Meet the candidates
Marcus Clem | copy editor
Taylor Gravett views running for SGA president as an opportunity and a duty, to try to fill the shoes of President Lara Ismert and Vice President Sydney Ward.
“I’ve seen two previous administrations,” he said. “I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. As (Ismert and Ward are) leaving, my duty is to step up and continue to lead.”
Gravett, junior in political science, focuses his student activities on government and politics: He has been in SGA since his arrival at PSU, and is Campus Democrats club president. He works as a legal aide in the Overman Student Center basement, right next to SGA’s office.
He has always been involved in SGA’s political outreach efforts in Topeka and elsewhere, and says he has developed close ties to a variety of important people in the state Capitol, as a student senator and independent volunteer.
Campus ‘belongs to students’
“I promise that every single day, we’re going to be looking out for the students’ best interest,” he said, “and that they can always have the opportunity to come to us and say what’s on their mind, without having to feel like any question is ‘stupid.’”
Gravett says that one of the most important things for all voters to remember is that the university may be governed in part by SGA, but that this is done on behalf of the student body.
“This is not SGA’s campus,” he said. “This is everybody’s campus. Everybody should be able to know what’s happening with PSU and SGA, and everybody should really have a say on how those institutions go forward.
“That is vital to PSU’s livelihood, and the exchanging of ideas and opinions never really hurt anybody. It will be really vital to PSU moving forward.”
‘Experience with legislators’
The single greatest problem confronting students right now is the cost of education, Gravett says.
“PSU really boasts itself on being affordable,” he said. “We must make sure that we keep that commitment to the students.”
There are two pieces of legislation that will cut state higher education funding by 8 percent and 2 percent respectively which are being considered by the Kansas Legislature.
Neither amount is acceptable, Gravett says.
“These are really detrimental cuts,” he said, adding that tuition hikes would be an automatic result. “We could perhaps lose students.”
However, because the cuts are an action that will be up to the state government, Gravett says he is best positioned to act.
“I have experience working with legislators. I (can) let them know of a very real issue. I was born and raised within this community, and anything that directly affects PSU affects me, even when I wasn’t going to school here.”
SGA must do everything it can to continue to make sure that PSU remains affordable and that students continue to earn the education they deserve, Gravett says.
Dedication to volunteer efforts with multiple campaigns has allowed him to become more than an intern with many candidates, Gravett says.
“Those kind of personal connections allow my voice and my opinion to resonate more than just somebody who is just a staffer. Having been in the trenches with some of those people through the toughest times, there is a level of respect.”
Gravett and his running mate, Kiki Eigenmann, sophomore in psychology, have made significant personal commitments to the race.
“We are spending a lot of our own money,” he said, noting that there is a limit of $750. “Really, though, we have to make campaigning fun, because PSU has seen very low voter turnout. Kiki and I feel that because of hands-on stuff they’re going to remember us when it is time to vote.”
In his time with SGA, Gravett says, he’s become friends with everyone he’s worked with, including Walker and Austin Leake, the PSYou vice-presidential candidate.
“I think that Director Walker and Senator Leake are great people,” he said. “They also want to advance PSU and PSU SGA. Where we differ, really, is how we get there. I feel that they would do an exceptional job, but I feel that me and Kiki would do an even greater job.”
Gravett stressed that his personal relationships are the key factor.
“We formed really great relationships with those in senate right now. We take the approach that we’re always really approachable.”
‘Definitely not true’
During the intensifying campaign, Walker has criticized Gravett for, she says, being unimaginative in constructing the PSUnited party platform, saying that Gravett is running on simply doing the job of president and not creatively working for students.
“I would say that’s definitely not true,” Gravett said. “We have three main platform points and also some very specific projects that we want to get accomplished.”
Unlike PSYou, PSUnited’s campaign planks are less about policy and more about ideological goals. Drawing from its name, PSUnited is described on its Facebook page as primarily concerned with building a “coalition” to ensure that “all voices are heard.”
Gravett says that there are three overall goals for PSUnited: fiscal responsibility, campus sustainability and ensuring that all voices are heard.
“Whether your idea puts you in a small minority or a large majority, you should always have your opinion heard,” he said. “With a little bit of construction and a little bit of compromise, every idea has the motive of moving PSU and SGA forward.”
Gravett defined two immediate actions that he promises to pursue if elected. First, he says that he will continue his current efforts as SGA academic affairs director to get Axe Library to adopt an extended, preferably 24-hour schedule.
“PSU is one of the only colleges in the area that does not have at least extended hours or 24-hour access,” Gravett said. “It is time that we invest in student learning.”
Second, he says that Scantron test-taking forms, which have been provided throughout the academic year for free in a program funded by SGA, should continue to be offered conveniently and at no cost to students.
“It’s a very simple and easy commitment that we should be keeping,” Gravett said.
As a communication major with an emphasis in theater, Elle Walker isn’t a conventional candidate for SGA president, and she says that is a strength.
“We have a wide range of perspectives on campus,” Walker, a junior, said. “There’s everything from sports to theater to SGA. I think I have a lot of unique ideas as a theater emphasis, as opposed to the business, English and math majors we’ve had previously.
“My more creative aspect on things will provide a whole new outlook. I can come up with more creative ways to solve problems, versus the typical political answers that you always think of.”
Walker has long had her eye on leadership in SGA, but she never expected that Taylor Gravett would be her opposition.
“We were planning to run together, last semester, as a team,” she said.
“Circumstances” arose in December to trigger what Walker says was a “clean break.” Still, it was a significant disruption for Walker’s longterm plans for her presidency effort, entitled “PSYou.”
“This was kind of nerve-wracking, definitely, because him and I had already sat down and discussed stuff together,” she said. “It was kinda scary,” she said, saying that there were probably mutual fears that, as opponents, information that they had shared would be exploited during the campaign.
Agree to disagree
However, these events eventually led Walker to Austin Leake, senior in construction engineering technology, whose status as her running mate in “PSYou” has political consequences.
Leake and Walker readily acknowledge that Leake’s commitment to the cause of the Gorillas for Conceal-and-Carry on Campus Club, (GCCCC) of which he is a member, represents a noted conflict with Walker’s position on the issue of weapons on campus.
“I don’t believe (guns) have any place in the classroom,” Walker said during a debate event on the evening of Thursday, March 28, in 224 Kelce.
Leake said during the debate that he is willing to put aside his GCCCC advocacy, if a student vote shows that most students don’t want an expansion of concealed-carry privileges.
Walker also promised to back concealed-carry on campus if a poll, which PSYou has promised to organize, shows majority approval.
“He’s definitely one side, and I’m definitely another,” she said. “But, him and I make a great team.”
‘Taking your campus back’
Leake and Walker say they have a platform focused on making SGA more accountable, open and accessible to the public. Any disagreements they might have on other issues are strengths, Walker says.
Some of their ideas, Walker and Leake say, are fueled by PSYou’s central platform plank of “Taking back your campus.”
This includes a promise to develop an SGA app for smartphones, allowing students to follow meetings.
Walker promised that a second reservation for student opinion time would be installed into the standard meeting schedule.
This will allow students to air their concerns, and then reflect on whether they believe those concerns were addressed, Walker says.
“That way, we know before leaving our meeting if we are doing our job right,” Walker said. “We’ll know if what we came for was accomplished.”
Another issue that has come up in the last administration, Walker says, is the trend of senators voting to push resolutions into second reading, waiving the usual one-week notice requirement before they can be voted in.
That provision is designed to allow senators to pass funding or approval for an emergency purpose.
PSYou will continue to support this practice, but all resolutions that are pushed will be immediately posted outside the SGA office in Overman Student Center, Walker says, in the overall interest of supporting SGA’s second plank: transparency.
“We want to have things more open,” she said.
In a prominent area of campus, most likely within the student center, Walker says she will push for the installation of a centralized bulletin board and calendar.
This will allow non-student groups that are still important to the university, such as community artists, musicians or other guests to post news and other information without hindrance, Walker says.
“The remodel of the student center is a great time to add in something new,” she said.
Currently, most public bulletin boards require notices and fliers to be associated either with the university or with a student group, and receive pre-approval from SGA that expires after a given time.
The calendar will also list important events for a wide variety of student organizations that may not have an established way to promote these events otherwise.
Smaller organizations could also seek to have their updates added into the SGA app, Walker says.
The final plank of PSYou’s platform concerns a promised effort to collaborate with student organizations on campus.
Walker says that she wants other student groups to be involved in SGA external committees as much as possible, and to attract these organizations to attend SGA meetings.
Non-senators would still only be able to speak during the student opinion times, but organization leaders would be encouraged to seek involvement in SGA, Walker says.
Campaign heating up
As election week draws nearer, Walker has become more aggressive against Gravett, while remaining mindful of her intention to remain his friend regardless of who wins, she says.
During the debate in Kelce, Walker criticized Gravett for what she said was his persistent lack of success in getting something they both want, extended hours of operation at Axe Library.
Walker also asserts that Gravett has not established an independent platform, other than to advocate for doing what the SGA president is already supposed to do.
“When Taylor’s campaign came out, it was almost identical to what (past campaigns) had chosen to run on,” she said. “That kind of made Austin and I laugh, because we thought to ourselves, ‘That’s not a platform, that’s a job responsibility.’ …
“(Gravett is) not running on a platform. He is running on ‘This is what I’m going to be required to do anyways,’ so instead of going above and beyond the job description, he’s just staying within the limits.”
Money of student politics
Walker says she and Leake decided early on that they could each afford about $100 for the campaign.
The result is apparent throughout campus: PSYou members will get T-shirts for the week of the campaign.
While PSYou has recently installed large banners around campus and the city, and cooperated with Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity to hang a banner on their property, Gravett has had T-shirts, signs, banners, fliers and posters up for longer and in greater numbers.
Walker says she isn’t worried, though. She says she believes that personal effort and human connections outweigh the effect of advertising.
“Me and Austin have made a conscious effort to reach out to organizations that aren’t typically voters,” she said. “Some organizations require their students to vote, and that’s awesome, but we’ve reached out to those organizations where they might care who wins, but they’re not going to take the time to go vote.
“Hopefully by us personally reaching out to them, it’s encouraged them to get online and vote come April 5,” she said.