Barrett touts work ethic and varied perspectives, lays out SGA plans for year

By Anthony Rentsch

SGA President Sïonan Barrett speaks at New Student Convocation.  Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
SGA President Sïonan Barrett speaks at New Student Convocation Monday.
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

For three years, Student Government Association President Sïonan Barrett has gained experience and perspective on how to get things done.

Now, the senior journalism major feels ready to combine her understanding of the SGA with her executive team’s knowledge of the student body, and cash in the combination for improvements to the student experience at the University of Massachusetts.

Barrett joined the SGA as a freshman, elected as a senator for the Southwest – North District. She moved quickly up the ranks, as she was appointed as the associate speaker of the senate in the spring semester to fill a vacancy. At the end of the year, she was elected speaker of the senate, a seat she occupied for the last two years.

Several other members of her executive team also have a history within the SGA, including Vice President Chantal Lima Barbosa, Secretary of Public Relations and Outreach Kendall Tate, Secretary of Technology Eric Gendreau, Attorney General Evandro Tavares, and Secretary of Sustainability Jennifer Raichel.

On the other hand, Barrett’s cabinet does include a few faces that are new to the SGA. Secretary of the Registry Nicholas Andrade, and Secretary of University Policy and External Affairs Christopher Earls are among those who have not previously held positions within the body.

“I was able to surround myself with a team of cabinet members and a vice president who works really hard at things they are passionate about,” Barrett said.

She stressed that, from the perspective of both SGA leaders and the student body, there is a need to make sure more groups from around campus are heard and supported.

In particular, she said one of her areas of focus would be “improving the campus climate for inclusion for underrepresented groups” via educational programs and communal celebrations, as well as financial and advisory support for students who wish to host annual events.

She mentioned holding a LGBTQ pride week – in the same spirit of the UMass United Rally in 2014 – supporting the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Success’ cultural months, and creating an interactive multicultural mural in the Southwest tunnel as a few of her ideas.

“I think that it’s important for certain communities to have a space to be able to express themselves,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that certain groups that feel like they don’t have spaces on campus have a permanent space where they can show their work and express themselves.”

Her plan to garner support for underrepresented groups spreads to the Women’s Leadership Conference, an event she helped to found last year. It’s a project that she had been eyeing since her freshman year, and this year she is expecting 200 people to attend.

“It’s going to be one of the larger conferences this year on campus,” she said. “It’s really just to support anyone identifies as a woman on this campus and to give them tools to succeed.”

Improving the campus climate for inclusion is something Barrett wants to add to the mandatory freshmen curriculum. Students are no longer able to enroll as an undeclared major, and must take a first-year seminar within their academic college, according to Barrett. She said that she would like to incorporate LGBTQ ally training, active bystander practices and a system of core values into these seminars.

Barrett’s other big agenda item is, as she puts it, “recapturing student power through student input.”

She said in the last couple years, there have been incidents where the administration has been forced to make quick decisions and has only consulted one or two members of SGA. Moving forward, she would like to open up more avenues of communication between the SGA and the student body so that the SGA is more prepared to respond when the administration is tasked with making tough decisions.

“Right now we are making the best decisions that we can with the input that we have, but I don’t necessarily think that’s acceptable,” she said.

But first, the SGA has to figure out how to increase student input. The percentage of eligible undergraduates who voted in the spring presidential election fell from 17.69 percent in 2014 to 15.38 percent in 2015.

“(Lack of outreach) is a big critique of us,” Lima Barbosa said.

According to Barrett and Lima Barbosa, the SGA will go about seeking more input through increased outreach over multiple platforms.

SGA President Sïonan Barrett (center) takes a moment to pose with members of the SGA and her Cabinet at the welcome week barbecue. Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
SGA President Sïonan Barrett (center) takes a moment to pose with members of the SGA and her Cabinet at the welcome week barbecue.
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Currently, Barrett said she is working with Gendreau, secretary of technology, to get kiosks equipped with iPads into every residential building, as well as in the Off Campus Student Center or Blue Wall. She said the Residence Hall Association would be incentivized to man the kiosks and to try to get students to take survey on the iPads. During SGA elections, the iPads could also be used to vote, she said.

It’s a large, potentially expensive project, but Barrett doesn’t think it is out of reach, as she said there haven’t been too many student-funded projects in the last couple years.

She said SGA would continue to utilize Facebook and other social media to extend surveys to students. This year, she added, the SGA will be able to send mass emails to the student body. In the past, it has had to go through the administration to send mass emails, which she admitted was problematic.

“Sometimes they edit what you want to say or they say ‘oh maybe you should say it that way and not this way,’” she said.

Lima Barbosa added that, in order to bolster its outreach, there is an effort to “rebrand SGA and make it more accessible.”

Specifically, she explained that SGA set up a new website, with a new domain – umass.edu/sga – that went live September 1, with the goal to make the site “friendlier” and to include surveys and newsletters.

Barrett added that she is interested in developing a UMass app, which would include events from different student, departmental and athletic groups, updates from campus media outlets and SGA surveys.

Apart from her two big goals for the year, Barrett said she wanted to continue improving two initiatives she worked on last year: student business week and Team Positive Presence.

Student business week, Barrett said, is all about alerting more students to the presence of and garnering support for the seven co-ops. Last year, there was a focus on pushing for the businesses to be able to accept Dining Dollars, a meal plan option introduced last year. Now that four of the student businesses can accept Dining Dollars, Barrett said the week would focus on supporting other efforts to help the businesses secure tools to succeed.

Team Positive Presence, a community policing initiative born out of the Ed Davis report in the wake of the 2014 “Blarney Blowout” and conversations between Barrett, former Secretary of University Policy Stefan Herlitz and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye, got off the ground in the spring.

“We created this team of about 30 students who are getting paid to help bring a positive presence into potentially negative or danger situations,” Barrett said. “It was very successful last year and we are hoping to enlarge it this year.”

Even as Barrett, with her three years of SGA leadership experience, laid out her plans and goals for the year ahead, some questions remained. In the 2015 Spring SGA Election, Barrett and Lima Barbosa edged out the Charlotte Kelly/Sammi Gay ticket by a narrow, four-vote margin. Last year, Barrett, in an interview with the Daily Collegian, said that she thought “the work ethic of those who were sworn (was) the worry of the SGA.”

She feels this year will be different and that the team she assembled will be able to get done what it sets out to do.

“I don’t think we are going to have that problem this year,” she said.

Lima Barbosa said Barrett would continue doing what she has done for the past three years, just with a different title.

“When I took on this job I took it on as a very big responsibility,” Barrett said. “I think that for anyone who knows me and the people that I surround myself with we work until the job is done, whether or not that is the amount of hours we are paid for or that it is necessarily a healthy amount of hours.”

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.