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Emily O’Neil hopes to increase diversity and improve Title IX training as student trustee

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

Affordability of education, Title IX protection and the recruitment and retention of a diverse student body are the three main components of Emily O’Neil’s SGA campaign platform for student trustee.

The junior economics major and women, gender and sexuality studies minor is the only female candidate running for the trustee position.

O’Neil joined the SGA as a senator her sophomore year. She’s currently the chair of the Diversity and Student Engagement Committee.

As student trustee, O’Neil hopes to build student power. She plans to hold monthly town hall events and weekly office hours in places that are easily accessible to students, like Earthfoods Café or the W.E.B. DuBois Library. Here, she said she will listen to student concerns and seek to understand what students need from the University.

“You’re representing every student in the University, not just ones that are like you. That’s important to remember,” O’Neil said. “It’s important for the student trustee to expand outside of the SGA, since that’s not usually representative of the university as a whole.”

O’Neil hopes to build a strong online presence so students feel she’s easy to reach. This will include a website where students can voice concerns or give feedback, in case they don’t attend a town hall meeting.

The governing document of the SGA is called the Wellman Document, which says the administration needs to consult the SGA when it wants to institute new policies that affect things students pay for or things that directly affect the students, for example, the recent policy regarding admission of Iranian national students.

According to O’Neil, that doesn’t really happen, or at least not as often as it should. She said the document is supposed to be updated every five years.

“I don’t think it’s been updated since 1993,” she said.

In addition, while the student trustee is required to attend SGA meetings but not Graduate Student Senate meetings, O’Neil plans to attend them anyway. As the voice of both undergraduates and graduates students, she believes it’s important for the student trustee to be available to them as well.

In her current position, she led a campaign to make it free for students to take summer internships for credit, working closely with the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy. She is also a member of the Coalition to End Rape Culture.

O’Neil believes Title IX, the federal law that prevents gender discrimination at public institutions, has been mishandled at UMass.

To change this, O’Neil wants to implement a Survivor’s Bill of Rights so that survivors of sexual assault who choose to report the acts can know what to expect.

“Survivors often lose control of their story to the University,” she said about the current policy.

O’Neil also seeks to implement an affirmative consent policy supporting a “yes means yes” standard, something that is in the works in the University of California system.

O’Neil has played a part in organizing this year’s Public Higher Education Advocacy Day, which will take place March 4. Students will go to the State House and lobby for a tuition freeze, which aligns with the affordability section of O’Neil’s platform.

As trustee, O’Neil will push the University to take action on the points outlined in its Diversity Strategic Plan and ask it to go further by giving extra financial support to the groups it praises as making a difference toward diversity – asking the administration to put its money where its mouth is, essentially.

She believes that this will make progress toward her goal of retaining students of color at the university, an area in which she says there is a lot of work to be done.

“Ultimately it’s about being transparent to do more effectively and uplifting student voices,” O’Neil said.

Eleanor Harte can be reached at eharte@umass.edu.

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