Candidates for president and executive vice president face off in debates

Alex Gravlee and Jacob Ritondo

Candidates for Student Government Association executive vice president and president faced off in head-to-head debates the night of Sunday, Feb. 26. 

The debates were preceded by a candidate forum that convened in the Student Center Great Hall at 5 p.m. 

Kathryn Drago, the Coordinator of Alumni Programs at the Blackburn Institute, moderated the debate.  


Candidates Josie Schmitt, who is currently the SGA executive secretary and Elizabeth Prophet, a current senator for the School of Social Work, discussed student communication and student safety in the executive vice president debate on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.  

This comes after Prophet challenged Schmitt to an unprecedented debate in the first contested election for executive vice president since 2016. Usually, only presidential candidates debate during contested elections.  

Of the two other contested executive races, Bella Loia turned down a debate for vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, and Karina Collins requested to debate for vice president for student affairs with no response. 

Opening Statements 

For her opening statement, Schmitt listed her platforms of campus connection, student experience, internal engagement and student safety alongside highlighting her experience in SGA as Executive Secretary.  

She promoted her abilities to act as a communicator, executor and supporter of SGA initiatives.  

“Throughout the time for Capstone, I constantly invoked myself in … diverse and impactful experiences in order to shape myself into a flexible and exemplary leader,” Schmitt said.  

Prophet focused on her platforms of advocacy, connection and transparency in her statement.  

She brought up her work on the SGA Senate resolution condemning the antisemitic chalk drawings that appeared on campus one month ago.  

Additionally, Prophet discussed her collaboration with Karina Collins, a senator for the College of Human and Environmental Sciences, to compensate BFSA ambassadors. Collins is currently running for Vice President of Student Affairs.  

“I have been a fierce advocate for you this past year and I want to continue fighting for you as your next executive vice president,” Prophet said.  


Prophet and Schmitt discussed methods of SGA communication between students and faculty.  

Prophet said the most important role of the EVP is to serve as a liaison between the “entire executive council” and students, faculty and staff. She also said she had “hands-on contact” with students frequently. 

Moreover, Prophet emphasized SGA communication with the Faculty Senate, especially concerning Black Faculty and Staff student ambassador compensation.  

She said the SGA and Faculty Senate lack connections, so she will hold more “joint meetings” between the two. Prophet said she hopes to bring a bill that will pay the ambassadors for the tour if elected.  

She also promised to post a weekly list of who she is meeting with that week to increase transparency. Prophet said she hoped students would see who she is talking to and who she isn’t, allowing students and organizations to know when they can meet with her.  

“My transparency will always be meeting with diverse student groups and representing groups … [and] as executive vice president making that application process is open and fair for all students to get,” Prophet said. 

Schmitt said the most important role of the EVP was its managerial position to underlying vice presidents and First Year Council. She also added that the position is involved in many aspects of campus life, not just one. After the debate, she told The Crimson White that she thinks voters need to know that the EVP is a “supportive role” that works hard behind the scenes. 

Schmitt added that she plans to hold roundtable talks that would bring student organization leaders and faculty together to address “issues, questions and concerns.”  

“Not only will this help streamline communication for the multiple groups that this campus has, but it will also provide the SGA an opportunity to see where they can go and help these various student-led groups,” Schmitt said.  

Furthermore, she said she streamlined communication and transparency as executive secretary through student body newsletters and curating minutes of meetings between the executive council and the cabinets.  

Schmitt said she plans to continue promoting transparency by bringing back SGA Year in Review, a list of “accomplishments and initiatives” every person in the SGA has been working on in the past year. The list would be available on the SGA website for all students.  

Student Safety 

Schmitt and Prophet discussed methods of maintaining student safety on campus, including encouraging new UAPD programs and free student counseling.  

Schmitt said student safety is the foremost concern for the University, so she plans to work with the University of Alabama Police Department to create a DUI prevention parking program. Furthermore, she added that she wants to collaborate with UAPD to offer self-defense classes.  

Prophet also said she finds student safety to be the most impactful issue, but said she plans to increase access to student counseling. By using her $3,000 stipend as EVP, she plans to pay for up to 200 students’ counseling for mental health. 

She emphasized a need for more counseling, stating that the University has the second least-funded counseling center in the SEC, adding that five students have committed suicide in university buildings this year.  

“It’s personal. We’re dying because we don’t realize the resources that are at our hands and the University has the opportunity to put millions of dollars more into the Counseling Center,” Prophet said. 

While Schmitt stressed that mental health was important, she questioned the feasibility of such a program, saying it was not only difficult from a financial standpoint, but a legal one as well.  

“It is extremely important when you are running for the role of executive vice president to have feasible initiatives,” Schmitt said. “As your next executive vice president, … I’ve intentionally thought out my initiatives and programs and know that they’re feasible and accessible to all students.”  

Prophet rebutted by saying that the students can remain anonymous through a grant program from the Counseling Center. The EVP would be able to pay for the counseling without knowing who the student is or the reason they are there.  

Closing Statements 

In their closing statements, both candidates said the EVP was meant to be a supportive role to all branches of the SGA. 

Schmitt said her experience as executive secretary would serve her well in the role. She added that the EVP has been a “male-dominated role” within the last several years, so she hopes to change this perspective.  

Prophet said students don’t care about SGA, so what it does doesn’t matter until SGA leaders have direct communication with students and organizations.  

Additional Statements 

Afterwards, Schmitt commented to The CW on a topic she briefly mentioned during the debate: sexism in the position of executive vice president.  

“The last several years, there hasn’t been a female executive vice president. Part of the reason I agreed to this debate was because my fellow candidate was also a female, and I was really looking forward to having an open and constructive conversation with her and also combat the … sexism that can be seen in the Student Government Association,” she said, referring to the EVP position as traditionally a “male-dominated role.” 

The last woman to serve as executive vice president was Lauren Forrest, who was elected for the 2018-2019 year. Two women, Casey Nelson and Alexa Campbell, also served in the role during the 2017-2018 year.  

“At the end of the day, I am a white woman from the suburbs of Chicago with privilege,” she said. She said her goal was to connect with diverse student groups to “amplify [their] voices.” 

When asked about being challenged to this unprecedented debate by Prophet, a challenge which Schmitt did not immediately accept, she said she was glad to have accepted the challenge. 

“When initially receiving that request, I was eager to accept; however, I had to take a step back because I wanted to make sure that it was allowed per the Elections Board and the Elections Manual. I’m confident that I’ve run a clean campaign, so I wanted their approval before responding,” Schmitt said. 

Prophet said she challenged Schmitt to the debate to show students that they care and have plans to improve their well-being. She added that it was critical to have a contested election not just in EVP, but in every executive position.  

“Students should have a right to choose who they want representing them, they shouldn’t have one candidate given to them,” Prophet said. “They should have the opportunity to listen to the platform points that they care about, and really choose a candidate that will represent them.”  


Immediately following the executive-vice-presidential debate was the presidential debate between candidates Collier Dobbs, a junior majoring in finance and economics and John Richardson, a junior majoring in history and political science, both of whom are in-state students. Dobbs is the exiting vice president for external affairs, while Richardson served last term as a senator for the College of Arts and Sciences. 

“I’m going to start by saying something that might sound a little controversial,” Richardson said, kicking off the debate with his opening statement. “That’s the fact that SGA doesn’t matter.” 

He clarified that in his experience, the SGA does not matter to the average student, and that to the average student, “it seems filled with people trying to be someone instead of do something,” he said.  

Richardson stated that the SGA administration has historically not viewed itself as a representative body, but one that was intended for aspiring politicians to hone their political skills, and that he intended to be different and push for “practical solutions” to eliminate campus problems. 

Dobbs then took the floor and delivered his opening statement, introducing himself as a previous senator for the Culverhouse College of Business and exiting vice president for external affairs before summarizing the goals of his platform. 

“The Student Government Association’s goal has never been to create programs or initiatives that place mandates [on students], but to uplift that impactful work already being done by [campus] organizations,” Dobbs said. His goal as president, he said, is to cultivate relationships with campus groups, to create “insightful and impactful” programs to achieve his goal of a diverse campus atmosphere. 

He emphasized his desire and efforts to connect with all types of students across the University’s campus and “allowing them a space to share their ideas, grievances, and everything in between,” promising to be trustworthy and reliable and make every student feel as if they belong at the University. 

Past Accomplishments 

Drago began by asking each candidate about their previous accomplishments regarding specific concerns facing each candidate’s constituents.  

Richardson detailed how when the University was divided over a homecoming election dispute in fall 2021, he joined the task force to rewrite the homecoming election rules. He stated he also sat in on discussions with the board of trustees after the University attempted to change Graves Hall’s name to “Lucy-Graves Hall,” and expressed how his constituents felt about the controversial name change. 

Dobbs subsequently stated his resume of accomplishments, saying he worked with the UA Lobby Board to increase political involvement among students. Similarly, while a senator he helped pass an SGA acknowledgment of the city of Tuscaloosa’s intention to move city elections to May as “disenfranchising students.” 

In response to a later question, he also cited his help hosting a volunteer exposition in a previous fall semester that “offered students an opportunity to get involved in the community and learn about nonprofits.” 


Later questions led the candidates to explain their platforms and proposed initiatives. 

Dobbs stated his intent to work to incorporate the SGA newsletter into President Bell’s monthly address to students to keep students knowledgeable about the current state of the SGA and its efforts.  

He proposed a student fashion show that would challenge students to create and model clothing that, after the show, would be donated to the Crimson Closet. 

“In that fashion show, I want to include resources that could be allocated toward a gender-expression closet so students can feel comfortable expressing their own selves and what that means to them,” he said. “Definitely the Crimson Closet is one of the most impactful resources we have at The University of Alabama.” 

Additionally, he proposed an “SGA Olympics” that would allow students and student groups the opportunity to collaborate. 

Richardson’s promises focused on transportation issues faced by out-of-state students, sexual assault prevention and improving campus counseling services.  

Among his specific proposals was his goal to subsidize a bus or other transportation service to and from airports for out-of-state students that must return to their home state during school breaks. 

“We have students having to pay $150 one-way for an Uber [to the airport], … which means that adds $300 to their total of whatever flight it takes to [get home],” he said.  

Sexual assault prevention was important to him, he said. To achieve this, he suggested that the University provide free drink covers for Greek organizations and bars to prevent bad actors from tampering with a student’s drink and potentially incapacitating and sexually assaulting them. 

Following Prophet, Richardson committed to also donating his stipend to the UA Counseling Center to provide free counseling to students.  

He also proposed creating a “Student Trustee” position for a student appointed by the governor to the board of trustees that he said would ensure students’ interests are considered by the Board. 

Making the SGA office and elected officials more welcoming and approachable and committing to more campus outreach were goals of both candidate’s campaigns. 


Richardson pressed Dobbs on the issue of free counseling services, asking Dobbs to comment on if he would similarly commit to donating his stipend to the cause. Dobbs responded that while funding counseling is “absolutely necessary,” he is a student on scholarship at the University and the money was useful to him too.  

Richardson later brought up the anti-semitic chalkings that were found across campus several weeks ago, mentioning that every vice president in the SGA signed a resolution condemning the messages except for Dobbs. 

“Why was your name not on that piece of legislation condemning antisemitism?” Richardson asked Dobbs. 

“I believe as student leaders, we have a responsibility to cast out that hate. … I do condemn that, strongly.” He stated he missed an email that asked for him to put his name on the resolution. 

Dobbs later clarified in an interview after the debate that his not sponsoring the resolution was a mistake. “If I would have seen that, I would have most definitely sponsored it. That same day, when all that stuff happened, I was on the phone with Madeline [Martin], and we were running around trying to find where [the messages] were and trying to figure out how to erase them,” Dobbs said. 

In another question, Drago asked the candidates what the candidates would do to repair relationships between the SGA and students who criticized the organization for approving funding for the Young Americans for Freedom to host conservative commentator Matt Walsh in October 2022.  

Dobbs said the SGA did not consider the “quality” or content of the speaker when making the decision, but rather whether the request met the necessary criteria to be considered for funding. He also pointed to his student fashion show, which he says would promote gender expression, as a means of repairing this relationship. 

“As a member of the Student Government Association, I support all students,” Richardson said, “including the LGBQTIA+ community. They have a voice, and it matters.” The biggest issue with the event, he said, was not that the SGA funded it, but that the LGBTQIA+ community “didn’t feel heard.” 

The Machine

Perhaps the most tense question asked during the debate, however, was one regarding the Machine.  

“Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, there is a long and sometimes troubling history with the Machine versus independent politics in SGA. As President, what steps will you take to increase transparency and equity, specifically regarding secret or unofficial organizations operating in SGA?” Drago asked. 

The Machine, or Theta Nu Epsilon, is a not-so-secret organization controlled by historically white fraternities and sororities that operates underground at the University. Some Machine actions over the years have included burning crossesburglaryvandalism and boycotts of local businesses.   

“I would like to say that I’m not backed by any organization,” Richardson said. The SGA would, under his administration, have an even split of Greek-affiliated and non-Greek affiliated students appointed to cabinet positions, he said at a different time during the debate. He did not specifically address any effort to increase transparency regarding the Machine. 

Dobbs, on the other hand, said he was backed by an organization, but that the organization was a public non-profit. The CW was unable to determine what organization supported him.  

When questioned afterwards by a CW reporter about what he might do to make the SGA more transparent about the Machine, Dobbs said, “I’m not very familiar with what you’re talking about or any organization under that name.”