Question and Answer: SGA presidential and vice-presidential candidates Allie McCandless and Moksha Padmaraju run for election

‘Administrators work for us and not the other way around’

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Question and Answer: SGA presidential and vice-presidential candidates Allie McCandless and Moksha Padmaraju run for election

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

By Michael Connors, Assistant News Editor

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Allie McCandless and Moksha Padmaraju are running in this year’s Student Government Association election for the office of president and vice-president, respectively. In their first time on the campaign trail, both candidates sat down with The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 for an interview on issues facing the University of Massachusetts community.

The following is the transcript from that interview, which was lightly edited for clarity and length.

What’s your experience with the SGA?

Allie McCandless: “We both joined as freshmen, Moksha actually convinced me to run with her because I wasn’t really about it. We both joined and I immediately got interested in Ways and Means. I joined the committee because I really was interested in the idea of helping RSO’s get money that they needed because it seemed really impactful and cool. So, I got involved in that process, a year later became the chair. So, I’ve tried to make it more accessible, create more office hours, create budget workshops, that sort of thing. But overall, I’ve been kind of disappointed in the turn the SGA has taken. There’s been a high number of resignations, it feels like things are pretty stagnant and not a lot is getting done. So, we kind of talked and decided that our talents would be best put to use if we were to try to make this better from the top. Moksha is also a committee chair and she can talk more about that and we try to do a lot to help student groups and help students, but overall the direction the organization is taking is one that we’re not super happy with.”

Moksha Padmaraju: “We kind of had a similar way into the SGA because we both ran together and I did not get elected at first, but I still wanted to be involved in the SGA. I was a special assistant first on the finance committee and then I became a senator, so I was on the finance committee all of last year. I really liked how we could really really help RSO’s by granting them emergency funding because you see all of the cool events that RSO’s do and you want to help them and we got to so that was cool. And we got to meet a lot of really cool RSO’s along the way, because I would have never met and heard of half of the RSO’s that I did without being on the committee, which I loved. This year I served in the first semester on the administrative affairs committee, which kind of regulates the SGA… It’s a really cool committee and at first, I thought it would be boring but it’s actually really interesting because I want to be a lawyer and I do mock trial so it’s really cool getting into the nitty gritty of bylaws, and how one article could mess everything up. But now I’m the chair of the undergraduate oversight registry committee, which is a new select committee. So, we work to help review all the new RSO applications and we want to make RSO applications and funding more efficient on campus. With that I also audit RSO’s to see the ones that haven’t been active and how we can help them become active or just like what are the next steps we can do. I love the SGA and I’ve been in student government since I was 9-years-old in elementary school. It’s really interesting to me that last year there was an informal, kind of bond and this year I think it has been missing a little and it’s kind of sad. I can’t say that there’s one factor that leads to it but there’s just been so many people leaving the SGA and we’ve had a very, very low number, I think the lowest in recent years which is terrible. I think we just really want to build more bridges and to build more connections and work with everyone no matter their committee on [the] SGA, or what their personal preferences, and experiences — we want to work with everyone and build everyone’s perspective and help the student body.”

AM: “There’s obviously been a lot of turmoil and discord within SGA this year and that’s been really disappointing to me because I know, I’ve seen the positive things that student government can do. Like last year the creation of an iClicker library, and relationships with faculty senate, being able to help RSO’s, that sort of thing. But it really feels like this year it’s become something like of a joke in terms of how people view it publicly. You know, when you guys write an article about it all the comments are like, ‘Looks like SGA is doing nothing again,’ you know, that sort of thing. And we really want it to be a tool of positive change for people. And right now, most people don’t feel like it’s helped them at all, so that’s something we really want to change because it’s really time for representation for students to be adequate.”

So, it sounds like you don’t have much confidence in the current administration.

AM: “I mean, I, after last year’s election, I reached out to Nathalie and Timmy and asked to sit down with them and wanted to see how I could partner with them to try to enact things that we had in common that we wanted to do and I really wanted them to do well because I want the organization to succeed and all of that. But over the past year we’ve seen a lot of not great things happen. The number one thing that’s been bothering us that really spurred us to run and a lot of people, is the fact that the Student Union renovation, there’s been no oversight and no communication. In 2017 when we voted for the student union, it was supposed to have a $50 million price tag. And in between then and now, according to an article on The Collegian, it’s gone up by $12 million and according to the UMass website it’s gone up by $5 million. So, the fact that we don’t even know what that number is a huge problem. And that’s between $2.5 to $6 million of student fees.”

MP: “That comes from out of our own pockets, which is terrible.”

AM: “That’s a huge problem for us, and that’s something where affordability is a huge issue for college students. Moksha and I and most of the people running won’t be here to see the Student Union but I think it’s important for us to be responsible stewards of that project. Like a lot of freshmen that I know had no idea that the building was even gonna close and that we were even going to have that construction, which is just kind of crazy. Because the whole idea of the project when it happened, the SGA leadership at the time, was they wanted it to be a new space for students to be involved in, for students to have control of the project and make it a student building. But between then and now, the cost has gone up by millions of dollars and there’s been no oversight and no outreach which is really frustrating.”

So, you guys are saying that there’s a lack of transparency and maybe dialogue between students and leadership in the SGA?

AM: “Definitely. I’ve reached out to a lot of senators in SGA and asked them what they thought about the Student Union and most of them had no idea that the price tag had even gone up.”

MP: “I didn’t know until very recently ago. And I think of myself as someone who is involved in the SGA and is updated on the current happenings and the fact that no one talked about this — or it wasn’t in their weekly reports — I felt like it was almost covered up, because no one talked about it. If the SGA chairs don’t know about it, then who else is kept in the know? It affects all of us, every single UMass undergrad pays this fee. And if it’s going up by $2.5 to $6 million that’s a huge change and we should at least know about it.”

AM: “I think it’s crazy because the student government… we get to sit on boards for administrators and stuff so that’s where we’re supposed to be able to say, like, you know, ‘Don’t raise the price of this project that’s coming out of student’s pockets.’ I don’t know, it just makes me really sad, because I think the project has a lot of potential, but it’s kind of up in the air right now.”

You’re pointing to that [the Student Union] as an example, but why did you choose to run for President and Vice President overall?

AM: “Overall, we felt that there’s a lot of things that the SGA has the power to influence but that isn’t happening right now. Moksha can elaborate a little more on this but something where we have influence in the faculty senate, and they have influence over all the classes that we do, the career services, things like that.”

MP: “We have a lot of power, especially for academics and we don’t utilize it very well. And there’s only been one committee right now, AO, the academic oversight committee that can do stuff but there’s no cabinet position that can do anything. I’m a peer advisor in SBS so I see all of the problems that people face in advising in academics and also just co-curriculars and professional advising. I don’t know if you know this, but last year when a senior survey was conducted only a little over a third of graduates had a job, which is not amazing at all, it’s kind of problematic. And I think that, we do have career advising, all of the colleges, and general career advising, but we have a lot of amazing resources on campus but people don’t know about it because they’re not amazing at outreach to students. We as students know best what we pay attention to and the fact that no one pays attention to academics and how powerful it is and what we’re mostly here to do at UMass is to be a student. And people don’t know their resources and there’s no outreach being done. One other thing actually that we want to really help influence is the lack of representation amongst colleges and majors in the SGA. The majority of people are from [the school of social and behavioral sciences] or I think [the college of humanities and fine arts], maybe?”

AM: “There’s not a lot of people from [the college of natural sciences], you know, computer science.”

MP: “CNS, engineering and even Isenberg. There’s all of these colleges that are missing their voice. We can’t make policy and initiatives and address problems if we’re missing more than half of campus of being represented. That’s one thing we want to focus on, outreach to groups and sets of campus that don’t really have representation on campus and in the SGA.”

AM: “And another thing is we have career resources but a lot of people don’t feel like it’s adequate. I hear from a lot of people who are like, ‘If you’re not in the Honors College or you’re not in Isenberg then you’re kind of screwed.’ And that’s not what should be happening, because UMass should be able to provide us with those resources. Another thing that spurred us to run right now is that RSO’s are not getting the support that they need. I’ve worked really hard in my job to try to make sure that they have the financial support that they need, but for a student group to succeed you need so much more than just finances. You need organizational support, you need space. The move from the Student Union to Bartlett was like, a mess. I know you guys [the Collegian] had issues with your office, a lot of groups had their stuff lost, and there was really no explanation for it. I talked to a lot of RSO’s and this happened to mock trial where their stuff just went missing. And it’s really an issue right now because club sports, they don’t really have a lot of space to practice and they’re trying to deal with that on their own. I’ve tried to help them out a little bit with it but they’re really on their own fighting these battles. And a lot of times in SGA people want to talk about writing letters to the administration or talking about state laws but we have real power to help student groups [and] I think that the most valuable experiences that a lot of people get on this campus aren’t just sitting in a lecture hall, it’s being out and doing those things themselves. Whether it’s through running a club sport, being in an advocacy group, doing mock trial, you gain a lot of really powerful experiences through that and we want to make sure that those voices are supported and strengthened.”

You’re talking a lot about making sure RSO’s have the space they need, trying to promote that environment here on campus. What else would be your top priorities if you were elected?

AM: “On day one the first thing we would do is figure out the Student Union. Figure out why this cost is going up, what the number is and bring it back down to the number students agreed on and make sure that people know the progress on the project. I couldn’t even tell you right now what’s changed between when we’ve approved it and right now because there’s just been nothing. Besides that, we want to really delve into creating a cabinet position to address academic and career issues because that’s something where I think we can have a lot of say and have a lot of influence, but it hasn’t been a huge focus. We really just want to make sure that SGA is running efficiently and effectively from the start and just making sure that we can serve the needs of every student.”

How would your relationship be with students on a day to day basis? What sort of initiatives would you take as president and vice president to try to engage with the student body?

MP: “I think one of our big things, like we’ve mentioned, is there’s a misrepresentation of the student body in the SGA. I think one of our biggest things would be to do more outreach and do more events, co-collaborative events with the cultural groups and other schools… It was the SGA that led the initiative to have no more than two finals or two exams on one day. That’s a huge thing for students because you’re so drained from two exams that you can’t take one more. And even the two-week add/drop policy, that was something the SGA was at the forefront of. We want to do more things like that. And also, day-to-day, I think have more councils and more people come to the SGA because you can only come at announcements and, it’s not amazing and it’s not very welcoming.”

AM: “It’s not very accessible, it’s a little intimidating.”

MP: “It’s in here of all places, so no one’s going to come here on their own volition, on a Monday evening.”

AM: “Something that I’ve done this year that I want to bring to the SGA as a whole is a lot of complaints that I got coming into my position as Ways and Means chair was that ‘The budget process is inaccessible and we don’t know what to do.’ So I expanded the number of office hours by a huge amount, made office hours on weekends in case people couldn’t come during the week and then created budgeting workshops where I came to different RSO councils and talked to them instead of saying ‘You come to us.’ So it’s really just being more visible and being out there. In the past the SGA would table, we haven’t really done much of that this year. And in the past, we’ve had big events that have drawn a huge crowd that we can use to really talk to people, because we shouldn’t just say ‘If you want to talk to SGA come talk at announcements.’”

MP: “That’s not very responsible of us, we have to be there. I think that’s also kind of a problem that we’re seeing now is because people are leaving SGA in record numbers there’s really no one to do it all. When you have less than 45 people in the SGA and they all have their own jobs, their own academics and their own clubs, it’s hard to ask them for so much more. It’s kind of a bottleneck effect where everyone is leaving so you can’t ask the same people to do everything.”

AM: “We know what it’s like to be super busy. Both of us work other jobs outside of being in the SGA, we both take a ton off campus, we both lived off-campus, cook our own food, all of that stuff.”

MP: “I don’t cook.”

AM: “You can cook, you can cook. You’re just — Moksha is very humble. We know what it’s like to be tight on cash. To be dealing with the red tape that people have to go through to get help at this University. Or even to submit a purchase request for your RSO, it’s a whole big thing. I work in the business center as well so I try to help people process those things and I see what everyone has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I think one of the big problems is that people see the SGA as like ‘Oh, they’re trying to build their resumes.’ That’s not why we’re here.”

MP: “One line on a resume, I’m telling you, it’s not worth it. You run for SGA because you really want to do things on campus. No one would be here if they thought it was for the resume, because no one is going to sit through a four-hour, sometimes six-hour long meeting on a Monday evening just for the resume, that’s not the reason we’re there.”

In terms of the current administration, the officials at UMass that are in Whitmore, what do you think they could improve on?

MP: “I think that they could do a better job of working with the SGA. But I think one thing that we have to be mindful of is that we have to be willing to work with them and we have to address them respectfully. One thing that is happening currently or has happened in the last couple of months is blatant disrespectfulness. And it’s hard to get them to work with you if you don’t respect them even to their face. So, I think one thing me and Allie really do as people and as leaders in the SGA is respect people, no matter who you are. If you’re a freshman or even just someone who hasn’t even come to UMass yet, we want to work with you and we want to hear your side. We’re willing to sit down with administration and hear what they have to say and listen to their side of things. It’s easy to criticize them because they’re a little bit removed from us… We all want the best for UMass as students, but we have to be willing to sit with them and talk to them about what we feel and what they’re doing.”

AM: “Another thing about that is, I disagree with a lot of things that the administration does. One big example that was sort of a minor policy change but caused a huge public blowback was the whole disposable cup thing last year. It was good that they wanted to be sustainable but it was a really poor rollout. And for them they were like ‘Oh, it’s just a PR issue.’ But I think there was deeper roots there that we have to get into. Something important is that we have this document that says that the administration has to consult with SGA [but] they don’t have to listen. So I really think that something that needs to happen is that there needs to be a lot more listening on both sides and a lot more collaboration. We’re really committed to working respectfully with administration. Even when we disagree with them, we want to be able to see eye-to-eye.”

How do you plan on trying to press the administration to give you more of that listening power?

MP: “A big part of that is outreach. Right now, how it’s being done is that the SGA will field something and take that to Whitmore. But if we do better outreach and show them that all of campus feels like this… they’re more likely to listen. If 20,000 people think one way, then it shows something, that something needs to be changed.”

AM: “Something that was very effective, a few presidents ago, they would kind of go and collect feedback from all of the students and bring other stakeholders to the table besides just the people in SGA. It’s 60 something students, but there are 22,000 on this campus. Obviously, we are elected to represent the students, but I think it’s important to go back and see what students are saying. A lot of letters get passed through SGA and that’s great that it goes to Whitmore, but you never hear anything back from it because it doesn’t really have that backing from students.”

MP: “You have to follow up. Seeing someone in a meeting and hearing someone is a lot more effective than sending a letter and being done with that.”

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

MP: “I think it’s really disturbing, especially in 2019 that this would happen at a public University is terrifying, honestly. We really want to sit with Whitmore… and see what they’re doing behind the scenes and talk to them about how we feel because it’s not okay and it can’t happen again. It makes people feel so un-welcomed because when you’re here this is your home, and if you feel unsafe in your home that’s not okay… I know that people have been working on anti-racial trainings amongst RAs and PMs and I want to expand that and talk to administration and see what real things we can do. Because people on campus haven’t loved their response, and what they’ve done after the incidences. I know it’s hard to think of something concrete to do to combat it, but I think that if we work together and they hear our perspective and we hear theirs we can come to a good way to mollify the situation at least.”

AM: “I think they’ve been taking steps in the right direction. They had the symposium on polarization, and things like that are good. I think something that we want to do is sit down with them and say ‘Let’s look at other schools like UMass that have faced issues like these and that have been able to recover and create a safer environment on campus, what did they do that was effective and what can we do to model that.’ A lot of people are upset and not happy. I lived in JQA when there was an incident there and it was really sad and really horrifying. Anything that we can do to see how have other people effectively responded to this and continue to do that and make sure people know about it.”

How do you plan to address rising tuition and fees?

MP: “I think that advocacy is a worthwhile thing to pursue, especially when it comes to policies like this. I think we need to let administration know that this is not okay, and how it keeps rising…I think ultimately, it’s a lot for one organization like the SGA to combat single handedly. I think while we should keep advocating for lower tuition and lower fees, one of our platforms is that we want to reduce everyday costs for students…I think on a more day-to-day level it would be amazing if we could reduce like one person having to buy one less iClicker or one less textbook.”

AM: “Another thing is like tuition and fees have only increased in the last year since our last SGA elections, and I think again administrators and trustees don’t have to listen, they only have to consult with us…We definitely want to repair that relationship with them…Both of us have backings in financial dealings and dealing with budgets and that sort of thing. So we really want to dive in, go to the administration finance meetings… and try to cut out all of those unnecessary costs. We can advocate to the Board of Trustees all we want to lower tuition and fees but if they don’t listen, we need to be prepared to reduce costs here on campus to make up for it.”

Basically, what I’m hearing is that you want the administration to take you seriously.

MP: “We do. Exactly. And I think it’s hard to do that when you aren’t respectful to them.”

AM: “I think it’s kind of crazy that people think there isn’t a student debt crisis. And it’s crazy that people don’t want to recognize that but I think when you’re trying to change someone’s mind and make them realize what students are going through…that needs to come from a place of respect and wanting to work together instead of just agitating people…Everyone at this university and everyone who works for UMass is ultimately to serve students. Administrators work for us and not the other way around.”

Editor’s notes: Michael Connors was a member of the Student Government Association from 2015-2017 but is no longer affiliated.

Michael Connors can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mikepconnors.