Incumbent Student Government Association president Timmy Sullivan is running for a second term in office, similar to his predecessor Anthony Vitale, who served in the role from 2016-2018. While this is Sullivan’s third time on the presidential campaign trail – having run unsuccessfully his freshman year for vice president against Vitale’s ticket with Lily Wallace –this year’s race presents a new challenge.
Nathalie Amazan, Sullivan’s ticket partner for the previous two election cycles and his vice president this academic year, stepped down from her position in early February due to time commitments. In this election, Sullivan’s vice presidential candidate is freshman psychology major Hayden Latimer-Ireland, a relative newcomer to the SGA community.
Here is a transcript of the team’s question-and-answer interview prior to Monday’s SGA executive debate starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall.
This interview was completed on Feb. 15.
Why are each of you running for president and vice president?
Hayden Latimer-Ireland: “I’m running for vice president because I’ve seen many of the issues on campus that have occurred even within my first…five, six months here. And I think that this position is really going to be a way that we can address these issues. I think that the work that Timmy [Sullivan] has done, Nat [Amazan] has done over the past year have really given us… a platform to move forward, it’s going to let us get deeper into many of the issues that we see and that we can address.”
Timmy Sullivan: “I mean, I’ve been running for this position since freshman year and that’s really because I think we need strong student leaders on this campus and I know that we have strong student leaders on this campus on the issues of college affordability, food security, sustainability, supporting students of color, marginalized students, queer students [and] trans students, and unfortunately, I’ve just not always seen that leadership exhibited in the SGA.”
“And so that’s when it occurred to me to run because I know the institutional power that the body has, this document called the Wellman Document, which is a trustee policy that gives shared governance responsibility of the University to the [SGA]. And what I would like to see is the SGA taking advantage of that document to really push forward the campus on issues of college affordability. We need to lower tuition fees, we need to make sure that all students can eat and access food here. One in four students is food insecure, and I think that’s a problem. And we, of course, [need] to be supporting students of color, especially after the last semester that we had.”
For you [Timmy], this is a re-election campaign, so how would you say your views have changed since your last election?
TS: “I wouldn’t say much has changed, and that’s because I’ve been leading with my values and my values have been staying the same. So, like some of the things I’ve just mentioned, I think that as a public institution we should be open to accepting all students across the commonwealth and making ourselves accessible in that way. When we raise tuition and fees for five years consecutively, and we have the average student graduating with $32,000 in student debt, that’s not making our college accessible.”
“So that’s something that I’ve been continuing to talk about because I know that it’s important and I know that when we have students who are coming together and who are advocating for increased state funding, when we’re advocating for a tuition and fees freeze, we can get it. I’ve been advocating for food security, and that’s remained consistent, because one in four students can’t eat on this campus! That’s so horrible… food is a biological necessity, we know that it influences the academic performance, the social performance of our students on this campus. We just should not be food insecure, but we are. And so, fighting for that. Climate change, the UN Climate report informs us that we have 12 years to radically make changes to our institutions and UMass is one of those institutions that needs to change. And so I’ve been committed to all of these things.”
“Racial justice is super important, again as I mentioned, because this semester, last semester students of colors have consistently reported feeling unsafe. There’s a campus climate report that came out last year that showed black students and trans students felt the most unsafe on this campus. So we already knew this, and then in the fall semester, we had this slew of racist attacks against students, specifically Black students. And so we need to be supporting our students of color, it’s a value of mine and we’ve kept the platform the same because the values have changed.”
Do you feel the priorities have changed [based on the racial incidents]?
TS: “Absolutely, but I also feel that all of these issues are interconnected, right? So we have an extremely white campus and we have an extremely middle class campus, so what I think… I think the issues of affordability and race [are] intersected. So, I don’t know that they’re necessarily separate, though absolutely we’re prioritizing students of color.”
As a newcomer to the ticket [Hayden], what would you say that you think you can bring to the administration that hasn’t been there this year?
HLI: “I share many of the values that Timmy holds, I think that it is important to prioritize all of these things if possible and I think that my work specifically has been around… since I got here, I’ve been working around issues of sexual assault and harassment. I held a forum discussing the new University policy right when I got here. I think it was like a month and a half into my time here. So, just to gather student feedback to bring that back to the administrators who are working on that. And then, that’s continued to be a priority of mine, I’m trying to build connections with [Center for Women and Community] and athletics and Greek Life to try to just, come to an understanding about what we need to do on this campus to make people feel secure. That’s been a priority of mine. I’ve also been doing some work [surrounding] issues of accessibility and able-ism. I joined a new coalition that’s been forming within the past couple weeks and we’ve been trying to just figure out how we can best have the administration support students with disabilities and just to….where we should start to go from there because there are a lot of issues. There’s only, I think there’s only one person working in the assisted technology department right now which is nowhere as near it needs to be on campus at all. We’ve also been partnering with the RA/PM Union to help them get a fair contract, because negotiations have been going on since 2017. So it’s been a long time coming…. they’re also trying to ask, trying to include an anti-racism training in that which I think would be an important step to take to combat the incidents that we’ve seen in the fall.”
How do you feel the two of you would work as a ticket next year?
TS: “I mean, I think that we’re a really strong team, so I’ve known Hayden actually from her first day on campus. We met because Nathalie [Amazan] and I were doing voter registration outside of Hamp[shire Dining Commons] and Hayden had come by, she was already registered – thank you –
….but [she] had come by to sort of talk to us about what we were doing, how important it was that we were there and registering voters. And we were able to strike up a conversation about ways to get involved on campus. So one of them was the [SGA] and being able to run for senate, another one is CEPA – the center for education policy & advocacy – which we’re both really involved in. And so it was amazing to see not only her campaign for senate, but also to be coming to the coalition spaces within CEPA, we worked together closely on a lot of the issues we’ve mentioned already, particularly around the issue of affordability, we’re both on the debt-free future campaign within CEPA, so we do have a pretty close, strong working relationship, I would say. And we’re able to use that to inform how we’d work together as president and vice president, and then recently, with some of the issues that Hayden just mentioned, like the [RA/PM Union]… we both supported a motion that went up to support the union’s bargaining efforts, so we’ve been working within the SGA as well, together. I think it will be a strong partnership.”
HLI: “For sure, another motion we’ve passed… another one was on [putting] forward a referendum we worked on with the debt free future campaign at CEPA, so it’s going to be on the ballot… next week.”
TS: “It’s asking students if they would like to urge the Board of Trustees to support two pieces of legislation in the State House. One of them is the Cherish Act, which would reinvest state funds into public higher education, to bring us down to our 2001 funding levels, so it’s a lot of information, but in 2001, UMass students essentially paid 30 percent of the cost to go to UMass, where now, we’re paying 62 percent. It’s more than doubled what students are paying. So this piece of legislation would revert us back to our 2001 funding levels.”
“The second piece of our legislation, the Debt Free Future Act, essentially creates debt free public college in the state of Massachusetts. The question asks if students are urging the Board of Trustees to endorse those pieces of legislation.”
HLI: “So hopefully, we’re going to take that to the Board and be like, ‘look! the students don’t want to be in debt!’ and then hopefully get some kind of response from them on that.”
So there are three ballot initiatives this year. Would you say, as a ticket, that you support all three of the initiatives?
TS: “Yeah, we do. We actually put two of them on.”
TS: “I support MASSPIRG’s initiative, they decided to do signatures, a signature drive to be able to get on the ballot because it helps them as well through their advocacy around MASSPIRG…. I’m proud to support them there. And then the other two are things that we introduced. So the second one would be the endorsement of those two pieces of legislation, which was a motion that we put forward from the Senate, so Hayden and I both supported that. Then the third ballot was one that was introduced by my office, and it’s to encourage the university to immediately transition to 100 percent renewable energy.”
So we’ve brought up racism on campus a few times, and of course the acts that happened this fall semester. [Hayden], what would you do differently than what [Timmy’s administration] has already done?
HLI: “Certainly, so I think that the RA/PM Union anti-racism training would be an important step for sure, I think that, so I have quite a few friends that live in Melville, and I think that they’re feeling like because the spotlight has shifted off them, they’re definitely feeling less supported by admin right now, because it’s not front and center. So I think just making sure they have access to resources they might need, that they feel the support of the student body, the general student body. I think that it’s important to be able to have the difficult conversations that people need to process and deal with the ways people might be allowing for this to happen, and I just think, it’s important to be able to talk about it.”
And what would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far this year in office [Timmy]?
TS: “Wow, that’s a really tough question. Going back to the issue of food insecurity, we were able to introduce with the University a new meal plan option for students which is set to go live in the fall semester, and this is really important for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is a major success. The second is that it’s one step forward in combating the issue of food insecurity, it in no way relieves the campus of it, but it’s a very important step forward in making sure that all students here can get three meals a day from our dining commons. The third is that it shows the power that students have in being able to identify a problem and to be able to work with the University to create a comprehensive solution. And that’s something I’ve been running on for years.”
“And so the broader abstract idea that students have power to take ownership of our lives on this campus and then when we use that power and the resource of the SGA to amplify that voice, we can win concrete step forwards. And the last is that it pulled together a broad coalition of students, and I think that coalition exists for all of these issues that we’re talking about, and it’s also something new and unique that we brought to the SGA. We’ve been working with the food access coalition for this, so there’s members from CEPA, the Graduate Student Senate – we’ve dramatically improved our relationship with the [GSS] in just one semester of having been in office – we have students from the Student Farm who are participating in this, the Food Recovery Network, APO’s student run food pantry, we’re also proud to support them in their initiative. So bringing all these different groups together and really building a really strong coalition of students is how, in my mind is how government should work… it shouldn’t be this isolated [actor] working alone, but really working in collaboration with all these different campus interest groups.”
How do you plan to interact with the Board of Trustees to freeze tuition and fees?
TS: “The first step is figuring out how students vote on this. We’re encouraging them so strongly to vote ‘yes,’ it is so imperative that students vote yes on this ballot initiative to support these pieces of legislation. Then I think moving forward with the board, these are relationships that I’ve had for years, essentially. As a freshman, I started meeting with president Marty Meehan and we’ve maintained a strong relationship with… the Board of Trustees. With CEPA, we’ve had students continuously be going before the board and speaking to them at their committee meetings.”
HLI: “Yeah, I’m going to go to their March meeting…. and then additionally, I’m collaborating with [Massachusetts Society of Professors] to go and visit individual board members to just show what, after the referendum hopefully passes, and just tell them, ‘look, the students voted for this, you should support this.’”
TS: “What we’ve done which also unique in the last semester is build a strong partnership between undergraduate students through the [SGA, CEPA and the GSS], the MSP, the professors’ union, the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association, the state teachers’ union and then PHENOM, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, and in this strong statewide coalition of undergraduates, graduates and employees, we’ve been meeting with the Board… there’s just power in numbers. Teacher’s working conditions are student’s learning conditions, and we recognize the interconnectedness of all of this.”
How would you address the resignations that happened in the SGA this year?
HLI: “I know going into Senate, I just wasn’t sure of what I was doing in there, what my place was exactly. I think I’ve been able to find that, I’ve made a lot of good connections with a bunch of people within Senate, especially with the freshman class, I think we’re all really excited to move forward on work within the senate. I think we need to figure out a way that individual senators can take up projects they’re passionate about and really be able to push those forward. We need to figure out how to make some kind of support network where both individual senators can push their projects forward and we can make it a place for students to come with their projects that they want us to get through and we can work with them to do that. I think the focus on projects and bettering campus through those is important.”
TS: “I’ve always been open to conversations and to working with people, and I continue to be open to conversations and working with people, especially across difference. And I just wish that all people in the SGA felt that, because unfortunately, I think the… unwillingness to have difficult conversations across political difference is definitely something that people struggle with in that body, and it definitely can be uncomfortable. But yeah, I remain committed to knowing that when we work together, we work together for the interests of the students…that’s the purpose of the SGA and the thing that unites us….we’re there to advocate for students and move this campus in a direction that works for all of us. So when we can be united around that cause we can accomplish amazing things.”
“We built these new relationships [with unions and organizations] in the spirit of collaboration. We’ve also been able to include new students in advisory boards, and into some of the Senate and SGA processes that they weren’t really a part of. I do think we demonstrate how to work together collaboratively, it’s just that unfortunately I don’t know that everyone is willing to be there yet.”
Why should people vote for your ticket over the two other tickets running this year?
TS: “Firstly, our platform. We have a really unique platform rooted in empowering students and [advocating] for issues affecting students: sustainability, racial justice, food insecurity [and] affordability. Not only is that unique in the ways that it’s serving our students, but we’re uniquely positioned in terms of our dedication and our history of advocating for those issues, and we’ve been doing this work. In Hayden’s case, since her first day on the campus this past semester, and in my case, since my first day in these past three years. We’ve been strong advocates for these issues.”
“I also think that having relationships is really important to do this work, I’ve understood that being in this position. Having relationships with campus administrators is what enables us to move policy forward, so we’ve had these relationships, we’ve been building them. Having relationships with the state legislature as well, we created the first UMass specific lobby day which brought students to the State House to build relationships with their legislators to help move some of the legislation we’re talking about forward.”
HLI: “I think it’s important to look at the history of action…we have all these platform points that we’re really passionate about but it’s also backed up a history of action, it’s what we’ve done with the new meal plan, it’s the forum I held on sexual assault. It’s not just a bunch of idealistic goals, it’s things that we actually have done work on. And I think that coming into Senate last semester, it was really something that mattered to me to be able to work with these multiple different groups and to just move this work forward. The collaboration I’ve been able to find working within this space, working with Timmy, and it’s just been incredible.”
TS: “I also think the Student Union is an important thing to note. The construction project is two-year project, we’re in the first part of it now, and it’s really important to have a consistent voice at those meetings. And this isn’t just my opinion, it’s the opinion of the administrators who’ve been working on this project as well. So, they’ve basically admitted that I will need to be involved in some capacity next year, because I will be the only remaining student on campus who has been in those meetings and has intimate project details so next year I will have to be in those meetings regardless, and I think that’s it’s really important since it was an SGA project of my predecessor [Vitale] to continue working on it through the SGA so that all students are able to be part of the process and that we’re able to have sort of a consistent voice in the project decisions.”
HLI: “Also, I think a majority of the candidates are going to be graduating after the end of next year, I think I’ll be the only one who’s going to be here when [the project] is actually finished. So just being able to work continuously and work with Timmy to find out how I’m going to be able to take the next steps in working with the Student Union for when it’s actually a thing, to move all the stuff back there, how to organize all the RSOs within it… it’s going to be important to have a continuous voice in that.”
TS: “I think we have a great opportunity here, that’s an amazing point. My predecessor, Anthony Vitale, was able to serve two terms, and I think he was the first person able to do that since…”
HLI: “2000, I think.”
TS: “Wow, since 2000, and it really showed in what he was able to accomplish how strong it is for students to have a two term administration. And so that was something Nathalie [Amazan] and I had set out for last year, knowing that we were sophomores running for this position, knowing that we could serve the campus potentially for two terms and knowing the power that builds for students. Now, also having Hayden as part of this, knowing she’ll be on campus for the next 3 years and being able to serve students in that capacity uniquely puts us in a position to be building a legacy of advocacy around these issues.”
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being the youngest candidate?
HLI: “Definitely, the advantages are the fact that I will be here for so long, so I will be able to spend more time working on the projects that are important to me, that are important to the student body. I think that the connections that I have made within my first semester have put me in a place that I know I have the support that I need though I may not necessarily have all the experience, I think that both with Timmy as being someone who’s already been in office I think that will help ease the transition in that regard. The only disadvantage would be that I haven’t necessarily been here, but I think the ways that we’re going to be able to work through that is through the connections that I’ve been able to make working with Timmy, all the resources I’m going to have will be able to work well.”
How do you plan to go forward on the campaign trail?
TS: “We’re so excited. We have a really dedicated and amazing team. I am smiling so much right now, just thinking about them. So, you know, we come from backgrounds in organizing and understanding how organizing relates to the governance process, so we’re taking a real grassroots approach to this election. We have a very strong and dedicated team of students who over the next couple days, you’re going to see talking in dining halls, talking to their RSOs, their peers, their friends, doing some door knocking, we have a video that is coming out in like, 30 minutes… so stay tuned for our social media as well, because that’s always an exciting and engaging way to interact with folks.”
HLI: “Everyone is incredible, I’m so excited to be working with these people, we have an amazing Graphic Design team…they’re wonderful. And just, we’re really excited.”
TS: “That’s the most rewarding part of it is seeing the teams, we have different teams, come together around things they’re really passionate about and being able to use that passion for this campaign, it’s amazing, it reminds me why I’m doing this work in the first place.”
Portions of this interview have been edited out for length.
Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected]