The student body election is underway after a debate between the candidates covering everything from freezing student tuition cost to sustaining free speech on campus took place on Tuesday night. During the debate, candidates were able to make their platforms clear to the student body in order for students to have a more informed outlook when voting.
UNH President Mark Huddleston was originally set to give an opening speech, but due to illness, was unable to attend. Mica Stark, assistant vice president for public affairs, spoke about the importance of students voting and how much is at stake for the university’s future.
Showing statistics about UNH and the improvements needed to cut tuition or raise funding from the state legislature, Stark told those in attendance that the student body representatives are key to making changes and improving student life.
Christian Merheb, the only student officially running on the ballot for university system student board representative, answered rounds of questioning from moderators, Alex Fries, the current student senate speaker, Cameron Cook, student senate executive officer, and Lincoln Crutchfield, the current UNH student board representative. Nicholas Boynton tried to run, but was unable to get the necessary signatures to be on the ballot.
“I found it unfortunate not having anyone to run against. I thought it would’ve been really productive on both sides and gained a lot from each other,” Merheb said.
Merheb is in Phi Mu Delta Fraternity, which has 50 registered members on WildcatLink. Merheb said that he did get signatures from his brothers and that that is a normal occurrence. Crutchfield and Fries are also members of the same fraternity.
When asked whether or not a close relationship with two high standing student representatives may have yielded an unfair advantage in gathering support or the necessary signatures, Merheb said, “I don’t think so and I would hope not… There are more people on the election committee that aren’t brothers in the fraternity.”
Opening statements for the presidential candidates was started off by the current student body vice president, Carely Rotenberg. She highlighted her experience throughout the past year and promised to continue working on what she and current president Jonathan Dean have started.
Presidential candidate Chris Mignanelli focused on his experience as a residential assistant (RA), and while he has no experience in Student Senate and admitted to only attending one meeting, he promised that Student Senate would begin working harder for students and become more visible to students if he were elected.
Presidential candidate Elena Ryan said that her experience working with “outside influences” made her more knowledgeable of what goes in to making change both on campus and at the administrative level.
The debate between candidates started off with a lightening round of questions with “yes” or “no” answers to gauge where they stood on current issues facing students. For the most part, the candidates agreed with each other on topics such as fighting sexual harassment on campus and the need for more post-college preparedness.
Ryan answered “no” when asked if the president should always follow the will of the majority. She later explained that we don’t always know what majority opinion is and that she wants to help the minoritized community.
“I will always support what students want and I will always listen to what students have to say, and I will be making decisions based on what I believe and what people representing students around me believe, and what students on a wider scale believe is best for this institution,” Ryan aid.
Mignanelli repeatedly said that Student Senate needs to do more to reach out to students and get them more involved. Mignanelli’s running mate, Luke Daly, said that one of their biggest strengths is that they don’t have any experience in student government and that their biggest issue is what they see as a student body that’s uninformed about exactly what the student government does.
Rotenberg and her running mate, Alexandra Burroughs, are the only two candidates who haven’t served on political organizations. Burroughs said it’s easy for her to not share her political opinions on matters and that she didn’t even know Rotenberg’s political affiliations.
As for Ryan and Mignanelli, both have worked with political organizations on campus. Ryan was president of College Democrats for two years and Mignanelli is the founding member of the Turning Point USA (TPUSA) chapter on campus.
TPUSA is a campus conservative activist group which describes itself on its website as a student movement for free markets and limited government. TPUSA has a project named Professor Watchlist which states, “The mission of Professor Watchlist is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Currently there are two professors from UNH on the list, Robin Hackett and Robert Woodward.
TPUSA’s handbook also encourages students to hold affirmative action bake sales and fake safe spaces to criticize and mock students who believe in them. Mignanelli repeated that he doesn’t agree with everything the organization does, specifically mentioning the Professor Watchlist.
“I believe holding that office (of student body president) would require bipartisanship so I would absolutely step down to prepare to assume my role to speak for all students,” Mignanelli said.
Ryan stated that she will cease all involvement with political organizations and stated her number one priority will be to work for the student body.