The Fairfield University Student’s Association recently hosted its annual presidential debate in the lower level Barone Campus Center this past Tuesday, Feb. 21, where two candidate teams took on questioning.
One ticket consisted of presidential candidate and current FUSA Vice President Aliyah Seenauth ‘24 and vice presidential candidate Zachary Vargas ‘24, whereas the other ticket was presidential candidate Giovanni Young ‘25 and vice presidential candidate Bob Paltrineri ‘25.
The debate started with the introduction of Caroline Cody ‘25, Chief Justice of the FUSA Court, as she explained what the night’s format, rules and expectations were to consist of.
Each presidential ticket started off with two minutes to give an opening statement that shared their campaign ideals. Because the Seenauth-Vargas ticket won the coin toss, they began the night’s debate.
Seenauth listed off her qualifications first: she served her freshman year on the FUSA Diversity and Inclusion board, took on the role of Associate Director of the board in her sophomore year and has currently been working as 75th FUSA Vice President.
Seenauth is running with Vargas who currently serves as an Associate Justice on the FUSA Board and echoed the goal of “serving others and helping people” at Fairfield University.
Together, their goals for their hopeful presidential win consist of “encouraging health and wellness, promoting diversity, equality, inclusion and belonging and uplifting Stag spirit.”
Young approached the stand next and spoke on behalf of his running mate Paltrineri by discussing their campaign in “three simple points:” small classes, student rights and modern education.
“Your education is an investment, and the experience you deserve is the experience you receive,” Young stated before his two minutes concluded.
Following the candidate’s introductions, each ticket was asked a majority of questions by FUSA Associate Justices Grace Baker ‘24, Joshua Orndorff ‘24, Brianna McAleer ‘25, Devone Martin ‘25 and Emily Bower ‘26. Each group was given 90 seconds to respond, with no rules for how each ticket divides their time among their presidential and vice presidential candidates so long as only one person speaks at a time.
If a question was directed at one person, such as only presidential or VP candidates, each candidate had 90 seconds to respond. Following a ticket’s statement, the candidates were given 30 seconds to rebut if the ticket or candidate was directly addressed by another candidate.
The night’s first question presented to the candidates was: “One of the most important jobs of the FUSA President and Vice President is to be the voice for the student body, what do you feel makes you qualified for this responsibility?”
Young explained that his work on FUSA so far is what makes him most qualified, specifically working on a policy for the Office of Accessibility and “inclusion of Title IV protections so that any student entering a classroom can feel safe.”
What makes Paltrineri qualified is his “involvement in car club and ski club” and how he “loves being social.”
As Seenauth already stated her qualifications in her previous introduction, Vargas took the time to explain his thoughts. “The ultimate form of leadership is to be receptive,” he shared and went on to demonstrate that he exemplified this with his experience as a Team 26 New Student Leader.
When asked how each ticket plans to increase student involvement in voting and FUSA as a whole, both tickets expressed simple ideas.
Seenauth focused on encouraging students to have a voice while Young emphasized making elections accessible.
The next Associate Justices posed the question about time management: “All of you are busy people outside of FUSA, how would you ensure you have time to devote your role as president or vice president if elected?”
The Young-Paltrieneri ticket spoke first. “This is not for LinkedIn or a resume. I listen. I hear. I want our school to grow,” Paltrieneri stated.
Young echoed that sentiment and continued, “I leave my room at nine in the morning and return at midnight every day,” attempting to prove his involvement within the Fairfield community.
Seenauth approached the microphone next and responded, “I have spent these past couple of months as the vice president which allowed me to prioritize time in other positions such as NSL and SDMA, and it all comes from passion and that’s what motivates me.”
“I think with any successful leader comes time management,” Vargas followed. “Aliyah and I prioritize this because we want to serve you, listen to you and hear what you have to say.”
Fairfield University recently expanded its community by announcing the Bellarmine Campus located nearby in Bridgeport, Conn. As future FUSA title holders, the Justices asked how they plan to connect students at Fairfield Bellarmine and at Fairfield University’s North Benson Road campus.
Seenauth reiterated their commitment to campus diversity and continued by stating that “the work between the Bellarmine campus is near and dear to my heart.” One of their major goals is eliminating the possible gap between Bellarmine and North Benson campuses and giving opportunities to low-income students.
Vargas also noted that he is “learning how to be the best ally I can be by opening eyes/ears to different perspectives [and] being cognizant of the backgrounds of Bellarmine students.”
“We’re all Stags. We’re all humans,” Paltrieneri stated. “This is an opportunity to connect with all different walks of life. We often forget Bridgeport is close. We need to value the experience they have there as well as over here.”
“My uncle lived in Fairfield, [and] worked in Bridgeport,” Paltrieneri continued.
“We must remind ourselves we’re all Stags,” he ended.
Young followed this by sharing that they want to “make sure that the same goals are promoted across all campuses,” and that “more students are represented in FUSA.”
The next topic discussed budgeting and how they plan to allocate funds properly.
“People will want to see more representation from themselves and their ideas on campus” and Young attributes COSO allocating a large part of our budget to aiding that. He also recalled his previous internship with FUSA treasury.
“The FUSA budget is made up of a small amount of our tuition statement, if our increasing demand of students come[s], then so will our budget which will allocate the demand,” Young stated.
Paltrieneri also noted that both men are business majors.
“I’ve learned to budget this entire year,” Seenauth said. “With Jordan [Gale], the first thing we did was work on the budget itself. Our plan is to work with directors and board members to discuss what their needs are so that we can allocate ours properly as well.”
Vargas was quick to add that “With the increasing class size, it’s our responsibility to serve everyone here.”
“Commuters are often a part of campus that are forgotten about. How can you work with commuters to increase their involvement and representation on campus?” one of the Justices asked each ticket.
Young started off by stating that “Every issue that we work on will be applicable to commuter students.” More specifically, he suggested getting rid of commuter-specific First-Year Experience classes to “bridge that gap” between commuter and residential students.
Paltrieneri notes his own experiences with communing as he was a day student at his boarding school. “I understand your frustration, commuting is tough. You get parking tickets all the time.” Overall, he stated that “We need to work. We need to listen.”
The Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs is right next to the Commuter Lounge where Seenauth spends most of her time. “I am lucky to have many commuter friends,” she shared. “We lack commuter representation in FUSA and we would like more representation in FUSA and we would like to add that to our campaign. To have their voice, we can communicate and work with them and hear your needs.”
“There’s a lot we can work on,” Vargas added. “Improving language of Google Forms, focusing on those little details and listening to everybody.”
Next, each ticket was asked to note some of the biggest issues facing Fairfield University students and asked to propose possible solutions.
Vargas suggested mental health and repeated their goal of starting a student-led Health and Wellness committee and opening up that dialogue to diminish the stigma. Seenauth added that the issue of diversity “requires ongoing work.”
“Between Bellarmine and commuter students, there are a lot of underrepresented students that we hope to call attention to,” she stated.
Young approached the stand by mentioning smaller classes. “We should not have 40, 50, 60 in classes [and we] should not feel that right to freedoms are impinged on.”
Paltrieneri was last to note that a “bigger gym goes a long way” and ended with “two benches [are] not enough.”
The candidates were then asked to propose a plan to help address the issue of not all students being able to fulfill their Magis Core due to the lack of available classes.
“One of the issues is we’re not able to get all of these requirements because there are only so many students that are allowed in classes; they cap at a certain size,” Young explained. “I would encourage smaller classes, get more sections of classes taught [and] get those elements incorporated if they are more accessible to people.”
“Being a junior, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Vargas joked. He shared that he has “been overwhelmed at times” when it comes to course registration and “opening sections is critical.”
“The average class is 23-29 students which allows a good relationship between faculty and students,” and something they want to keep. As a result, he noted that “Aliyah and I plan to raise awareness about classes that are open” to help students during those stressful times.
President-specific questions came next, the most notable one asked what strategies they could lead to increase attendance at FUSA-sponsored events.
Seenauth focused on listening to feedback from the student body whereas Young argued for an increase in marketing.
As for vice presidential candidates, Vargas and Paltrieneri were asked how they would describe the role of the FUSA VP.
“Listening to all of you,” Vargas started. “Creating a high-quality relationship with Aliyah. Making sure we are working well with each other, it is my responsibility to look out for the initiatives to serve the student body as best as possible.”
“Gio is a phenomenal candidate. I’ve got that scrappy side to the ticket,” Paltrieneri stated. “I am going to do everything in my power to put it in the front and make Gio aware of it [and] serve you first at all times.”
He ended, “I’ll be a thorn in not only the university’s side but [Young’s] side when he needs it.”
As for ticket-specific questions, Seenauth was asked how she believed her experience as a title-holding member of FUSA prepared her to take on the role of FUSA President.
“I learned organizational skills, how to be a team player, how to allocate a budget and I’m looking forward to continuing learning,” she stated.
Young was asked how he plans to handle issues that come up when 21st-century abilities are able to circumvent authority and control of administration, specifically regarding the anonymous social media application Fizz.
“I truly do believe in the fact that this is a Jesuit university,” Young began. “If it comes to our attention that students go in and bully other people, this isn’t something that doesn’t align with the university, mine or Bob’s values. We’re not there all the time to monitor all of the time, but I think the only true genuine response is that through creative problem solving we’ll be able to mitigate these things but we will never be able to fully prevent them.”
In the final 20 minutes of the debate, audience members were given the impunity to write down questions on a yellow slip of paper and the Associate Justices selected questions to ask. Finally, each ticket concluded with a one-minute closing statement.
One audience member asked about Seenauth’s previous diversity initiatives. “I have focused on diversity since the first step I made on this campus. I am one of the few students of color on campus,” she stated.
“As Associate Director, I planned a women’s history event in March, aided the admissions office through giving bilingual tours and work closest with company scholars.”
“This is my passion. This is work that I want to do for life. Anything I can do to support diversity is my main goal,” Seenauth ended.
For Young, he was asked to elaborate on his “student rights” campaign. “One of the key issues we focus on is self-expression. Certain groups are routinely ignored by the administration and aren’t given the space to put on the events they want to.” He continued by noting food security on campus.
“The Tully is only open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.–if you have anything after 9:30, you have to spend dining dollars and if you don’t have any dining dollars, good luck finding food anywhere on campus.” He ended by noting other issues regarding housing and residence life.
After an hour and a half of questioning, the candidates were asked to make their closing statements.
Seenauth began by thanking everyone in the audience for attending the debate and reminded them that their platform “harnesses the mind, body and spirit.”
“We hope to be an advocate for others and in doing so we hope to be a safe space for every student on campus and guarantee a positive experience,” she ended.
Young ended with “If after four years of a college experience, if a student feels that their experience has not been worth it, we have failed as an institution. The idea of perfection is impossible; there will always be mistakes but that does not free us from the obligation of improvement.”
“If this university expects us and trains us to find problems in the community, then we need to do the same here. This is a unique community. Let’s preserve that,” Young ended.
To keep up with either candidate’s campaigns, you can find updates on either Instagram accounts: @aliyah.zach.2023 or @young.paltrineri.2023. If interested in voting, visit FUSA’s page on Life@Fairfield by clicking on “FUSA Presidential Election”. The ballots opened on Feb. 23 and will close on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m.
The 76th FUSA President and Vice President will be announced two hours after the ballot closes at the election party which will be located in the LLBCC at 7 p.m.