Question and Answer: SGA president/vice presidential candidates Stephanie Margolis and Colleen Coakley look to form relationships among students, the SGA and the University

Working with organization and council presidents a top priority

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Question and Answer: SGA president/vice presidential candidates Stephanie Margolis and Colleen Coakley look to form relationships among students, the SGA and the University

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

By Will Mallas, Assistant News Editor

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Stephanie Margolis is running for Student Government Association president, alongside vice presidential candidate Colleen Coakley. Margolis, a junior hospitality and tourism and Judaic studies double major, and Coakley, a political science major and woman, gender and sexuality studies minor, look to join forces in order to form relationships that will create change on campus.

Here is the transcript of a question-and-answer interview conducted with Margolis and answers from Coakley sent via email, preceding the SGA executive debate on Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall.

Last year, you ran for vice president alongside Sarah Nordberg. Why did you choose to run for president this time around?

Stephanie Margolis: “So, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about running again. I had kind of taken some time off of student government to focus on being president of Advocacy Council and also [the Panhellenic Council] and some Greek Life stuff, then I realized with the upcoming election, I was kind of interested in getting back into it. I see a lot of change that the campus could use, and I kind of wanted to be there to help it happen, especially when it comes to student organizations getting the resources they need and students being able to achieve as much as possible while they are here on campus.”

Colleen Coakley: “I chose to run for vice president because I want to ensure that all students have a voice in the policy making process on campus and that the Student Government Association is a body which communicates constantly and effectively with the entire student body. The importance of a motivated and focused executive branch cannot be overstated in the overall functioning of the SGA.”

If elected, what will your priorities be?

SM: “What’s really great about Colleen and I being a team is that I focus a lot on student organizations in my goals and things that I am thinking about with upcoming elections; whether that student organizations getting streamlined information, how to book rooms, how to make events happen on campus, how to get funding. I really want to help them understand how to best do that kind of thing and actually make these really cool events happen and be really productive organizations on campus. And then Colleen focuses much more on academics and transfer students. She herself was a transfer student and she created a transfer [Residential Academic Program] last year, which helps integrate students into campus, and then she also cares a lot about advising and academics and different things like that, so kind of together we focus on the school side of it and the extracurricular side of it, so we can really encompass all of students’ needs.”

CC: “My priorities will be attacking academic and financial issues on campus. I hope to continue my work on Open Education Resources and affordability in the classroom with MASSPIRG. Additionally, I would like to work on improving existing programs like New Students Orientation and work with the administration on advising. I also think the registered student organization and the council system needs to be revisited. One of my main priorities is also improving transfer students and their transitions to campus and the resources provided to them on campus.”

How have you been involved on campus?

SM: “I got involved immediately when I got to campus freshman year. I love school, and all but I am really in to extracurricular activities. I joined Greek Life, I am in Sigma Delta Tau, and then last year, I was the president of the sorority, and now I am ‘panhel’ president, which is the president of all the [panhellenic] sororities on campus. I was also immediately in student government. I started out as a special assistant to the Outreach and Development Committee. Within a couple months, I became a senator, I was appointed, and then a year later, I was chair of the Outreach and Development Committee. After I finished that year, I became the president of the Advocacy Council and you can’t be the president of the council and a senator, so I focused on that, which has been actually really great, because I have been able to connect with a lot of the advocacy and political groups on campus and help them make sure their budgets are done but also that their events are happening and they communicating with Student Activities, which I’m really passionate about because the system here is kind of hard to work and I’ve learned how to work it, so I kind of want to be able to help others learn that to, and I know what students need to make sure what they want to do can get done, so I want to be there to help them. I am also in Club Managers Association of America, which is a business club. I am a hospitality student, so I want to go in club management probably after college and this is kind of a professional club that helps me achieve those goals. I am also involved in Hillel. I was on the Hillel student board as a freshman, and then I go to services on Friday nights and Shabbat dinner. I am also the president of the Student Alliance for Israel, which is a group on campus that does a lot of advocacy and education on Israel and the Middle East. It is a non-political group that focuses on like general education, but I love that because it’s really fun to put on events and hangout with other people who are passionate about it.”

CC: “I transferred into UMass my sophomore year of college. I immediately joined the Student Government Association, where I am currently a 2020 class senator and the chair of the Academic Oversight Committee. I am also the current president of the University Programming Council, the agency which plans events like Spring Concert, UMass Got Talent, Big Chill, Homecoming and so many more events. Through the SGA, I also created the first transfer [Residential Academic Program], which is currently being run this semester after its successful run last semester. My involvement in campus life has completely changed the way I experience college, and I hope to continue this involvement as the SGA vice president.”

How would your relationship between students on the day-to-day basis on campus be as President?

SM: “So, something I really care about is individual relationships. It’s one thing to set here and talk the talk and be like ‘I’m going to do these really great things’ and it’s another thing to actually reach out to students and say ‘Hi, I’m Stephanie, I’m interested in hearing what your needs are and I am here to help you.’ Going up to people and being like ‘how can I help?’ is going to be key if I become president because that’s my role to be the liaison between students and the University. I also want to make really good relations with the University obviously so I can make all those things happen for students. It’s mostly just really being there for students and focusing on what students actually want to see happen. Something that is kind of interesting about the student government is that a lot of students have never heard of it or just don’t know what they do. Some students might know ‘oh, I get my budget from them for my organization, but that’s it.’ The student government has so much potential power, I’ll say, to really create an impact on campus and to create a good relationship with the university and the students, and it’s not always happening as like efficiently as it could, so something I also want to focus on is education about the student government and making it so students know they can go to their senators and they can go to the executive branch and basically their legislators. Students can lobby their peers to make really important change on campus, and I want to focus on PR to the actual students and make sure that students are aware of what the student government is and what they can do, which has happened in the last few years. It is something the student government has branches of the government to make happen but I think we need more individual outreach, more individual connections to the students, to the council presidents, to the presidents of RSOs. It would be cool to do a huge meeting of all presidents on campus, so that at least at some level, there are students who know what’s going on.”

CC: “Student consultation is an extremely important responsibility which SGA needs to place more emphasis on. I would make sure I was in constant contact with students through the creation of town hall sessions as well as maintaining a presence in the council system. The SGA seems standoffish to many students, which is something I would really like to work on with the legislative branch.”

What do you think the current administration can improve on?

SM: “The current administration is really good at bigger picture things, focusing on how they can connect with the greater Commonwealth of Massachusetts and some of the social justice issues, which is really important, and it’s been great watching that happen over the last year. But I think they haven’t focused as much on the actual students on campus all the time, the majority of students on campus and their needs, whether it’s from student organizations to academics to even thinking about day-to-day life for the average student, but it’s also important to consider that they have done a lot of work for minority groups and, which is really great, and that is something I would look to continue to do.”

CC: “I appreciate the current administration’s dedication to underrepresented groups of people on campus. However, the administration can improve on being more on the ground and understanding what all students really go through. Capturing the true student experience is crucial to accomplishing the important work to be done on this campus. As VP, I would make this a top priority through town halls, attending council meetings and by creating spaces where students with different experiences can openly speak with one another and with me.”

How do you plan to address incidents of racism and hate on campus?

SM: “So, if it wasn’t clear, I’m Jewish, so some people may consider that a minority, some people may have different views about that. I definitely feel like there have been swastikas on campus this semester and last semester. There have been instances in the greater United States that we are seeing with anti-Semitism, so this is something I really care about because it personally affects me, but I also see at the same time all these other incidents of racism happening and it really breaks me. The climate is so upsetting, and I would look to really try to make sure students who feel they are not safe on campus or in their dorm or in their community or in their learning environment, that they have a place to go where they feel safe, but also to educate students in general that hate is not ok. The ‘Hate has no home at UMass’ has kind of lost its meaning, and it’s something that when I came to campus and that was the big thing that [Chancellor Kumble] Subbaswamy was putting out there and the University was promoting, I was like ‘Yeah, hate has no home at UMass. Yes. That is awesome,’ and then we keep seeing these incidents happen and I despise that thought. We can’t just say it, we need to act on it and we need to have campus-wide initiatives that are full of programming and making sure students are actually being educated, whether it’s in the dorms and the [residential assistants] have to do something or whether it’s the student government going to [Berkshire Dining Commons] and Blue Wall and [Franklin Dining Commons] and saying ‘Ok, hate has no home at UMass, but this is how we are going to change that hate actually has no home and make it happen.’ It’s something I care a lot about. I wrote an op-ed for the Collegian last semester about Hillel having to keep its door locked, and it got a lot of feedback, good feedback but also really sad feedback that had to happen, so I think more outreach like that would also help. Not just saying this incident happened and an email was sent out about it, but ok this incident happened, this is how students feel about it, how students affected are taking it to heart, and it’s not ok. If we can create a more humane side to it, than we could actually make change, because, it’s really hard, I’m not necessarily saying these are students, I don’t know who has been doing these acts, but if you create that individual connection, it’s really hard for someone else to hate someone when you have that relationship, and if we can just integrate students with each other more and make students understand each other’s backgrounds, things like prejudgments and everything else, we might be able to squash it. Maybe not completely but a little more.”

CC: “Although education around diversity and anti-white supremacy is important, creating open spaces for people of different backgrounds to talk with one another and connect is crucial to eliminating hate on campus. As president of [the University Programming Council], working with groups from different backgrounds has been extremely important to me, with our most recent [collaboration] being [Black Mass Communication Program] for a Black History Month late night movie. The friendships I have made through UPC with students of other backgrounds is invaluable to me and has allowed me to better understand the struggles of other people on this campus. Furthermore, in my UPC position, I noticed that in previous years we lacked in the amount of collaborations we did. I made it my goal as president to improve on this aspect of our agency. By collaborating, we meet new organizations and people while creating an open, comfortable space where a wide array of individuals can open up to each other.”

How do you plan to address rising tuition and fees?

SM: “Obviously, tuition and fees are rising, which is true, but it’s going to just come down to talking to the university. I think the idea of lobbying the university in this state doesn’t always work. I think it works better to create really strong relationships with people who are in charge of this and then go into explaining that students are really struggling to pay for school. This is a public institution, students need to learn, and we support higher education, so how can we make all those things happen and come together. I think the way to do that is just through those relationships and creating understanding and not just yelling at them and saying ‘Please! Stop, stop raising everything!’ Unfortunately, a lot of adults still look at college kids as kids, not as adults who also understand the world, and if I think we can show them that we are mature and we can have these conversations in a mature setting, then we can actually create the change and help students either find more scholarships and financial aid or stop fees and tuition from increasing rapidly like it has.”

CC: “I plan to work with administration to improve transparency in the finances of the university. It’s important for students to understand where each dollar goes and furthermore, for the administration to be held accountable for spending money as effectively for the students as possible. By educating students on what the university spends money on, it gives them the power to question certain financial practices of UMass and allows students to target the areas in which spending needs reform. As Vice President, my job would be to convey this message to administration and to ensure that financial decisions made by the university are not made at the expense of other students who are not able to afford it.”

Is there anything else you would like to say about your campaign?

SM: “Our hashtag is #AllFiredUp, which we came up with a week ago when we decided to run because we kind of feel like students are feeling unrest right now, whether it be the hate on campus or academics or student organizations, or whatever it is about, every student has their own issues about the university, Colleen and I are just feeling all fired up to actually go out there and actually make change. Something about us is that we actually care a lot, and we have a lot of experience in different aspects of the university. She is actually a part of UPC, which is a part of a lot of the programming on campus, and I’ve been president and involved in organizations of all different kinds, and I have a lot of friends in organizations that I wasn’t even involved in, so we kind of feel like we have a greater understanding of what students might need, not looking from the top-down but from the bottom-up, and I think that’s something that could be really beneficial for the student body and for us to be able to actually change things and make the work the student government is doing worthwhile for everyone on campus, not just for a couple people. We have a website, it’s www.MargolisCoakley.weebly.com. We have a Facebook page, people can go like it if they want. If you want, you can put my email in the article because I want students to be able to reach out to me if they have things they want to talk about, I’m around.”

[Margolis’ email is [email protected]]

Will Mallas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @willmallas.