Wednesday night, Alberto Quiroga questioned Jess Errico and Meredith Spence Beaulieu’s abilities to represent students during NC State Student Media’s Student Body President runoff debate, citing the fact that each of them is married. In doing so, he personally denigrated Errico, Spence Beaulieu, and other married students and revealed a deeper hypocrisy in his campaign’s platform points about diversity.
As a result, Alberto Quiroga has an obligation to concede the race for Student Body President.
At the end of the Student Media debate Wednesday night, Quiroga and Errico each were asked in turn by the panel what makes them (with their running mate) the best candidate to represent all students as Student Body President and Vice President. The question was first asked of Quiroga, so he answered, Errico countered, and debate continued until Errico was asked the same question by the panel.
The crux of Errico’s answer is that she and her running mate, Meredith Spence Beaulieu, cover each other’s weaknesses. She added that their goals are attainable and that they are attuned to the needs of the student body. Quiroga responded when she finished.
“I would say that one thing we can’t overlook, though, is that you both are married students,” Quiroga said.
Errico’s eyes opened wide. Some debate attendees verbally gasped.
“One’s a graduate student, one is going into her fifth year. I’m saying: does that represent what the student body is like,” Quiroga continued.
Quiroga continued with a less inflammatory but still off-base challenge to the broadness of Errico’s goals outlined in her platform. Errico responded when Quiroga finished his comments.
“Okay, so let’s unpack that one,” Errico began, addressing the audience.
Errico kept her hands tightly clasped as she answered. The explanatory hand gestures she had been using all night gave way to tense, focused body language.
“Marital status as a defining quality in whether or not you can do a job: that’s concerning,” Errico said. “Meredith and I have both been married for a while. I got married in May, I came into my term as Student Body Chief Justice in March, so for the majority of my term, I have been a married woman, and a proud married woman, and I have done that job well.”
Affirmative snapping from the audience momentarily interrupted her answer. Quiroga, also clasping his hands, moved only his eyes as he looked to Errico while she responded.
Errico continued by affirming the attainable nature of the goals laid out in her campaign platform, apparently having been able to maintain focus for the second part of Quiroga’s criticism. She outlined which of the specific goals she and Spence Beaulieu had identified as hard.
“And I’m married,” Errico finished, returning to the initial topic. “Proud, married woman, and that is not a defining quality on whether or not I am capable of doing a job.”
Quiroga unfroze as the audience applauded.
“The thing is, I’m not calling into question whether you can do the job or not,” Quiroga said. “It’s the time commitment; I know that families take a lot of that time commitment.”
As he finished this statement, Quiroga and Errico made eye contact for the first time since Quiroga initially brought up marriage, and Errico broke in.
“I think this conversation needs to stop,” Errico said, her pitch rising as though it were a question.
“I’ve been married for two years,” Spence Beaulieu said from her seat at the front of the audience.
“This is pretty disrespectful to me and my marriage,” Errico said.
Lead panelist Jonathan Carter prompted Quiroga to ask a question of Errico if he had one, adding that there were 35 seconds left to speak.
“I’m ok, I think I’m getting interrupted here,” Quiroga said.
Errico, after offering Quiroga again to “take your 35 seconds,” used the remaining time to finish responding.
“Time commitment?” Errico rhetorically asked the audience. “I have been dedicating myself to my time as Student Body Chief Justice—hearings on Mondays and Thursdays—from 3 PM til they end, sometimes that’s 11 PM. I come home, yes, my husband wants to see me. We have arranged that time; time management isn’t an issue for me. My marriage is a priority. My service as a student leader is also a priority, and I am fully capable of balancing those two.”
As the audience applauded, Errico patiently sat back in her seat.
I endorse each part of Errico’s response. Questioning a woman’s ability to lead based on the fact that she is married is ignorant and corrosive. Although Quiroga pivoted to a point about the time commitment of marriages, this was not his opening argument.
The point Quiroga initially made was that Errico was less prepared to represent the NC State student body by virtue of her marital status.
Marriage is a transformative experience, but if anything, it adds to Errico’s perspective and ability to understand the students she hopes to represent. It certainly does not undermine her ability to do so. Quiroga’s failure to recognize this indicates that he lacks the requisite understanding to properly lead and represent the NC State student body.
Unless his constituents believe that the misogynistic comment about marital status is an acceptable way to publicly engage two people, Alberto Quiroga has an obligation to the student body to capitulate in the race for Student Body President. A candidate who makes the kinds of comments that he did Wednesday night should not be the top representative of NC State students.
Quiroga must apologize publicly to both Errico and Spence Beaulieu for the offense each clearly took to his comments. The NC State community would also benefit considerably if he makes a concerted effort to identify the flaws in what he said and did.
Unless they stand by them, each member of his campaign team also has an obligation to distance themselves from Quiroga’s comments. While they have tied their boat to a candidate and may feel they owe it to him to stand by him, even publicly, the comments create a wedge that all NC State students, including those close to the Quiroga campaign, must face and amend.
Voting in the runoff election for Student Body President and Vice President is open Thursday from 8 AM to 8 PM.
This post was last updated Thursday at 12:17 PM.