OUSC 2023 vice presidential debate overview

Presidential slates met one last time before voting as vice president candidates and presidential candidates debated against each other for Oakland University Student Congress (OUSC) office. Moderated by Jeremy Johnson, candidates were asked questions about things like tuition, campus safety, food on campus and the relationship with administration.

Featuring Maris Ferguson of the Farooqi-Ferguson slate and Amir Mitchell of the Gojcaj-Mitchell slate, the debate kicked off with opening statements and then general questions for both candidates. The full debate can be found on OUSC’s YouTube.

Below are their initial responses to the topics.

General experience

Ferguson: “First and foremost, I want to say that my experience in SAFB and OUSC together have been really formative in my experience in engaging with the student body. I work with student orgs every single day, which means I interact with students constantly. And so I’m able to be in tune with them, listen to their needs, adapt quickly, and make sure that their voices are heard.

“I’m also aware of how OUSC works and on our slate you have a ton of experience as well. So, I’ve had my hand in writing legislation and that’s something that SAFB chairs hadn’t really previously been engaged in. Really being an advocate through OUSC is something I found a lot of passion for. First and foremost what makes me experienced for this is that I’ve been in touch with students and also I’m an advocate and an activist at heart, and this is a huge part of who I am as a person.”

Mitchell: I am a freshman, so a lot of people say, ‘Why you, why a freshman who comes to Oakland University in his second semester?’ And what I say is, this might be my first college experience, but I had a ton of experience abroad. I’ve lived in the Dominican Republic for over a year. I know Spanish. I’m intact with all different communities. 

“I come from a less financial appropriate family that came up and we had our adversities there. And through this school I’ve worked with OUSC on several different initiatives on every single task force. And if I have the time, I work on it and I’ve made sure that I have a very good amount of respect and amount of integrity when it comes to this job. I believe that, you know, I would be a good solid candidate for this.”

Improving legislature/job preparation

Ferguson: “So with my experience at SAFB I’m already managing a staff of my own, also with my experience in human resource management, I’ve been nothing but prepared this whole time receiving my education for managing staff, that’s recruitment, onboarding, mental retention, all those kinds of things. First and foremost, something that I improved when I first got to SAFB was our onboarding. There wasn’t really a structure for how to train people when they get into this job.

“And so that was my number one goal there. And that’s gonna be my number one goal in this position as well. I wanna make sure that the process is smooth because we have a lot of legislators, luckily this era of OUSC has a lot of engagement from students. And so we wanna make sure that the process for getting them in and getting their voices as soon as possible and getting trained to do their jobs. That’s my first goal.

Mitchell: “So I’d like to say first that I have an immense amount of experience, especially with business, managing teams, coordinating tasks and things like that. I’ve been in the restaurant industry for over 10 years now, so I definitely have an immense amount of experience and background with working with people, with getting tasks done.

“How I would be a better vice president I think is to completely stay neutral, to work with our legislature, to not isolate people and to make sure that everyone feels like they are welcome. Everyone feels like they have a space here in OUSC to conduct their initiatives and resolutions and things like that.”

Training new legislature

Ferguson: “Making sure everybody’s equipped to do their job with the tools necessary is incredibly important, if not the most important job of the vice president. And so I would say that to make sure that training is effective, we need to all look at it together as a team and say, what do you need from our legislators and how can we give them the tools to do that? One primary goal and duty of the job of legislator is to read and write legislation and then vote on it.

“And we need to empower our legislative body to give them the tools that they need to know how to write those pieces of legislation so they can make true change. It’s when we talk about it and do things here and there, but if we can make policy and if we can enact this legislation, it really gives power to our voices. It’s not just us saying wishes out there, it’s getting power to people and putting the power directly into students’ hands.”

Mitchell: “So we had a ton of new fresh faces this year. I came in during the summer along with Ms. Ferguson, and I do believe that over this year we’ve grown a ton. We’ve seen a lot of new people and we’ve had so much new diversity that I’m such a huge supporter of.

“And I believe that I would work with these people to not see differences in anything like that. I would bring everybody closer. I would see ‘Where’s our common ground?’ I don’t care what your political background is or how you feel about things personally. What we’re here for is to change things at this school. And so what I believe is to bring everybody closer and work with them everyday to make sure that we have a stronger legislature.”

Food on campus

Ferguson: “I think we all agree that the quality of food on campus and our dining experience is less than satisfactory, if not downright disappointing.It’s important that we keep these conversations going with Chartwells and holding them accountable and saying that because we’re paying so much to be here and support them, they need to support us just equally, if not superior. 

“One of the first things that we need to address here is affordability. The prices for campus food are exorbitant. And not to mention when you pay for a housing dining plan, most of your meal swipes might go unused and expired, and there’s no cost that we get back from that. 

“And additionally, the hours need to be expanded so that way we can increase accessibility to food on campus so students aren’t going hungry just because they can’t get there at a certain hour of the day. And finally, we need to enact Swipe Out Hunger to make sure that meal swipes can be donated at the very least to students in need across campus.”

Mitchell: “As an on-campus student, I eat there every day. You’ll never guess where I’m going after this. I’m very passionate about that. That’s why one of the biggest things in OUSC I’ve started is our Chartwells task force, meeting with them biweekly. Bringing their executives in the office saying, ‘how can we do better with this?’”

“I know you guys are losing money or there are alternatives that aren’t exactly practical that we’d like. You know, we would love you guys to have every single amenity here for food for us, but we understand what is practical for us. 

“One thing that we laid the track for is meeting with them, setting those meetings up, getting those people in the room and allowing us to do things such as Swipe Out Hunger, such as expanding dining hours, adding alternative hot food and The Hive and Tilly’s and just getting better alternative situations that are practical and works for everyone.”

Reproductive rights and resources

Ferguson: “I think that Student Congress is responsible for advocating for all student needs across the board, and so I think reproductive rights absolutely falls under this category.I also believe that supporting women goes beyond just what happens in our bodies and our reproductive systems and so this is why I’m supporting the creation of a women’s resource center that is all encompassing beyond just reproductive rights.”

“But also to include things like what women experience in the world, professionally, educationally, socially, and so things like our menstrual product initiative is one example of how we’ve supported so far, we can take this so much further. Supporting women who need mentorship and when they’re experiencing discrimination and sexism and there’s all kinds of social issues we experience as women in particular that aren’t seen on this campus through an institutionalized program.”

Mitchell: “As an advocate for all students here, I definitely see a call for help for people who need reproductive resources. When I heard about Roe v Wade, I just, I’ll be completely honest, I saw somebody screaming at this guy and I said, ‘what just happened?’

“They said, ‘we lost.’ I said, ‘who?’ They said, ‘women.’ And immediately I was heartfelt and that hurt me. I said, ‘what can we do?’ And immediately, I got to thinking and we proposed the plan B issue to make sure you guys understand these resources are available, 90% of the student leaders didn’t know that plan B is available for $15 in the Graham Health Center.

“These resources were just not available and well, they didn’t know that it was. And so we wanted to make sure that everybody understands that these things are here and as far as advocating for things that would help.”

Inclusion of marginalized groups

Ferguson: “I think that building relationships across campus, whether with students or organizations, support and advocate for students, that’s the best that we can show DEI. One of the ways we’ve proven we can do that is through distribution of pride pins across campus, over 6,000, implementation of inclusive food policies and things of that nature.

“Implementation of heritage week, we’ve done it all. We’re going to push it further than that and keep growing our support for these communities. It’s something to bring up about our Congress. It’s important that we have representation from all sorts of groups across campus. And being inclusive in the student body is, I think, first and foremost important.

“And additionally, it’s important to recognize that if other candidates are elected, the best case scenario is that there are three women in Congress, and that does not represent the 58% of women on campus.”

Mitchell: “I think the biggest thing that we advocate for is communication. When these lines of communication are ripped away, and there is an isolation between OUSC and these student organizations, their voice doesn’t get heard. I’d like to represent that we have, we used to have a Greek life advocate, a representative.

“We used to have an athletics representative. We used to have these people that came to our meetings such as RLA representatives. They don’t come because they don’t feel their voices are heard”.


Ferguson: “Sustainability is of the absolute importance to me. It’s personal, it’s our future. Even though we may be just individuals here, as a university we’re bigger, as a state we’re bigger, as a country we’re bigger, as a world we’re bigger. It’s important that we advocate for ourselves and our future.

“And so we’ve already started doing this through great collaborations and relationships with student organizations and university organizations surrounding sustainability on this campus. And we’ve provided infrastructural support to historically underfunded areas within this and we plan to continue doing so.

“Our work against the East Campus Development is a primary objective of our last administration. That same kind of passion is something that we plan to bring forward, mobilizing our community in that way is extremely powerful. Personally I experienced the protest and write letters to the editor and meetings, fighting for that and so that’s something that really lights our fire and is something we plan to move forward with the next administration.”

Mitchell: “I’ll say something along the lines of what Ms. Ferguson said that it is investing in our future. I think sustainability is very important to us, but however, I’ll say that I have little experience with sustainability. I’ll come outright and say that, I’ll say that I came into a school where our director of sustainability has done the absolute best that you possibly could to make sure our students are held to the recycle policy.

“Making sure that our faculty and staff are going about things responsibly, sustainably, and reference to Chartwells what they do with their food. Is it compost? Is it thrown away? These are good questions we’d love to ask and when we hire a director of sustainability, I want them to have the same qualities that we work with as our director. We would love to echo the sentiments of what they’ve done and follow in their footsteps, because I will say they have done an excellent job.”

Relationship with administration

Ferguson: “My experiences remaining professional and open-minded is really important when going to these discussions. I also know that it’s not always possible to be buddy-buddy 100% of the time. At the end of the day, it’s Student Congress’s job to advocate for students and hear our voices and make everyone else’s voices heard.

“And so sometimes that does result in a little bit of conflict. I have to say that a big strength of mine is managing conflict and remaining calm and composed and working through that to find solutions that are best for this university and for our students. At the end of the day, if we have to push administration we’re going to. 

“We have, and it’s okay if there’s some conflict sometimes. It is, even though it feels uncomfortable. But it’s a primary responsibility to make sure we have the relationships around campus but it’s also important to get stuff done.”

Mitchell: “Coming in as a freshman first semester, I’ll say that there were a lot of things that I’d like to change about this school, and I was a little dissatisfied with the current state and I considered transfer. But you want to know the reason I stayed, was because of our administration.

“The way they worked with OUSC is unlike any other school. When I took a trip, I saw all these different representatives from across the country talk about how they fight with their administration and how they push back on everything and they’re the main barricade from them getting change done.

“I said, ‘let me think about mine.’ We do not have that. I think our administration works well with OUSC and they help further initiatives to see what can we do for students. When we say this is important they say, ‘yeah, we agree, what can we do?’ And so as vice president, I would love to just continue that work with our administration and faculty and carry out those initiatives.”


Ferguson: “I think this issue is personal for every person in this room. There’s no doubt that we were all affected when we heard about MSU. And thankfully I was able to be a part of the group that came together and moved together the vigil for the MSU shooting, and it was incredibly powerful to feel the energy in that room.

“It proves to us that students care about safety. And that’s why we have plans. We have plans to implement better security measures across campus, updating them and actually utilizing them when our tuition money pays for them. This will allow our university to lockdown if and when there’s a safety threat on campus rather than sitting around and waiting for things to go wrong.

“I also believe that we should have reformations to our medical amnesty policy to protect survivors and allow students to feel empowered when seeking help rather than being punished. I also believe there should be somebody in the position for emergency manager on this campus. When things do go wrong, they have a plan. There should be increased training opportunities for students to have these safety measures put in place and also we need more blue lights in academic buildings.”

Mitchell: “I think our meeting with the chief of police was very fruitful. I think we got a lot of good answers on the safety about the school, and we’re able to pose questions to the administration and the police department as to why certain things aren’t enacted, such as when we were living in our resident halls and we heard about an active shooter and the doors were completely unlocked and they could have just waltzed right in.

“We saw that as a huge problem, and that’s why me and potential President Gojcaj sat down, we read a resolution, we said, how can we help out with protecting our students and not just that. How can we help make our students feel safe? It’s not just about locking the doors or making sure that we respond well. It’s about making sure our students aren’t harassed, aren’t profiled, and that every student here is protected and feels safe by their police and administration.”

Cost of attendance

Ferguson: “First and foremost, tuition is a huge problem. It’s been going up year by year with no sign of stopping. And a large reason for this is because the state actually gives us the lowest allocation as a university. And so in the past we have lobbied to get this increased successfully and will continue to do so, so that way the burden can be off of students and put back onto the state.

“The programs that we’ve done that we continue, will continue to do is the Trash Textbooks campaign, which actually it’s projected that just one of our courses that we were able to convert is going to save students, $60,000 or around $60,000 every semester.

“We also plan to support the food pantry for those students in need who struggle with hunger. We are also going to encourage professors to actually use the resources that we pay for like Moodle rather than additional paid courses like Cengage and what have you. We’ll also push for energy efficiency and we believe that your education should empower you rather than financially cripple you.”

Mitchell: “The current administration has done a great job with their book policy and helping convert textbooks to make them cheaper and cost a lot less than these new editions that they’re making our students buy. I think that’s a very big thing, but we do have to face the reality that we do have an endowment, but since COVID Oakland University housing’s been down, enrollment has been down. 

“We just, a lot of our administration, have had so many budget cuts across the board that have made it that much harder for us to work on making costs a little cheaper as much as we would like to. I think it starts with making this university a place where students want to be. Students don’t want to just go to class. 

“They can show up and actually engage in their environment in several different ways and organizations. I think those things make students want to come here because personally I would love to be in a place where I feel welcomed and that I believe I can make change and carry on things that I believe.”