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Undergraduate Student Government West hopefuls debate student issues

Undergraduate Student Government West presidential candidates Howard Waldie IV and Russl Altabtabaee, along with their vice presidential candidates, discussed issues such as tuition fees, the state of USGW and plans to improve the community surrounding ASU in an hour-long debate on Wednesday at the West campus.

Waldie, a political science junior, said he and his running mates, psychology sophomore Ashley Kavanaugh and political science freshman Shelby Paneitz, want a community-focused student government that runs on integration of ideas and cultures.

“The reason why we decided to run is because we have seen our community grow here at ASU West,” he said. “It’s grown very, very vibrantly. But something that we realize is that as we continue to grow, there’s constant adaptation and constant changes and we want to be a part of that change as we were this year.”

Waldie said that he and his team already have experience and a good track record of getting things accomplished at the West campus. He said he wants to be reelected so he can continue to make a positive impact.

“We’ve really been able to accomplish a lot, and we think that with our prior experience this year and previous years we’ll be able to move forward quicker and move forward on student-driven initiatives that will build our community,” he said.

He said if students want to see West campus grow, they should draw off his ticket’s prior experience and cast a vote for Waldie. He said he plans to be proactive in working on initiatives.

“The first one is how we are going to be working with the Arizona Board of Regents and University administration to redevelop how we think about program fees for majors and kind of make them more transparent, more consistent for students and their families,” he said.

Waldie also said his ticket would work to improve the community surrounding West campus.

“We’re looking to develop business plans with city officials and our University to bring entertainment districts out here such as movie theaters, some restaurants and even some shopping centers for our residents and not even just for our residents but for our community members here,” he said.

Waldie said he would focus on “advocating for a 0 percent tuition increase across the board,” as well as working to improve the surrounding community. He said the positive changes that have happened this year, such as weekend shuttles, are a result of the team’s hard work.

“This is a ticket," he said. "It’s not just one individual candidate, and I think that all of these team members have proven themselves over and over again. We want to work together as a team ... and that’s why you should vote for us. Because when we come together as a team, we are able to accomplish a lot.”

Presidential hopeful Altabtabaee, a forensics junior, and her running mates, psychology sophomore Hasaam Sheikh and forensics junior Yosor Altabtabaee, said their unique life experience and cultural diversity would bring a new perspective to the government.

The Altabtabaee sisters emigrated to America in 2008 because of safety issues and the transition from their native country to the U.S. was a culture shock, Russl Altabtabaee said.

“I came to the U.S. back in 2008,” she said. “We came to the U.S. and everything was hard. I started college, (and) it was a huge transition from the Middle East all the way to here.”

When she began studying at Glendale Community College, she formed a club for Arab Americans to socialize with one another and with students native to the U.S. She said when she transferred to ASU, she wanted to continue to connect with students and continue to broaden her understanding of global cultures.

“Communication is the nicest thing in the world," she said. "When I transferred to ASU, I wanted to become part of a bigger organization so I can, myself, get to be exposed and make friends with (a) wider circle of people, so that’s why I’m running."

A main focus of her campaign is to make students' lives easier.

“It was hard for me as a student,” she said. “I didn’t want them to go through the same challenge that I had to go through.”

In her opening statements and throughout the debate, Altabtabaee said she would focus on what a students' priorities are if elected.

She and her running mates reiterated throughout the opening statements, debate and questions that they would learn from students and do what students wanted them to do and provide a fresh perspective.

“I don’t know every in and out of ASU USG. ... Most of you would see this as a weakness,” she said. “But this weakness is exactly why we are the best for USG at West. If you elected us, we will take advantage of our lack of knowledge by learning from the student body itself.”

Michelle Daniels, marketing and supply chain management senior and elections commissioner, said presidential debates require extensive organization with the University and students alike.

Daniels said candidates had a basic idea of what questions would be asked but did not know any specific details about the event.

“We also have to be very transparent with the candidates about what types of questions will be asked,” she said. “They didn’t receive the exact questions, because we wanted it to be a debate where they were thinking on their feet.”

Daniels said it is important for students to know about their candidates and make informed decisions because USG has the ability to impact student life.

“I think a lot of students really underestimate the impact that undergraduate student government can have on campuses, because a lot of times, it’s not super visible, even though they do so much behind the scenes,” she said. “They really do have opportunities to change the way ASU is heading. So it’s really, really important for students to be involved in the elections process.”

Contact the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @Melissa152163

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