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VP candidates debate institutional knowledge versus fresh perspectives

There are three individuals standing at three brown podiums. The foremost one is speaking, while the other two are preparing their responses. A moderator in a blue suit sits in front and looks towards the candidates.
USG vice presidential candidates debate in Whig Hall.
Rohit Narayanan / The Daily Princetonian

Candidates for Undergraduate Student Government (USG) vice president Chase Magnano ’25, Srista Tripathi ’25 and Warren Shepherd ’27 faced off in the first-ever vice-presidential debate co-hosted by The Daily Princetonian and Whig-Clio. This marks a change from the traditional presidential debate given that the role of president stands essentially uncontested, with Avi Attar ’25 as the presumptive president-elect, though Braiden Aaronson ’25 will also be listed on the ballot.

Magnano is an economics major from Florida. Tripathi is a School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) major from Virginia. Shepherd is a prospective economics major from Georgia and first-year in Holder Hall.

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The event was moderated by Whig-Clio President of the Senate Daniel Shaw ’25, Whig-Clio General Officer Khoa Sands ’26, ‘Prince’ Managing Editor Kalena Blake ’24, and ‘Prince’ Associate News Editor Annie Rupertus ’25. 

Over 80 students attended the debate.

According to an entry poll conducted by the ‘Prince,’ 36 percent of respondents would not have attended the debate if it had been a presidential debate between Attar and Aaronson, indicating an increased level of interest in the vice presidential role following dramatic exit of Aaronson from the presidential race yesterday.

Throughout the debate, Tripathi and Magnano debated institutional knowledge versus fresh perspectives with relatively similar end-goals in terms of policy.

Candidates line up firmly behind Attar and Daniels

Candidates were asked about how they would work with the presumptive president-elect Attar, what parts of Attar’s platform they would support, and what parts they would push back on.

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Tripathi played up the fact that she is running on a ticket with Attar. She emphasized the differences in her and Attar’s backgrounds, saying, “It’s been very beneficial to hear his perspective and hear how his side, coming from the Social Committee and Undergraduate Student Life Committee, with [my] academic side, we were able to put our two heads together and understand how to make a very cohesive, very holistic approach.”

Magnano emphasized that he would bring new ideas and areas of emphasis to Attar’s platform. Magnano did not note any specific areas of disagreement with Attar.

Magnano said, “I’m looking to align my platform with [Attar’s] but also bring in some of my ideas that might not be present on his platform right now. I think the combination of our two ideas from an experienced USG representative as president and someone who's coming in … from a pretty fresh perspective.”

“When defining the role actual of vice president, it’s critical that the first thing is to serve the president,” he added.

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“I think that it’s important to have dissent among the administration,” Shepherd said, “I think it helps for a better path forward for the University. Obviously, I would easily work in conjunction with [Attar], I look forward to doing so. But I’m not afraid to bring my own ideas to the platform.”

Shepherd also did not name any areas where he disagreed with Attar.

Aside from aligning behind Attar, none of the candidates listed any areas of disagreement with the current USG administration led by Stephen Daniels ’24 and Madi Linton ’24 despite being asked directly.

“Some of my favorite aspects of [Daniels’s] and [Linton’s] administration have been their ability to prioritize and initiate Pay with Points, to prioritize mental health amongst the student body, and of course, to make the first genuine effort of bring back the Campus Pub,” Magnano said.

“As Academics Chair, I had the honor of serving under [Linton’s] and [Daniels’s] very wonderful administration,” Tripathi noted.

Tripathi and Magnano back Campus Pub

All candidates hoped to make progress on the campus pub — a bar and social space for students that would open during nights out. The campus pub was pushed by Daniels, who proposed bringing back the establishment where students could legally purchase and consume alcohol.

Candidates were asked to explain the campus pub proposal, given Tripathi and Magnano both included it in their platform. Tripathi emphasized existing USG efforts to advocate for the pub, mentioning conversations conducted with faculty along with a focus on “what students want to see in the pub, what it looks like when it existed, what is important to know about changes that might have to happen for it to be something that’s actually meaningful for students.”

Magnano, who described himself as the ideal candidate to bring back the pub, said it would be important as a “non-exclusionary” space for students where they could “gather together and enjoy a social situation in a scene that really isn’t present on our campus right now.” He mentioned that obtaining a liquor license would be a key step.

Shepherd said he would be willing to propose the Campus Pub if it was what students want, but said he felt it was “important to recognize, however, that many of our students on campus do not drink” and that the space should feel truly open to all. 

In the entry poll, the audience had polarized views on the importance of the campus pub. The majority of the 31 respondents ranked campus pub as either their 4th or 5th priority. Specifically, 42 percent of respondents ranked the campus pub as their lowest priority, while 26 percent rated it as their second to lowest priority. Few ranked it as their second or third priority, while 19 percent indicated as their top priority.

Once again, academics takes precedence in mental health discussion

When queried on providing students with mental health support, Magnano, Tripathi, and Shepherd largely agreed that some changes need to be made. Unlike the other two candidates, Shepherd did not think it would be valuable to relax academic standards for the sake of mental health. 

Magnano mentioned priorities would be decreasing CPS wait times and ensuring that there are no deadlines for coursework over breaks. He also mentioned that supporting campus communities could be another way to support mental health.

Tripathi emphasized that mental health can impact different students, mentioning that for first-generation students, “various aspects that influence their student lifestyle [cause] them to feel unsupported at all times.” 

“It’s really crucial that we understand which groups are already continuing these mental health efforts and how we can best channel their efforts and support them,” she added. 

The debate shifted to academics, with Tripathi referencing President Christopher Eisgruber’s statements on mental health in a November 2022 interview with the ‘Prince.’

Shepherd, referencing mental health, said he doesn’t “believe that relaxing academic standards is a solution.” 

“I got here without ever really dealing with many psychological issues and mental issues and which may be a special case, but I think that there’s a way to face this problem and still keep our academic rigor up,” he explained, to audible hisses from the audience.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t that student. I was the opposite,” rebutted Tripathi. “Coming into Princeton, academics are difficult. The social life is tough,” she explained, adding “that students feel pressure from stigma related to mental health, related to finances” and emphasized decreasing the cost for mental health care as a way to better support students.

The discussion of mental health in the debate — and the candidates’ differing levels of focus on the issue — engaged audience members, leading to an increase in the issue’s salience. While mental health was tied at 26 percent of the first priority rankings with academic reforms and Pay With Points expansion at the beginning of the debate, mental health rose to being the leading priority for audience members at 35 percent by its conclusion. 

Magnano defends eating clubs in debate about the dining pilot

In the past USG term, there was debate about a proposed dining pilot which would open up meals at eating clubs and co-ops to all undergraduates. Among the debate audience, 68 percent supported changes to upperclass dining resulting from the dining pilot.

Candidates were asked about their views on the dining pilot. Shepherd appeared confused about the dining pilot, asking for clarification from the moderators, before stating that “I believe that this initiative is a good initiative.” Shepherd expanded on his views on dining policy by proposing an earlier start date to meal exchange and allowing eating club members to eat in dining halls during breaks.

Tripathi agreed with Shepherd’s point on starting meal exchange earlier, but highlighted the importance of student input rather than taking a firm position on the Dining Pilot. She stated, “We would like to make sure that students are aware of the dining pilot.”

Magnano stated that the “bottom line for what students want from the dining pilot is to simultaneously preserve the communities that we love and bring in more people and make it a more easy process to actually exchange between multiple communities.” He then called to expand meal exchange to independent and co-op students and make it an easier and quicker process.

“This should be a simple process that encourages us to go outside our normal circles,” said Magnano.

Magnano's statement was reminiscent of the alternative proposal by student leaders in fall 2022 which would have expanded dining options for independent students and expanded programs like Pay With Points to upperclassmen without affecting the fundamental structure of the eating clubs.

All candidates back unprecedented further hike of student activity fee

One of the major events of the past year in USG has been the increase of the student activity fee, which more than doubled in the first increase in nearly 30 years. The measure raised over $300,000 for USG programming. Among the debate audience, the measure was relatively popular, with 71 percent backing the activity fee increase in the entry survey.

All candidates raised their hand to indicate they supported another activity fee increase to fund their programs. An activity fee increase for a second year in a row would be unprecedented given the amount the fee was raised in the past year.

Tripathi backed her support of a further increase by saying the previous activity fee increase was needed to match peer institutions and provide the necessary financial support to USG initiatives. 

Both Tripathi and Magnano noted that the fee increase was covered by financial aid. “For the students who might be paying full price, this represents less than a half percent increase in yearly tuition for something that can have a massively outsized effect on your experience here as a student,” Magnano said.

Shepherd backed his support by saying that an increase in the activity fee “helps spread the wealth of Princeton University around.” 

“Let’s just be honest: these clubs don’t grow on trees. You have to have money to fund them,” Shepherd said.

Disagreements emerge over changing the academic calendar

Magnano and Shepherd centered the proposal to move the academic calendar one week earlier in the year in their speeches. Tripathi diverged from the two on this point, highlighting the practical difficulties.

Magnano compared the University to peer institutions, claiming that many have earlier academic calendars that allow students to go on winter break earlier, stating that “with exams finishing on December 23 … [there] is a critical period of seven days where flights will sometimes double or triple in price.”

Tripathi, however, cautioned that changing the academic calendar is not a simple endeavor, saying that “oftentimes the faculty have their reasons for [maintaining the schedule]. If you think about the freshmen that come two to three weeks in advance prior to the school year beginning for orientation period, moving that one week earlier, and accommodating that with a faculty schedule and the staff schedule … seems a little bit unlikely.” 

However, she did agree that exams could be earlier, mentioning that “there’s currently a financial final exam revision proposal already submitted by the academic committee to allow for the exams to be earlier, to be known a lot earlier, to also allow them to be balanced throughout that period of time.”

Shepherd agreed with Magnano, saying that “I came up here as a freshman, I believe it was August 25. And I was up at college about two weeks later than all my counterparts. So I don’t know that this is really an impossible goal. Plus, I believe many faculty prefer getting on Christmas break earlier as well.”

Candidates were also asked about their thoughts on the Honor Committee and Committee on Discipline. All candidates emphasized the importance of oversight and transparency throughout the process, as well as making sure that the mental health of students is prioritized. 

Despite the focus on academics and disciplinary reforms in the debate, participants cared less about these topics in our exit than in our entry survey. The percentage of audience members who ranked academic reforms as their top priority fell from 26 to 18 percent, while disciplinary reforms remained relatively unchanged from five to six percent.

Candidates show whimsy in short-answer questions

In a question often asks of politicians, candidates were queried as to the price of a gallon of milk, which ranges between $3.50 and $4.50 in New Jersey. Shepherd and Magnano answered that it was $4.00, while Tripathi noted it was $3.00 in her home state of Virginia.

Asked for their drink of choice at the proposed campus pub, Shepherd and Tripathi picked different varieties of Coca-Cola, noting they were underage. Magnano said he'd get a Dirty Shirley, which is a Shirley Temple with vodka. He clarified that he was 21.

Asked about whether they'd consider having a live tiger on campus as a mascot, Magnano said he cared about animal rights, Tripathi expressed qualms about feeding the wild animal, while Shepherd expressed support for the idea, citing precedent at Louisiana State University (LSU). 

Audience views shift on the value of previous USG experience

Tripathi referenced her previous experience as USG academics chair in her pitch to the audience on multiple occasions. Magnano mentioned his time working on the Campus and Community Affairs taskforce, though he also emphasizes his ability to bring a fresh perspective. Shepherd emphasized his youth and outsider status as assets to the vice president role.

In the survey of audience members, participants found previous USG experience to be more valuable after the debate than before. In the entry survey, 35 percent of respondents believed USG experience to be “very important” to them, ranked five on a scale of one to five. Further, 29 percent ranked previous experience as “very important,” ranked four on this same scale. However, there were 18 percent of respondents who fell on the opposite extreme of the scale, believing that previous USG experience was not important at all.

After the debate, these percentages changed quite notably. Over half of the respondents responded that previous USG experience is “very important.”. The outcome of the debate may have swayed attending students in favor of the vice presidential candidates with more USG experience.

Voting opens Monday, Dec. 4 at 12 p.m. and will close on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 12 p.m.

Nandini Krishnan is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince’

Christopher Bao is a News contributor for the ‘Prince’

Kayla Xu and Lauren Zaidel also contributed reporting.

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com

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