SEPA faces criticism over “What Matters to U” speaker John Kasich

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a CNN senior political commentator, best-selling author and former Fox host will speak to students in the fourth installment of "What Matters to U" on Feb. 4. Photo credit: UM News

In the fourth installment of the “What Matters to U” series, former Ohio governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate John Kasich spoke to students at the University of Miami about leadership and civic engagement on Tuesday, Feb. 4.

Since the announcement of Kasich’s visit, the Student Engagement Programming Agency, a Student Government organization responsible for planning the WMTU events, has faced criticism from several students on campus.

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a CNN senior political commentator, best-selling author and former Fox host will speak to students in the fourth installment of "What Matters to U" on Feb. 4. Photo credit: UM News

Past SEPA events featured scientist and public figure Bill Nye, actor Ken Jeong and the outspoken women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe. This event marked the first career politician that the university paid to speak to students for WMTU, and several student senators expressed deep misgivings about this choice during a senate meeting on Jan. 22.

Among them was junior Alexander LaBarbera, a senator representing the College of Arts and Sciences, who expressed that he found the choice inherently problematic. “Divisive people should not be endorsed by Student Government,” argued LaBarbera, a political science, religious studies, history and economics quadruple major.

James Lai, the chair of SEPA, explained to the student senate that his team chose to bring someone political in light of the upcoming democratic primaries and decided on Kasich as a balance to the previous three speakers who were perceived as more progressive.

Each of the previous speakers have publically shared left-leaning views and Rapinoe, who visited campus in October, announced her official endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren this past December.

However, despite their personal views, Jasmine Ortiz, a newly confirmed senator representing the Frost School of Music, retorted that none of the previous speakers were career politicians and they spoke about topics that should not be politicized such as environmentalism, diversity in film, female representation in sports and LGBTQ+ rights.

Other senators, such as Sophomore Class Sen. Landon Coles, said they wished SEPA had picked someone relevant for Black History Month.

According to the Student Government website, SEPA’s goal is to engage the student population through events, and respond to the campus community’s feedback in its planning process. After Rapinoe came to UM, students involved in UM College Republicans lodged their complaints at the lack of diversity of ideas presented by the three prior WMTU speakers.

The president of UM College Republicans Micaela Stoner voiced her concern at vice president round table meetings and with top administration. Stoner said that she, along with many other conservative students, felt unheard as a demographic of this university. In her time at UM, Stoner, a senior majoring in finance and real estate, said she has seen Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Michelle Obama all visit campus but never a Republican politician.

After receiving this feedback, Stoner said that SEPA reached out to College Republicans and promised they would bring a conservative voice to campus for the next WMTU event. Stoner and her team were asked to compile a list of 12 possible speakers they would like to see on campus. The list they provided included figures such as political commentator Ben Shapiro, actors Vince Vaughn and Tim Allen, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), an alumnus of UM’s Law School.

None of the recommendations from their list were chosen, and when members of College Republicans heard that Kasich, a republican who has been very vocal in his criticism of President Donald Trump, was coming to campus, they were deeply disappointed, Stoner said.

“The fact that they’re bringing John Kasich who isn’t that conservative and isn’t really a Republican seems like a big cop out,” Stoner said. “We have been fighting for a conservative voice on this campus for so long. And then we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel that potentially they’re gonna bring someone that represents our views, and stop pretty much discriminating against us for our opinions, and then it’s just totally gone and they don’t follow up to that promise.”

Ben Dias, the treasurer of College Republicans and a sophomore majoring in American studies and economics, also complained that John Kasich isn’t popular among many conservatives.

“Not only is [Kasich] irrelevant to modern politics, but he also brings in a viewpoint that very few value at this time. He’s a ‘never-trumper’ conservative so those who felt marginalized by the previous speakers don’t get the satisfaction of hearing someone with similar views to them speak,” Dias said. “[Kasich] doesn’t really represent anyone, which is good in some cases, but probably not in an academic setting where what matters to students should be prioritized.”

Lai, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, stated that since Kasich spoke about civic engagement and leadership, this event shouldn’t be seen as partisan. He said the purpose of WMTU is to spark discussion and challenge students.

Moderated by Keegan Gibson, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, and Judge Ellen Venzer, an adjunct professor at Miami law school, the event began at 5 p.m.

Of the 100 students The Miami Hurricane polled, 51 students said they were not planning on attending and 16 said they were undecided. However, Lai said he isn’t concerned with filling the ballroom every time.

Inés Eisenhour contributed to the reporting of this story.