Loia declines to debate DEI ahead of election

Sarah Clifton, Staff Reporter

Bella Loia, candidate for SGA vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, has declined to participate in a debate with her opponent, Xzarria Peterson, following discussions of a potential debate with the Elections Board. 

Loia’s declination was delivered via email at 8 a.m. on Tuesday to Peterson and Angel Narvaez-Lugo, the Student Government Association advisor, following a Monday meeting during which Narvaez-Lugo introduced the candidates to each other and “encouraged [the candidates] to run respectful campaigns.” Similar meetings occurred between candidates running for all executive positions.  

Narvaez-Lugo said conversations with the Elections Board led to discussing the possibility of holding debates for contested executive elections in these meetings. There are four contested executive positions this year: president, executive vice president, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, and vice president for student affairs.  

These conversations with the Elections Board were raised following Elizabeth Prophet’s challenge to Josie Schmitt on Feb. 20 for a vice presidential debate. 

In an email sent on Tuesday, which Narvaez-Lugo provided to The Crimson White, The Elections Board said, “in the spirit of democracy,” they would be willing to provide time and space for debates in any contested executive election role if more than one candidate was interested in participating in a debate. Traditionally, only the presidential candidates face off in a debate prior to elections. 

The Elections Board stipulated in the email that all candidates must express interest in debating by Thursday, Feb. 23, or the Elections Board will assume they are not interested in a debate. Timing and length of the debates will be determined once all candidates respond. Both candidates must agree to the debate for one to be scheduled. If only one candidate wishes to debate, both candidates will be allowed to make a three to five minute statement prior to the presidential debate.   

In Loia’s response email to the Election Board’s proposal, she said she decided not to participate in a debate in order to focus on promoting unity. 

“I feel DEI initiatives need to be unanimously supported to be effective,” Loia said. “Debating DEI, in my opinion, would only serve to introduce divisive dynamics that could be counterproductive to our shared goal of creating a more inclusive campus environment.” 

Peterson said she sees a potential debate for the position as an opportunity to elaborate on her platform and discuss their separate strategies for promoting inclusivity on campus. 

“You can’t really debate DEI,” Peterson said. “But I think what this debate would look like is more of an idea generator. I’m sure we both have ideas about how to enhance DEI on campus, and the moderator would ask us questions about how we are going to enhance DEI. It would be completely different from a presidential debate.” 

Regardless of whether all the contested executive elections see a debate, the candidates, including Peterson and Loia, will be present at the candidate forum on Sunday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m. in the Student Center Great Hall preceding the presidential debate 6 p.m. at the Ferguson Theater. 

Peterson and Loia both said they plan to engage with student voters at the forum on platform issues.