By: Staff Writer Luke Cullifer
It was standing room only in the packed room on the third floor of the Student Union. The three candidates, Wilson Sink, Bradley Opere, and John Taylor stood in front of a room filled with potential voters, each showing signs of nervous excitement. The moderators, representing their respective student political organizations, sat to the right, and opened with a spirit of bipartisanship and cohesiveness, welcoming the audience and the candidates to the College Republicans/Young Democrats SBP Forum. Without wasting much time, the debate was underway with each candidate giving opening remarks to the diverse audience in front of them. Like the majority of politics, the candidates sounded at least partially the same, but even within those first sixty seconds, notable vision differences arose among the three contenders. All addressed the issues that are plaguing our University; issues such as racial tension, mental health, and Board of Governor’s transparency. However, there was a similar and yet different sentiment among each campaign. To me, it seemed as if each platform could be described in a simple word, and that word was repeated throughout the candidates answers for each question and seemed to be the common theme across their bid for Carolina’s highest office.
For Bradley Opere, that word was community. On a range of issues discussed, Bradley continued to insinuate that the only way meaningful change could be procured on our campus was by uniting as a collective student body and pushing for change. When speaking of sexual violence and assault, Opere pushed that this needed to be a campus-wide initiative. To him there was no question that the SBP needed to lead this charge, but no one person could fix such an insurmountable problem on their own; they would need an entire Carolina Community. It is for these reasons that Opere advocated for more students to receive One Act training, a training that teaches students the dangers of sexual assault and how it can be prevented. Organizations, he noted, needed to step up and require their members to receive these trainings. They needed to foster discussion on the topic and help Carolina unite as a singular voice speaking out against this kind of atrocity.
Unification remained a major part of his platform as he spoke on things like gender neutral bathrooms and race relations on UNC’s campus. In the same spirit as his policies on sexual assault, Opere urged students to step up and speak out for the changes they wanted to see. After working for the last two years on the Multicultural Diversity and Affairs branch of the SGA Executive Council, he realized that issues such as these that affected minorities as well as LGBTQ students were important to the physical and mental health of this campus, but still it was not a job one man could do by himself. Instead, Opere urged for students to come together as a united community and speak up for the changes they wanted to see, with the SBP simply leading the charge. Let us all speak up for gender neutral bathrooms, let us all speak up for the removal of Silent Sam, let us all speak up as to why minorities are increasingly leaving this campus, let us all speak up but let us do it together, seemed to be Opere’s battling cry. As SBP, Opere has promised to stand up and speak out for the students of Chapel Hill, but he needs the community behind him to do so. Thus, it seems that Bradley’s campaign and his vision for this campus can be summarized as a man trying to lead a community of people toward a better campus for all.
In the case of John Taylor, the word would undoubtedly be bridge, and it is his hope that he will be able to bridge the gap between Student Government and their constituents. Taylor sees himself as an outsider candidate and it is true compared to his two counterparts who have each spent a large proportion of their Carolina experience in Student Government. From this perspective, Taylor hopes to offer some common sense solutions to the student body and show more transparency within the executive branch, bridging the two bodies together. The plans he described through the debate were not ones of intricacy or great involvement, but rather ones he believed could be easily implemented, producing immediate change. In the sense of environmental awareness, his plan is to simply place more trash cans on campus. In the sense of uniting the student body, he thinks we should create lunch tables in the different dining halls that were solely for people who didn’t have anyone else with whom to sit. When speaking on sexual violence education, he suggested we make it part of the LFIT curriculum already required at Carolina. Throughout the debate he showed that he is not a man of many words, but instead is one of common sense solutions that he believes could impact the University greatly in his short eight-month term. It is through these simple solutions that Taylor plans to be the bridge uniting the student body and SGA, showing the entire Carolina community that their government is working for them and producing tangible solutions.
Wilson Sink continued to come back to one common word in nearly every answer: home. From his opening to his close, Sink noted that our campus should be one that feels like home to each of those lucky enough to walk through it, and it is this feeling that he plans to recapture in his term. Within the first sixty seconds of debating, Sink agreed with a common Carolina sentiment that this campus is starting to feel less and less like home. With issues such as civil rights infringements, safety, and mental health, it can be hard for some students walking in and out of classes to feel like they are indeed home. With a nod toward the first issue, Sink proposed several solutions to a wide variety of civil right’s focused problems affecting both the minority and LGBTQ populations. While Sink noted that there is nothing SGA can do about controversies such as Silent Sam, he does believe that there should be an added section to UNC campus tours: The Black and Blue tour. This addition would highlight the role that race has had on UNC-Chapel Hill as well as how it is being discussed to this day. In the case of LGBTQ issues, he urged that the LGBTQ center should be moved to North Campus and that more bathrooms should be made gender neutral around the entire campus. In short, Sink noted that each and every person on this campus should feel like Carolina is their home despite their race, gender, or sexuality.
However, Sink recognized that these changes were not ones to be made by one man but by an entire student body, and more specifically that student body’s power to vote. There are issues on this campus that simply cannot be fixed within the confines of student government power, but the power to vote is much more far-reaching. This is why Sink’s administration promises to make voter registration a very high priority among Carolina and the broader UNC public university system because at the end of the day people’s ability to vote is the greatest power that can be possessed. Sink knows plenty about this power and governmental relations, having served on the State and External Affairs force of Student Government. He touched on his success lobbying in Raleigh, bringing legislators to the campus of Chapel Hill, and finding common-sense compromises with Republican legislators in the General Assembly. Still, more than anything else, Sink encouraged students to get out to the polls and vote if they wanted to see real change on campus and he promised to do so in any way he could. It will take more than Sink to make Carolina a place everyone can call home, but he hopes that with the support of the Carolina Community he can make the changes needed under his jurisdiction and advocate for those needed outside of his power.
As the three candidates closed I found a few things to note. Each look composed and poised, and while some may have been a bit more polished than others, there was no question that each knew plenty about what they came to speak. They each had real ideas for this campus that they believe would help the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For Opere these ideas revolved around building a stronger community, for Taylor they revolved around bridging the gap between the student body and SGA through commonsense solutions, and for Sink they revolved around making everyone at Carolina feel like they’re home. The student body can really not go wrong among these three fine men, for each has a special love for this campus and will fight to make it the greatest flagship school in the nation. I encourage each of you reading to go out, listen to more issues, talk to these great young men, and make an educated vote come next week. The position of SBP can be one of significance when the right person takes it on, and I believe any of these young men could be that right person.