What Went Down at The Darkening Debate
BY: DANIELLE GERMAIN
Correction: A previous version of this post misstated Haley Lickstein's answer to a question about Students for Justice in Palestine. We also added more context to an exchange between Ryan Feadasiuk and Ryan Shepard. The Blackprint regrets the errors and stands by the report as is.
American University’s 2017 Student Government elections are in full swing and Tuesday night’s town hall has everyone talking. After candidates released their platforms, it was clear that they all had plans that would directly affect the marginalized groups at AU. The Darkening, whose mission is to “establish harmony on campus through fostering an environment conducive to acceptance, cultural sensitivity and love for all people,” held their annual town hall with the goal of providing a safe space to test the true intentions of those running.
Alyssa Moncure, the freshman and leader of The Darkening town hall, which is also referred to as The Darkening debate, gave insight on the event's mission. “The goal of these town halls is really to give black and other students of color the chance to demand accountability and scrutinize the candidate’s positions in relation to their platforms, which affect our daily lives here. It’s evident in the way it’s set up, but marginalized students have the power to ask and demand of whoever is in that room, and it’s up to the SG candidates how they choose to respond. It’s a time where we can feel powerful.”
For those who haven’t attended any of the election events, such as The AU Democrats debate, or ATV debate, the structure is similar to general debates. Questions were facilitated by members of The Darkening, followed by audience members via Twitterand in person.
Following the debates, student leaders from cultural and social justice-oriented organizations gathered to help determine which candidates The Darkening would endorse.
2017-2018 Student Government Elections Candidates:
Haley Lickstein ‘19
Terry Altherr ‘18
Andy Schwarz ‘19
Taylor Dumpson ‘18
Vice Presidential Candidates:
Ryan Fedasiuk ‘19
Solomon Self ‘19
Ryan Shepard ‘18
Audra Gale ‘19
Christine Machovec ‘18
Elizabeth Pancotti ‘19
Kris Schneider ‘19
One audience member asked the following: “What was the last multicultural event you attended and how have you been involved in the black/brown diaspora organizations on campus?”
In terms of experience, it was clear that presidential candidate Taylor Dumpson and vice presidential candidate Ryan Shepard have a long track record of serving students. Dumpson has worked as a Freshman Service Experience leader during Welcome Week and is president of the Intercultural Greek Collective. Ryan Shepard, event director for the Black Student Alliance, served as a co-leader of the recent Atlanta alternative break trip.
When asked about the language of diversity and inclusion expressed in their individual platforms and the resources they plan to use to address these issues, vice presidential candidate Solomon Self chimed in. The sophomore discussed how everyday of his life he has been forced to deal with diversity issues — it’s not something that can just be studied or taught. Self wants to intersect the LGBTQ community, as well as other marginalized groups, in order to create a much more unified front.
The conversation then turned to advocacy and administration, especially when it comes to AU Club Council’s lack of funding for groups of color. Vice presidential candidate Ryan Fedasiuk said he plans to give our community “a seat at the table” and fight for the rights of all people. Fedasiuk said he will push for administrative change and even recalled a time when he demanded a meeting with an "obstructionist" Housing and Dining staff member about an issue. "I really wish I could do that but they'd probably arrest me," said Shepard. Many in the crowd, including the candidates, clapped and laughed.
After being asked what she would do for the Muslim population on campus, vice presidential candidate Audra Gale pivoted and chose to talk about the experiences of the Jewish community instead, upsetting many audience members. Presidential candidate Haley Lickstein was asked about one of her staffer's alleged Facebook posts that characterized Students for Justice in Palestine as a hate group. Lickstein apologized and said that those views do not represent her campaign.
After the debate, there was much deliberation between cultural organizations on campus. The Darkening decided to endorse Taylor Dumpson for president, Ryan Shepard for SG vice president, Christine Machovec for comptroller and Kris Schneider as SG Secretary for the 2017-2018 school year.
For a full review of the debate, watch the recorded livestream.