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Student Presidential and VP nominees debate campaign initiatives ahead of the election

(Left to Right) Patrick Houlihan, Spencer Mandzak, Babs Dwyer and Will Brinley discuss campaign initiatives during their debate in the Armstrong A and B Pavilion Tuesday evening.
(Left to Right) Patrick Houlihan, Spencer Mandzak, Babs Dwyer and Will Brinley discuss campaign initiatives during their debate in the Armstrong A and B Pavilion Tuesday evening.

Four candidates on two tickets made the case for why Miami University students should vote for them as student body president and vice president at a debate on March 5.

Will Brinley, a junior marketing major, is running for student body president with Babs Dwyer, a junior sports communication and media major, as his vice-president. The pair debated other presidential candidate Spencer Mandzak, a junior public administration major, and his running mate Patrick Houlihan, a junior political science major. Both sides talked about their dedication to improving mental health policies and civic engagement.

The four candidates spoke about the organizations they’re in related to Miami and how their outside skills will help them in their respective positions. Brinley has participated in different business organizations and club sports. He said that he wants to use the skills he has learned as vice president of recruitment of the Interfraternity Council to connect students.

“I know I’m the best person equipped to lead the student body,” Brinley said.

Mandzak said his two years as a member of the Associated Student Government (ASG) has opened his mind. Currently, Mandzak holds the position of Secretary of Academic Affairs. Manzak said that he interacts with a large variety of people and plans on utilizing those skills to foster more student opportunities if elected president.

“It's making sure that students have resources and ways to get experimental learning into their curriculum, into their professional development, so they become a better student,” Mandzak said.

Dwyer said she’s been involved with many student organizations. She hosts a culture podcast, “Behind the Brick,” with The Miami Student where she speaks with a variety of students and faculty, covering unique topics like student safety and the lives of international students. 

“Rather than trying to be the sole voice representing all students and backgrounds, my goal is to be able to amplify these voices and those who may feel overlooked at Miami,” Dwyer said.

A main initiative of Brinley and Dwyer is creating an accessible map. Brinley shared a story of a wheelchair user who was using maps to find their class but could not locate an elevator, so they were late to class.

“Miami is a tough place to be if you are physically disabled,” Brinley said. 

Dwyer said the accessibility map would locate elevators, gender-neutral bathrooms and other items of that nature. She said they have already spoken with people about this initiative.

Houlihan, like Mandzak, is a member of ASG, serving as Secretary of Governmental Relations. He is also a member of College Democrats, while his running mate Mandzak is a member of College Republicans. Houlihan wants to continue his work within the Miami community by vocalizing student’s thoughts and concerns. 

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“I want to make sure everyone at Miami feels heard, seen and represented,” Houlihan said. 

Another initiative Houlihan mentioned was closing the divide between Oxford residents and Miami students. Through his committee in ASG, legislation was passed that encouraged the city council to hold more events that students can participate in.

“Students are a part of the community,” Houlihan said. “We are Oxford, and Oxford is us.”

When asked about how they would improve student life regarding mental health, both presidential nominees agreed more needed to be done. 

Brinley said that he wants to create “RedHawk Retreat,” a weeklong event that students would attend to learn about Miami’s mental health resources. Brinley wants to focus on mental health advocacy as well, to help eliminate its surrounding stigma. 

“From a mental health perspective, Miami has done a phenomenal job putting together and allocating our budget towards mental health,” Brinley said. “[Babs and I] want to show students really what kind of resources they have on this campus.”

Mandzak said he wants to meet students where they are at with mental health and work from there. He talked about how some students are not comfortable with therapy or with the crisis hotline.

“You need to meet somewhere in between with maybe other students to talk about how you're feeling or what you're doing,” Mandzak said.

In addition to this, Mandzak and Houlihan want to advertise current resources to raise student awareness.

Brinley and Dwyer plan to hold office hours to encourage student engagement. Brinley said that as a white man, he is not a part of the various communities on-campus, but he wants to represent them. They want to hold office hours to provide that level of communication.

“We want them to feel that they can come and talk to us during these times,” Brinley said. “They can come with fresh ideas [on] how I can support their community.”

Mandzak said that he agreed on the importance of community representation. He said Miami has a diverse group of people, and he wants to create collaboration between these communities. He referenced Houlihan as an example of bridging the divide between groups who may not agree.

“If we can be that connection, of working together with people who normally don't work together, [it] really shows what it means to connect people,” Mandzak said.

Part of the role as student body vice president is working closely with ASG and filling in where the president cannot.

Houlihan said he is well-equipped for the task and wants to have office hours, similar to what Dwyer and Brinley mentioned, to receive feedback and answer questions. He said he also wants to reach out to different organizations for their opinions and guidance.

Dwyer said she feels confident about her ability to fill the role without experience in ASG. She said in the weeks spent campaigning, she has gained understanding and is open to learning more.

“I want to be a friendly face on campus, and I feel like I’ve already done that so far,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer and Houlihan both spoke about how they want to foster civic engagement ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Dwyer said she does not plan on taking a stance in the election because she wants students to feel welcome regardless of who they vote for. Nevertheless, she said that she wants to educate students on the voting process and encourage them that their voice matters.

Houlihan said he has dedicated his college career to civic engagement. He mentioned how as an ASG senator he passed legislation encouraging Miami to add election day as a holiday.

“I want to continue to keep students informed on the deadlines because they are intentionally confusing, especially because we're coming into the 2024 presidential election,” Houlihan said.

Students can vote on The Hub March 18-20.