ASWSU candidates debate mental health, COVID-19  

Campaigns hope to increase student resources, student voices in university decisions 



All four candidates said they will receive the COVID-19 vaccine when eligible. Election voting opens midnight Tuesday and ends at 7 p.m. Wednesday.


ASWSU presidential and vice-presidential candidates answered questions regarding mental health, student fees, COVID-19 and university funding during the general debate Thursday. 

Brian Patrick and Alexander Pan debated Bryce Regian and Jelani Christopher. Both campaigns expressed support for a $5 student fee initiative addressing student food insecurity and WSU’s Office for Access and Opportunity Food Pantry. 

Christopher authored the initiative with current ASWSU Senator Oluwanifemi “Nife” Shola-Dare. He said the food pantry is unsustainable and many shelves are empty.

“How would a student feel if they walked in and saw that there was an empty shelf when they needed food?” Christopher said. “[The initiative] is a way for us to make sure students always have an important resource that is going to carry them through tough times.”

Funds from the student fee would go toward hiring an employee to oversee the food pantry. Pan said the pandemic only exacerbated food insecurity among students. 

“There’s so many students who are food insecure and it’s just been, you know, glorified or exemplified over the past couple months with COVID-19,” he said. “I think [the initiative] is an awesome idea and I hope it passes.” 

Both campaigns focused on mental health and various resources they hope to implement if elected. Regian said the pandemic negatively impacted student mental health and decreased access to professional help. 

Alongside Cougar Health Services, Patrick said he and Pan hope to integrate MESI, a mindfulness-based emotional and social intelligence program, into Greek life and the Alive Orientation experience. The WSU Honors College already utilizes the program. 

“It’s proactive mental health,” he said. “[MESI] is a little bit more hands-on and it’s a little bit easier than just sitting through a lecture or seminar.”

Regian said recovering from the pandemic includes increasing the amount of research-based programs available to students. This includes preventative programs to boost grades and reduce anxiety. 

Developing peer-to-peer mental health resources is also a priority, he said. Equipping non-professionals with the skills and knowledge to guide students in need is key to helping people with their mental health.  

While discussing the university’s response to COVID-19, all four candidates said they plan to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when eligible. Pan said WSU responded well to the pandemic, despite a lack of communication from administrators in the beginning.

Continuing on-campus testing, advertising testing sites and maintaining Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines is imperative to keeping students and the WSU community safe, he said.

Christopher said the university did not create a comprehensive plan for testing students in time for the fall semester.

“I was on a call with admin at one point and I asked, ‘Do we have a plan? … and I was told no,’” he said. “I would give them the slide on saying it’s unprecedented but the pandemic started in March, and by August, there should have been a plan.”

WSU prevented the spread of COVID-19 successfully, Regian said. However, the university did not involve students in major decisions, like the cancellation of a traditional week-long spring break. 

“[Administrators] failed to center student voices in the decisions that they made that have had detrimental impacts to students,” he said.  

While discussing WSU Athletics’ request for $2-3 million in unallocated university funds for COVID-19 testing, Patrick said the university does not have its priorities straight. 

“I understand how important athletics are,” he said. “Obviously I love going to all those sporting events, but at the end of the day, students come first.” 

Pan said the university could fund 75 years of free parking at CHS for students with the amount of money requested. 

The university should fund athletics in a sustainable way and bailing the department out of financial debt should not come at the detriment of other WSU services, Regian said. 

“Our emphasis should be on academics,” he said. “It should be on students.”

Election voting opens midnight Tuesday and ends at 7 p.m. Wednesday.