An outsider to the SGA, student trustee candidate Nicholas Vigneau says he brings a fresh perspective to the position

By Aviva Luttrell

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

University of Massachusetts student trustee candidate Nicholas Vigneau wasn’t born into a particularly political family, but said he developed a passion for helping solve his fellow students’ problems during his time at UMass.

The junior legal studies and political science major said he draws much of his inspiration from the work of the Kennedy family – specifically, Bobby Kennedy.

“Where I connected with him, besides personality, was that he would go out and talk to people,” Vigneau said. “That’s where he would figure out problems.”

Vigneau said he was drawn to the Kennedys’ willingness to give back to their community and to use their political power to solve the problems of other people.

Now, Vigneau plans to take a similar approach ahead of the upcoming Student Government Association election.

Instead of running a “loud” social media campaign, Vigneau said he’s been promoting his platform by word of mouth, walking around campus and talking with students to find out what they would like to see changed.

“I’ve been (telling) people, ‘I’m running for this and I’m not going to tell you my initiatives right now and I’m not going to tell you how I feel, but I want to know what you think needs to be done,’” he said. “Being able to talk with people and connect with people and listen is by far the most important skill for any job.”

Vigneau hasn’t been involved in the SGA before, but said he sees that as an advantage.

“I (have) a very good sense of the student body on campus and I think it would really complement the personalities within the SGA to have that outside perspective,” he said.

Vigneau decided to run for trustee after interning as a legal assistant at the University’s Student Legal Services Office last semester, where he often saw SGA members coming in and out. SLSO is an official advisor to the SGA, he said, adding he was able to learn about the trustee position in particular from being in the office five days a week.

During his internship, Vigneau worked with about 50 student clients and was responsible for meeting with them and their attorneys. Through that process, he said he became aware of a large problem on campus – the University’s student disciplinary system.

“I would just hear these people and their horrible stories of messing up once and the system was just crushing them, which is actually a huge part of my platform,” Vigneau said. “The student conduct system doesn’t promote education and it doesn’t help protect the community like it’s supposed to.”

Increasing diversity on campus is also a central component of Vigneau’s campaign. It should be the biggest issue on the University’s agenda, he said.

“Diversity isn’t about color, diversity is about having everybody represented so everybody feels equally (comfortable) to be here,” Vigneau said, adding he himself is a first generation college student. “It’s really important … and the administration hasn’t handled it well.”

He also hopes to improve the SGA’s work for the student body and student involvement, saying current approaches are misled.

“Most people on campus don’t have the time or sometimes the willingness to go out there and advocate for what they want and join the SGA and fight for it,” he said, adding that students often need to be prompted to talk about the issues that are important to them.

And Vigneau said he’s been doing just that – approaching students across campus and asking what they care about.

“I don’t see this as a political position where I’m taking all of my interests and really driving forward my own agenda,” Vigneau said.

“You can’t go in there as a crusader against the Board of Trustees. It’s a board of equals and to get things done is not to go in there and yell and scream and say, ‘Look, you’re not doing the things you’re supposed to be doing.’ It’s to reason with them and present the facts on campus.”

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @AvivaLuttrell.