Three UA tickets face off in debate ahead of election next week

7359 uadebate
Candidates for President and Vice President of the Undergraduate Association debate in the Student Center lobby Tuesday night. From left: Sophia Liu ’17, Matthew Davis ’16, Laila Shehata ’16, Robert Mahari ’17, Siobhan Rigby ’16, and Daniel Wang ’16.

Three tickets spoke at the annual Undergraduate Association president/vice-president debate, co-hosted by The Tech and the UA, on Tuesday evening.

The candidates for president and vice president were Matthew Davis ’16 and Sophia Liu ’17, Laila Shehata ’16 and Robert Mahari ’17, and Daniel Wang ’16 and Siobhan Rigby ’16.

Each ticket spoke on topics ranging from dorm security measures to sexual assault and mental health, as well as their respective platforms. Also addressed during the debate was the recent UA Judicial Board decision regarding Lil B’s visit to MIT last year.

Sexual assault issues on campus

The candidates were asked what the UA has been doing to address the problem of sexual assault on campus. All tickets discussed the UA’s involvement with the Title IX Student Working Group and the It’s On Us campaign that took place on campus earlier this school year.

Liu said that the UA has not yet openly acknowledged sexual assault as a big issue on campus and needs to do so.

Mahari spoke about his past experience working with the president of the Panhellenic Association, Taylor Rose ’16, to ensure that shuttles continued to safely transport students around campus despite harsh winter conditions.

Wang and Rigby described their plan to coordinate more student activities with resources from the MIT administration to increase awareness of sexual assault on campus.

Student mental health and wellness

Shehata discussed having a town-hall-style discussion between students and administrators about mental health on campus. Relevant administrators, Shehata said, should have question-and-answer sessions with students so that it’s clear exactly what the administration is doing to address mental health at MIT.

Wang said that the UA should facilitate counselors’ coming to specific living groups so that students do not have to go to Mental Health themselves.

When addressing mental health on campus, Davis said that “mental health is different from community to community” at MIT. He proposed more internal community discussions. Liu added that there also needs to be a clearer approach to other mental health issues like anxiety, and not just depression.

Dorm security

Wang said that there has not yet been a clear resolution to discussions about dorm security.

His running mate, Rigby, pointed out that the newly applied security measures came after the death of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, and that “although it is difficult for friends [of residents] to enter dorm buildings, in peer institutions, you can’t even get into a dorm unless you live there.”

In regards to dorm security, Mahari said that the newly applied security measures were indicative of “MIT working harder, not smarter.”

“It’s still very easy to get into Burton Conner if you forget your ID. You can climb in through one of the bottom windows or walk in behind someone else. These changes haven’t addressed security; they have only made our lives a little less pleasant.”

Mahari and Shehata said that the UA should act a support system to help dorms and living groups communicate students’ views about dorm security to the administration.

Davis also agreed that discussions about dorm security between students and the administration must be facilitated by the UA. “Students aren’t being heard about security issues,” he said. He added that the UA must be more forward-thinking, and, for example, be mindful of possible security changes that may occur once East Campus undergoes renovations.

Unconstitutionality of recent UA expenditures

The UA Judicial Board recently declared “constitutionally inappropriate” the authorization of UA funds for rapper Lil B’s visit to MIT in November. Candidates were asked for their views on what happened and on transparency at the UA.

Shehata said that the UA’s lack of transparency is a symptom of the way it is currently organized, and that to address this, more bylaws may be needed.

Davis also affirmed a lack of transparency in the UA and that UA officers must be held more accountable for their actions. He said that the UA lacked structures to hold officers accountable.

Wang disagreed that the UA’s structure needed to be changed, saying that the UA constitution was not followed when the Lil B payments were made.

“It’s not that the right thing was done and the wrong result occurred,” he said. “The wrong thing was done with a wrong result.”

Closing statements

Wang said that the goals of his and Rigby’s ticket included holding a lecture series with leaders in the real world, inspiring more students to help with the UA to fix the UA’s manpower problem, holding a mental health summit, and increasing collaboration between administrators and the Title IX Student Working Group.

Shehata and Mahari said they planned to hold a series of town hall meetings for administrators and students to discuss issues such as advising, grade transparency, academic culture at MIT, and stress on campus. They said that all of their goals were realistic and could be accomplished within a year.

Davis and Liu discussed their past leadership positions within their respective dorms and the UA. They mentioned their plans to make the MIT undergraduate body a more international presence and connect students to places around the world.

The debate, moderated by two members of The Tech’s executive board, Will Conway ’16 and Tushar Kamath ’16, took place on the first floor of the Student Center. Candidates responded to questions posed by The Tech and by students in attendance.

Matt & Sophia supporter over 6 years ago

The Tech's article - and the questions they asked - misses the point. The UA president's job isn't to have positions on issues; it's to organize people who do have issues. Sure, it's interesting to know what the candidates' personal opinions are, but it's a terrible way to make a decision on who to vote for.

The most compelling part of the answers to the security question, for instance, was not Robert talking about how easy it was to get into Burton-Conner, but Matthew Davis describing how he skillfully organized a New House Security Committee to put political pressure on the administration to lobby for the changes that New House residents wanted. I thought that was very impressive. Why isn't it in the article?

I support Matthew Davis because he has a history of effective organization and because he has specific, good plans for making the UA a more effective organization. These include allowing UA Council to elect its own Speaker, submitting monthly reports to the undergraduate body, establishing a student leadership blog, and restructuring the UA website to more clearly explain how to get involved.

Ultimately, very few of the things candidates promise in their platforms will end up happening. What matters is how they manage people.

Laila & Robert supporter over 6 years ago

Just to add my own two cents: having a speaker elected from Council to lead Council meetings instead of the President seems like an extreme and potentially ineffective solution to the issue of the President not sharing information about meetings with administration with Council. If Council members want to hear what is being discussed in Officer meetings with administration and provide input from their constituents (aka why Council exists), wont having someone other than the President chairing Council push the President to more of a sideline role when they, as the one with the most information on what policies are being discussed, should be leading the agenda? At least, that is my understanding of why the Constitution is currently laid out as such.

This being the case, the solution really needs to be much simpler. I think Laila and Roberts platform lays out some straightforward and effective ways to increase transparency between the UA and student body, which would naturally lead to more collaboration between the Officers and Council if implemented correctly.

Side note about the UA website (something mentioned in Laila and Robert's as well as Matt and Sophia's platforms), it is my understanding that the UA Secretary is supposed to maintain the website and post agendas and minutes for Council meetings. I may be wrong I only briefly skimmed the Constitution. However if this is true, I find it interesting that this comes up so often in Matt and Sophias platform considering Sophia is the current Secretary and could have easily addressed these problems already.

As a response to what 1 said about Matts work with the New House Security Committee, Id also like to point out Lailas involvement in the Bexley Interim Site. Having seen her at meeting after meeting collecting input from student leaders about what the student body wants for the site and following up with feedback from the administrators involved, she has shown she is committed to openly representing students. I dont want to discredit Matt for his great work, just point out that there are multiple tickets that have demonstrated their leadership skills and ability to manage people.

Of course, I hope that no one decides which ticket to vote for based on my comment or that of 1. Instead, I encourage everyone to read through the candidates' platforms and make up their own minds. Laila and Roberts can be found at