members of Student Senate with key administrators in these key decision-making processes,” DeVera said.
DeVera also wants to improve on-campus housing.
“That includes everything from the residential commons system to upperclassman housing, to even Greek housing, [and] continuing my work with RLSH,” DeVera said.
DeVera said he would continue working in the capacity of housing and with risk management. He wants problems to be addressed in a more timely manner.
“If there is problem, it’s not just a work order,” DeVera said.
DeVera also has a desire to innovate in working with the new university chief information officer Michael Hites. He wants to create a university-wide calendar app platform containing all student events from varsity athletic events to community service, philanthropies and Tate Lectures, DeVera said.
Some of DeVera’s past leadership experience includes joining commons council and being a student ambassador. He served as a First-Year Senator, a Lyle Senator and Parliamentarian before he was Vice President.
“My work in Student Senate — that is the defining factor for when someone serves their community,” DeVera said.
“To highlight some of what I’ve done as student body vice president, what’s in the books for me to do is to create the budgets for all of committees in Senate, but also to spearhead a liaison program between Senate to reach out to student organizations,” DeVera said.
“I’ve really been able to have the opportunity to do a lot more than that,” DeVera said.
DeVera mentioned working with Facilities Management to improve campus lighting. He also discussed his work with Dedman Recreational Center.
“I went to a conference with them recently, in February, actually, to talk to other colleges and universities to see… What do you [they] do that maybe we don’t do at SMU?” DeVera said.
DeVera also discussed his work in the Lyle School of Engineering regarding a 4+1 program, which is an accelerated program for students working on both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
“There were some ambiguities in the interpretation of it that I had to work with the administration and am still currently working on,” DeVera said.
Wells, who currently serves as student body secretary, has other plans.
“It’s my passion for helping students that has led me to run for this presidential campaign,” Wells said.
His plans follow the sentiment.
“The SMU Police Department… is a wonderful department that we have… But I really don’t think the student perspective matches that. And I want to fix that, especially because students in the multicultural populations are frequently targeted and profiled against by our SMU police department, which is simply unacceptable,” Wells said.
He also wants to “bridge gaps between all leaders of Greek organizations and the SMU Police Department, to get us all on the same page,” Wells said.
“I think it important as a university to have a 100 percent green campus,” Wells said.
“Only about 50 percent of SMU recycles. I am on the Sustainability Committee and work currently to make SMU a 100 percent recycling campus again, and that starts with first-year student education… just so everyone is on the same page again on how to properly recycle,” Wells said.
Another one of Wells’ missions is to draw attention to two specific groups of the SMU population.
“I want to work with our diverse populations and multicultural sororities and fraternities to give them a greater voice and visibility on campus, because I don’t think that they’re appreciated enough,” Wells said.
When asked about SMU’s greatest weakness, Wells said diversity — or the lack of diversity — was the issue.
In addition, he wants “to shine a light to the amazing contribution that Greek life adds to campus because I think they’re frequently undermined by the institution and the administration does not respect these populations,” Wells said.
Wells’ time as an AARO leader was a pivotal part his experience, Wells said.
“Getting to know every single one of them and their parents and making their SMU experience the best that it can be really developed my leadership skills and is what drove my passion to be a student leader,” Wells said.
Wells said he would hone his leadership skills as President to address student housing concerns.
“A voice as big as the student body president that is representing the entire study body, going to head of facilities with people and speaking your truth and letting them know the hardships that you face on a day to day basis in these dorms that are just not up to par,” Wells said.
Within Senate, he also served as a Pre-Major Senator.
Perhaps the most unifying moment for the candidates was when they discussed free speech, specifically in reference to recent events, including ‘Louder with Crowder at SMU’ and the consequent protests.
“That sparked a lot of really good debate between different sides,” Wells said.
“At the end of the day, every Mustang does not feel valued, and that is especially near and dear to my heart,” Wells said.
“It was an oversight by Senate as a whole… that we funded $15,000 to Steven Crowder to come and spew hate speech to our student body. And, while this is free speech and what not, it’s hate speech. I will not tolerate that at SMU,” Wells said.
OUTLaw, an LGBTQ and ally law student group, recently held a protest regarding this issue.
“But I do think that, being at a university, free speech is such an important thing, and I really did appreciate the protest from the Law LGBT Center and also the counter protest from Young Americans for Freedom. I think that is such an important thing for us to do as college students, to combat hate speech with peaceful protests, which is exactly what we did,” Wells said.
“I want to make sure that every Mustang genuinely feels valued because right now, they don’t,” Wells said.
DeVera had similar thoughts.
“All university is a time for people to expand their mindset and their beliefs, especially because after these four years, we might not be in an area where there are so many types of diverse people in one concentrated area, and I think it’s really important to have those conversations and to be able to have that ability for free speech,” DeVera said.
“Now, I believe in free speech and I’m a proponent of it, but of course there is a line, and that line was crossed recently,” DeVera said.
“In my capacity as student body president, because I’m very action-oriented… I want to make sure that Student Senate as a chamber is always… engaged in our decision-making. Because, yes, it was a fully unanimous decision. $15,000 were funded by the Student Senate to fund this organization’s event,” DeVera said.
“As president, I will make sure that Student Senate as a whole is engaged and everyone is making sure they’re looking at every single event with a lot of scrutiny, just to make sure that we’re making the best decision for the student body as representatives,” DeVera said.
“I’m a proponent of an open-door policy and having conversation. If an event like this were to happen, I would be willing to have a lot of students meet with me in my office or email me. I’d be willing to have that conversation,” DeVera said.
Sanchez then voiced his thoughts on the issue.
“We did pass a bill earlier in last semester about free speech and letting us be more flexible with free speech and what we can do and what we can’t do with free speech on campus. And the only conflict to that bill was ‘What if?’ What if actual hate speech happens on this campus? How will that bill protect the students who are being attacked? And we all thought we’ll deal with it when the time comes, and the time has come and it hasn’t even been six months,” Sanchez said.
“I do believe we need to deal with this diligently and come up with solutions that are well thought, well educated, and I think that comes back to my point in my platform for organizational growth. We need to get more people in these organizations because we suffer from groupthink… and if we get more people in these organizations, I think there will be more diverse opinions and less polarized opinions and I think our margin of error will decrease,” Sanchez said.
“These organizations are an important part of our SMU community,” Sanchez said. “Unfortunately, this event did happen and I think the solution is to address it.”
Taylor also contributed to the conversation.
“Now the thing with that is that Steven Crowder and the College Republicans did nothing at all wrong in their request to ask for funding… I think that there should be more information, more communication and more organization about how Senate works,” Taylor said.
Beyond funding, Taylor identified a culture shift that needs to occur.
“We have to understand how to cultivate a culture where we can inspire people to speak up and come to Senate and come to different events and express their opinions so that things like this won’t happen,” Taylor said.
“I am tremendously proud of how the students on this campus handled it,” Hines said. “The dialogue — it’s really important to talk about things.”
“It is better to be equipped in any situation. It is better to learn from these situations,” Hines said.
Voting starts Wednesday, April 4 and closes at midnight Thursday, April 5.