Massachusetts Daily Collegian

SGA candidates debate for 2018 positions

2018 student government debate at UMass

Caroline O'Connor

Caroline O'Connor

By Gretchen Keller, Assistant News Editor

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The Student Government Association (SGA) debate for the 2018 seats of president, vice president and trustee were held Feb. 19 in the University of Massachusetts Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall.

The tickets for president and vice president included Tim Conceison and Jake Binnall, Timmy Sullivan and Nathalie Amazan and Sarah Nordberg and Stephanie Margolis. Amazan and Margolis were not present for the debate; their counterparts answered questions on their behalf.

The position of student trustee included candidates Jiya Nair, Max Roemer, Rob Kearns and Kevin Mullen. Mullen was not present at the debate.

Each candidate prepared opening statements and had two minutes to present them to the audience. The remainder of the questions had to be composed in 90 seconds or less. Candidate responses to one another were limited to 45 seconds.

Moderator  and Daily Collegian News Editor Jackson Cote kicked off the debate by asking, “The SGA interacts with a variety of different organizations on campus such as RSOs, Greek life organizations and advocacy groups throughout UMass. How will you address the concerns and goals of these organizations if elected to your positions?”

Binnall responded to the question from a financial standpoint by saying, “As being in both the Ways and Means Committee and as the chair of finance, all we do is help RSOs. As well as the Undersecretary of the Registry, we implemented the council system which has been an incredible resource so far for budgeting and for the SGA’s connection to all of our groups on campus. As far as finance committee, we’ve reduced the time it takes for groups to get money from a matter of weeks and sometimes months, to like, three days.”

Nordberg approached the question differently by discussing the importance of outreach from the SGA with student organizations across campus. “One problem that we have right now is that these groups feel that they need to come to us in a lot of cases, or just don’t quite understand the work that we do. We need to reach out to all students of these groups, not just the ones who are making budgets and bringing them to Ways and Means or the ones who are having problems. We want to make sure that all their voices are heard, and that we’re listening to the issues that they’re passionate about.”

If elected, Roemer said that he intended to approach this issue with more effective means of communication between RSOs and the SGA. “I’ll personally work on the code of student conduct, but my greater task would be to make an open forum where students can meaningfully contribute to the code of student conduct and meaningfully object to issues within the student code of conduct.”

Cote moved away from RSO participation and continued with another question, tackling the issue of voter turnout and student government participation.

“The SGA elections have been pushed up from a March date to a February date. As you also know, SGA turnout tends to be low,” Cote said. “How will you get students out to vote with this shortened notice and what will each candidate do in the future to increase voter turnout in SGA elections?”

Conceison expressed his commitment to improving voter turnout through SGA outreach. “We have one in four students on campus who find it a need to go through and choose who will go and lead their student body next year. The problem is that most students have a negative perception of the SGA,” he said.

Conceison believes that this issue needs to be changed institutionally, beginning with the SGA itself. “We need to move from being a reactive organization to a more proactive one. As leaders on this campus, it is our job to go reach out to students…we should be updating you regularly on what we are doing. People should regularly have interest in these meetings, and this starts with us coming out to you.”

Sullivan tackled this question with an affirmative answer. “It definitely does make it a bit more difficult that the SGA elections are a bit earlier this year, but for Nathalie [Amazan] and I, we haven’t found it to be too much of a challenge because for us, this work hasn’t started five days ago. We’ve been doing it since the moment we got to campus,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan spoke on Amazan’s behalf by broadening their commitment to minority groups on campus in order to ensure that all voices are heard. This, Sullivan argues, will increase voter turnout.

“We support students whose voices are primarily left out of student government. [Amazan’s] first job on campus was working at the Stonewall Center, the LGBTQIA+ resource agency on campus. Through her work she delivers trainings on trans and queer identities, the intersection of different identities and active allies commitment ship. Together, we are bringing those voices into the governing decisions we’re making. We’re also advocating for students of color. On March 1, [Amazan] is putting on an anti-racism training for anyone on campus,” Sullivan said.

Nair aims to improve the means of communication from the SGA to students through the use of email and other technology uses at the SGA’s disposal, especially to busy students like herself.

“It’s not just appealing to big demographics of voting, it’s about reaching out to those students who might not be familiar with SGA’s setting,” Nair said. “As a woman of color and someone who works three jobs currently, I can understand how difficult it can be to be in SGA spaces when you’re also trying to advocate for yourself as an individual going through the process of being a student. I think we need to work more on these big publicity resources that we have. We have so much at our disposal within the student government and within UMass in general.”

Other topics discussed during the SGA debate included the Student Union renovations, concerns for low-income students and sexual assault on campus.

“With the recent vote to go ahead with the recent renovations to the Student Union, the Students Activities Fee will be steadily increasing in the coming years. Going up from the present $131 now to $181 in 2019 and $231 in 2020. Additionally, for the 2017 to 2018 school year, the UMass Board of Trustees voted for a three to four percent tuition increase. What level of increases for the Student Activities Fee and fees in general would you consider acceptable? How would the University justify it to you, how would you keep the fees low?” Cote asked.

Trustee candidate Kearns voted in favor of the Student Union renovations because he felt that it would be beneficial for all students with allocating purposes. He also added that additional funding is needed to the public higher education system through lobbying at the state legislature level for more funding.

“I believe there is a problem with student space on campus and I think that it was important that students were in control of the fee increase through the referendum…so going back to tuition and fee increases on the Board of Trustees, I think that we need to be actively advocating for policies on the statewide level that help increase revenue for the UMass system.”

Kearns also proposed the idea of receiving funds in different means, such as lowering administration expenses. “We need to look at ways we can reduce costs by curtailing administrative costs. I know over the years administrative costs have gone up increasingly with a boatload of new administrators on campus, but I think that advocating for things like the fair share amendment would relieve tax to help increase revenue for public higher education is essential because we really need to be advocating in the state house for them to be putting money toward UMass and toward our public transportation systems, and toward other things. The problem is that we need more state revenue and more advocating for that,” Kearns said.

Roemer took a very strategic approach with fee increases in the future of UMass.

“What I propose is that every fee increase is made four years ahead of time. The fees should be published four years ahead of when it will impact students. If you’re attending this University, you should know exactly how much it costs to graduate in four years. Sometimes, there are students on this campus who enter this University, think they’ll pay four times $30,000, but by the end they’re paying $37,000, and that’s not fair. If you know it’s gonna be tight, you should know exactly what the number’s gonna be,” Roemer said.

Nordberg said that she supported the Student Union renovations in favor of student general interest, but does not support additional fee increases.

“I did support the Student Union renovation because it’s a way for students to have a say in the project and I wanted to make sure that, down the line, students five years from now didn’t have to pay three times as much as we do for this fee. It is a building that needs to be fixed. As you see, there are rotting walls. It’s gonna need to come down eventually, and the more we wait, the more it’s gonna cost.”

Cote then asked, “What have you specifically been doing as a member of SGA or as a community member at UMass to support low income students over your time here?”

Conceison tackled this question head-on as he explained how actions speak louder than words through his work as the current Secretary of Finance and position on the Ways and Means Committee.

“I have spent my entire career on this campus vehemently advocating against fee increases that are not going to benefit the students. [Binnall] and I are both on the record of being very in favor of being for the Student Union renovation and the rationale for that was this: As soon as that project is paid off — in which we are paying only half of because we worked with the Chancellor to commit half of that — as soon as that is paid off, the SGA at that time will have the ability to put forward another referendum to decrease the SATF and make sure that fee goes down. If we did not take control of this project, then the project would be up to the administration and low income students would be put farther and farther behind.”

Kearns saw this question as an opportunity to assist low income students by trying to create ideas to assist a new food initiative.

“I believe that public higher education is a right, not a privilege…We need to come from a justice lens to support low income students. Food insecurity is a huge problem on campus. We need to work institutionally with the UMass system to create a food system to bring in food for students. In other schools, they have a system where they have catering services — they have an app where you can go in to see that now you can send a notification to anybody that you can go to an event and get some of the overflow of food. The institution needs to change in order to support these initiatives. It comes from talking with administrators and advocating for it on the board of trustee level.”

One of the most controversial questions asked by Cote was from Twitter and regarded sexual assault on college campuses — specifically about the increasing number at UMass.

“According to the 2016-17 annual security report, both sexual assault and domestic violence have increased at UMass. Stephanie on Twitter wants to know for the president and the VP candidates, ‘In regard to sexual violence on campus, what about students who don’t wish to report sexual violence, knowing the odds are stacked against them? What resources will you offer beyond how to file charges? What do you plan to do for sexual/relationship violence at UMass?’”

“Firstly, I think we need to divorce from the rhetoric that it is the survivor’s fault,” Sullivan answered. “Not only commonly is this an antiquated argument, but it’s sexist. Once we can divorce from that and realize that toxic masculinity is what generally perpetuates rape culture, we can start analyzing the problem. [Amazan] has been working with [Nair] to bring restorative justice to campus…Restorative justice is unique in that its practice addresses all three of those problematic levels that contribute to the violence of sexual assault on campus. Rather than institutions such as UMass be silent on the issue and not doing anything to offer healing for survivors, institutional policies with elements such as healing and meeting the needs of survivors and what they need in order to feel safe within the community of UMass will be best.”

“Not only will this restorative justice work after the fact, but it works to educate and prevent those offenses from happening once again. Restorative justice requires those to name and identify what they may have done to cause hurt, acknowledge that their actions were harmful and work toward repairing that harm,” Sullivan said to support his argument.

Nair had a different philosophy on the topic of sexual assault.

“This is something I’m really passionate about. Over the summer, I worked with a sexual violence intervention agency, and restorative justice isn’t something we can just snap our fingers and it’s here,” commented Nair.

“I’ve said that last year at a meeting with the vice chancellor. We need a strategic plan of how we’re going to make restorative justice possible here at UMass because it’s not just about changing plans, it’s about changing the mission and philosophy at the Dean of Students office or even looking into a new way in that we can bring restorative justice on campus; and that means having more funding for the Dean of Students office. We need more funding, we need to be able to have the facilities to have these conversations and we need to treat each case on an individual basis because minimum sentencing practices aren’t helpful. We need to change the overall philosophy.”

Elections will be held from Feb. 20 until Feb. 23. Voting can be done through Campus Pulse.

Gretchen Keller can be reached at [email protected]

5 Comments

5 Responses to “SGA candidates debate for 2018 positions”

  1. Tom Scalona on February 20th, 2018 2:24 am

    Hah! I got here before Stephanie Higgs came to #Shill4Sully! FIRST!

  2. "Higgs" on February 20th, 2018 1:22 pm

    Being a constituent + Being engaged and voting for candidates u believe in = shill? Interesting.

  3. Pitz Fucci on February 20th, 2018 2:37 am

    Before I continue I’d like to thank the tickets who were on tonight for their truly, truly outstanding credentials, and the time that a particular favorite of mine took to lay out their platform in layman’s terms, that is to say, in the simplest manner possible, for the most amount of people to understand the easiest. That being said, it was during a period of “altered consciousness” that I began to truly grasp the intricacies of the struggle that we aspiring scholars face on a campus of this scale and breadth. The time taken to grasp these nuances with both hands was well worth what I spent to get there both physically and socially, for I arrived at the incontrovertible truth, that great and terrible thing, that if we do not elect the most experienced and electable candidates for a job of such renown and esteem, not to mention responsibility, our governing situation might deteriorate to the extent of the world outside our world, as an orange menace stalks our fair nation from sea to slightly less shiny sea, replete with falsehoods and braggadocio. It is with that heavy truth in my heart that I unashamedly, unabashedly declare my love and support for Timmy and Nathalie, bless both their magnificent, courageous hearts, for it is in them that that chosen, undying spark will become a roaring, howling flame, consuming the old institutions and leaving behind fertile ground for a newer, better work to arise. I wish their bold, progressive campaign all the blessings they can endure, and I hope to see them take the stand in the near future!

  4. Fitz Pucci on February 20th, 2018 1:43 pm

    Holy moly, this is a hell of a lofty satire.

  5. Paige Giannetti on February 22nd, 2018 12:26 am

    Good coverage and good photos. Candidates spoke with passion!

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