Question and Answer: SGA presidential and vice-presidential candidates Michael Suchecki and Sean Vo are running in the 2020 election

Communication is a major theme of their campaign

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By Will Mallas, Assistant News Editor

Michael Suchecki and Sean Vo are running for the positions of president and vice president, respectively, in this year’s SGA elections. Both emphasized in their interview that the SGA needs communication to improve their  ability to work with student groups.

The following is a transcript of a question-and-answer interview the Massachusetts Daily Collegian conducted with Suchecki and Vo prior to the SGA executive debate, which is being held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11 in the Campus Center Auditorium. The interview was conducted on March 8. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What is your experience with the SGA?

 Michael Suchecki: Last year we actually had the opportunity to cross paths around the same time at the SGA because when we were running for our senate campaigns, we actually met the evening the elections closed. Around 3 a.m., we were told to come in and we should have the results for the senate races all tallied up and you’ll be able to find out if you made it or not essentially. And we kind of met there.

Sean Vo: Technically, we met earlier, but we didn’t formally introduce each other.

MS: Yeah, so we had seen each other before but we met truly that evening only to discover about an hour later that they were not going to have those tallied after all because it was a tighter race than expected, so essentially that is how it started, but then we’ve had very different experiences in the SGA. To speak to my part, I have served on the Outreach and Development Committee, where we work to recruit and interview candidates for openings in the senate as well as performing, supposedly, outreach to the campus community regarding issues that pertain to them, and then, this semester, I have had the privilege of being hired by the president as the secretary of public relations as I had a lot of areas I hoped to improve on in that respect.

SV: So, I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m probably one of the biggest critics of the SGA. I serve on the Undergraduate Oversight Registry Committee as well as the Administrative Affairs Committee, and they both, in part, have helped me, or sort of tried to help me, shape a more informed perspective on the SGA. What is no secret is that I did run for senator with the primary motivation to find out what the SGA actually is and why do I feel like they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, which are still great questions because I’m still trying to unravel that. But you know, that’s why I’m probably one of the biggest critics. . . I believe the SGA  represents the voices for the student body, but they haven’t been living up to that. So, my experience with the SGA has sort of been twisty turny with people trying to get me on one side or the other, and I’m just like, ‘no.’

MS: And that largely is some of what we’re trying to focus in on because a lot of what the student body doesn’t know what we do, why we exist, and the people who do know generally who we are don’t have a favorable perception of us because of our messaging.

SV: The Black Sheep chaotic evil.

MS: Yeah, the Black Sheep UMass account called [the SGA] chaotic evil in their organization chart for UMass, which our goal is to take us from chaotic evil to just chaotic, you know. Unofficial campaign slogan.

One thing I find interesting is, so [Suchecki], you’re a member of the cabinet, and [Vo], you’re a senator, how would that dynamic play into a potential presidency?

MS: Yeah, so I think, up through even the beginning of the semester, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a senator, so I’ve had an opportunity to kind of work closely with Sean within senate even though our committee assignments are very different. So, we each bring very different perspectives to the table, not only in regard to our current positions and the roles we play but also in regard to discussing and debating important issues that pertain to the SGA. You know, on a lot of things, Sean and I actually fall on differing ends of decisions, and that’s one of the major reasons why I thought he’d be a fantastic choice for vice president because I don’t want to have only people around me that’ll tell me what I want to here. I want people who fundamentally feel comfortable disagreeing with me and feel comfortable debating the details and really diving into things closely so that we can come to the decision that is best for the student body.

If elected, what will your top priorities be?

MS: So, Sean and I have kind of talked about this. We outlined this a little bit ahead of time in regard to what we thought were some of the main problems facing the SGA, and I think Sean touched on it a little earlier when he said that when he was coming into the SGA, he didn’t really know what it does, and to a degree, I think he said he still really doesn’t know what we do. Our primary goal in this campaign is to make sure there is greater accountability to the students that we are supposed to represent because I don’t think anyone outside of SGA on this campus can name someone that is elected to represent their grade. It’s unfortunate that we have that much of a disconnect because we don’t have our representatives actually accountable to the students they serve. And our second main goal is to heavily reform the messaging and communication around our work with student groups. Over the last couple of years, but especially the last one, one and a half that I’ve been following closely or involved in the SGA, I’ve seen a really strained relationship between the SGA and student groups on this campus because we have not put in a cohesive and coordinated effort to be upfront with them and communicate clearly with our role of things and understand what they need from us as a body.

SV: One of my biggest goals in life ever is to help the most amount of people I can, however I can, and going into this should we win…

MS: We will.

SV: One of the primary things I’m proud of, you know help the most amount of people that I can, however I can, is to either reinstate or actually just establish in general, trust between the student government and the student body. With the nitty gritty details that both Michael and I have been constantly talking about, that can be achieved to establish that trust. With that trust, there will be mutual communication between all parties and we get to know what they really want and what they really need and they get to know what we need. And since that goes both ways, no one feels the need to not trust another, and we can go about helping each other in the most efficient way possible.

What’s something you think the current administration can improve on?

MS: Having seen the administration both from the outside as a senator and from the inside as currently a cabinet secretary, I think one of the major concerns the administration right now has is either an inability or unwillingness to work closely with the legislative branch to achieve common goals and to set common goals. Right now, there are any number of critically important issues to the student body, be it the affordability of meal plans and food options on campus, be it sustainability initiatives around having a green renewable campus, and any number of housing or other critically important issues that due to a lack of communication and willingness to come to the table as equals, we have been unable to act upon or act upon as efficiently as we could. I think bringing that perspective as well as bringing in my network from both sides of the SGA right now, I think that is something I am uniquely qualified to work toward.

SV: Something that I’ve noticed is, and this is something inside that I’ve gathered from multiple people, whether you talk about the current administration or administrations past, they’ve always had one perspective on how to help the campus. You know, you’ve had past administrations that have worked on finances and registry, so a lot of Registered Student Organizations and stuff like that, and then you’ve had this current administration which brought a new perspective, which was more social justice work, making sure students on campus who have never felt represented felt represented, although as a person who has experience in multiple marginalized communities, I can feel that I’m still am not represented adequately. But I think one of the biggest issues in any of the administrations that I’ve had the privilege to gain insight on them, they have only worked under that one perspective. They never thought to combine the perspectives, to strengthen their ability to work with their students, so I think that’s sort of one of my biggest critiques of the current administration is that they have such a focus that they aren’t really as willing to round in the focus.

MS: They’re not able to see the periphery due to their strict focus on their priorities, which is beneficial in one sense, but if it’s at the expense of addressing student needs, it’s not successful ultimately.

What do you think are the top three qualities you think an SGA president and vice president should have? 

SV: . . . I think one of them is mindfulness, the ability to keep an open mind so that we can keep an ever-evolving open discussion on how best to serve the campus.

MS: And I think going into that, I would say a second quality would be a willingness to listen. Without a willingness to listen and without a willingness to admit when you are wrong, you’re destined for failure because you’re not able to address what students need, you’re not going to be able to adapt to changing environments and perspectives on campus, you’re not going be able to truly meet the requirements of such a daunting task. You know, representing 23-and-a-half thousand undergraduate students isn’t easy, and as a result of that, no president is able to do that, nor should they have to be. That is what they are able to gain by having all the people around them, that is what the senators are for if you have that relationship properly mended and properly worked upon and developed. That is what the cabinet is for, because they specialize in these specific niches, but they all work towards the same common goal and interact with a lot of the people with those skill sets. So, the ability to listen and the willingness to hear when you are wrong are critically important, and I bundle those together as a second. I think the third major quality for a presidential ticket would likely be an ability to work on a team. You know, everyone likes to speak to their leadership qualities. When they speak to their leadership qualities, most of the time, what they are referring to is they’re referring to their ability to act like a boss. Now, being a boss is not about just telling someone what to do, which seems to be a common misconception, especially in certain student groups. What I see this as meaning is leadership is just as much about teamwork as it is about managing, and I think we can bring a greater degree of teamwork, between branches, between positions, between student groups and the SGA, and between the [SGA] and the student body. And I think by broadening those ties and by working to earn the trust and respect back of these different communities on this campus, I think that sets up for success in a way that will allow us to perform not only adequately but exceptionally in this role.

How do you look to draw more attention from the student body and respond to their needs and requests?

MS: Oh, I love this question, not to jump in, but one of the key things I have seen, even from my little bit of time in the cabinet right now, is that part of my job description is recruitment efforts on campus, and what that means is it doesn’t only mean going out and looking for people who want to join us. It’s about reaching out, you know, and my last committee I served on in senate as well is the same type thing, it’s outreach, you know, and that is something we have fundamentally have largely abandoned. We don’t have any mandatory town halls, we don’t have very many required events or outreach techniques, we don’t even have to consult the student body before making critically important decisions that have the potential to impact their education for the rest of their academic career. I believe key to accountability in the SGA is a willingness to engage with the people we are supposed to represent. That means, in my eyes, mandatory town halls. I would hope that I can work with the legislative branch to establish that for senators as well, but certainly at least for the presidential level and the cabinet level. That looks like to me the reaching out and the clear and upfront communication with all RSOs pertaining to their relationship with the SGA, and that means making sure we are fostering an environment so that UMass can not only be a school but also a home for the students here.

SV: Yeah you basically said everything but because you know within my time of being a senator, I noticed that a lot of people don’t even make the effort to go reach out to their constituents. One of the mandatory things for a senator is you have to go to at least two ESO events on campus, so that could be an a capella concert, that could be a cultural night. But a lot of people opt out of that and just take the hit for it.

MS: The absence.

SV: Yeah, exactly. They take the absence and while that’s one way of connecting with students, when you go to these events, you’re not like ‘Oh, I’m a senator, I’m here’ right, you’re just there. Something that I’ve noticed, also within my time as senator, I’ve actually taken the time to meet with some of my friends who are part of my class, you know, I asked them what do you guys think of the student government, and I ask them ‘is there something I can actually do?’ and often times it leads into a giant discussion about how the SGA is just so disconnected from reality. So, to sum up my point, which is Michael’s point.

MS: It’s just sobering to engage with the campus community I think, and feel that even though a lot of the work we are doing is important, they have no way of knowing that because the communication at the highest levels in the SGA is so poor, and the effort to reach out to them and connect with them is so lacking.

Off of that, I think that maybe a lot of students don’t know what SGA is or what SGA does and what kind of powers it has. Is there anything you plan to do to inform students [about what the SGA does]? 

SV: Tell him about the Wellman Document.

MS: The Wellman Document is the founding principle of the [SGA], and it is something that no one outside of the SGA, and many people even inside the SGA, aren’t really very familiar with. What that essentially means is any time the administration makes–or wants–to bring about a substantive change to UMass or how it operates as it pertains to students, they have to consult us first. And that in itself puts the [SGA] in a completely different tier than most other student government associations or student councils or what have you at the college level because few other administrations and few other administrators are comfortable committing to that. That is something that is incredibly important to our ability to operate as well as to students understanding as to how we are able to gain the authority we have. Now, I’m not foolish enough to assume that the students will care or pick up or even want to necessarily understand something if the SGA is just out here screaming, ‘Look at the Wellman Document.’  That’s not going to do anything. But bringing in the marketing perspective and the limited experience I’ve already had and been able to apply through the secretary of public relations position, I am comfortable and confident sharing and communicating with anything from small groups to administrators, to an entire campus at once in the campus-wide newsletters, as well as through social media and any other online or in-person mediums, and I think there is no one solution that will meet the needs to communicate and clarify our role, but by making important steps in all of those areas, it will give us the opportunity to greater convey what it is we do, our focus, how we can serve students and our plans going forward so that students, as well as student groups on campus, have the ability to prepare for and be cognizant of the decisions being made by their representation.

So, you have kind of touched on this a little bit, but if you wanted to go into more detail, I know [Vo], you were a part of the petitioner’s side of the recall hearings, how do you plan to mend any differences between the executive and legislative bodies that may have been harmed in the impeachment hearings? 

SV: I think the very first step to mending any sort of harm at all is to make sure both parties in the future are very much more transparent with each other and constantly are communicating with what they are doing because I think the biggest problem that arose that caused an impeachment investigation to even start was a lack of transparent communication between the president and the legislative body. I did not take part of most of the impeachment investigation, although I did attend one meeting, and they were getting to the most nitty-gritty details, but I think that’s the first step to mending relationships, although, it can be argued that there was not a lot of true harm done because everyone felt it was business rather than personal. I even went up to President Sullivan and said I’m part of this committee, but I hope you also see that this is just work because I knew him as Timmy before I knew him as President Sullivan. I became his friend before I became his coworker, you know.

MS: And I just want to make sure you’re not downplaying your role. You did have to testify against him largely in impeachment, and while the result may not have been a recall, and while there may be differing opinions on if that was the correct choice, it’s not questionable that the student body is aware of this, and it has harmed our reputation to the students as a result of it.

SV: That’s true.

MS: And I fundamentally think it goes back to the same thing, it goes back to communication, you know. The communication side can’t only be with students outside the SGA, we need to communicate inside the SGA. With our networks and experience in different sides of the SGA and on different parts of the SGA. We have the ability to bring in all the players that in the past, have felt left out of these conversations, so that we can ensure such lack of communication and miscommunication cannot be repeated in the future.

One thing the Collegian has covered is there have been groups on campus that have expressed frustrations over the RSO process and becoming RSOs. Do you have any plans to improve both the bylaws and creating RSOs, and also how the SGA works with them? 

SV: So, one of the committees I’m on, [UROC], we’re currently actively discussing amending the application bylaws so the process can become more efficient and better for people who are trying to become RSOs, and actually, we are taking another step into trying to develop stronger connections between the SGA and RSOs. My committee has now launched a new process called the RSO Review Process, where not only making sure that everyone is up to date with the current standards that has been set by the application bylaws, but also asking them, ‘what’s working well, what’s been challenging, how has the relationship been with the SGA, is there anything the SGA can do to either improve the relationship or even establish a great one?’ So that’s one of the privileges I have of being on that committee is that we are actively working to establish a more beneficial connection to RSOs for their needs.

MS: And not to belabor the point but this also goes back to the communication element, you know. This committee–which is a new committee this year, before it was a subcommittee, and before that it didn’t even exist. This committee is making changes that for way too long have not been addressed because of an unwillingness to listen to student needs. And this is one example of a step in the right direction, but this isn’t going to solve most of the problems that RSOs face on this campus right now, and our platform is largely based around making sure that the SGA begins to work for students again. That means supporting and serving student groups just as much as it does mean working on our own internal processes, and between the willingness to hold ourselves accountable to students and intentions of wholly reworking the communication process with RSOs to be more timely and efficient, we know that we can make important first steps in the process of mending that relationship.

Beyond communication, do you think you would pursue specific amendments to the bylaws in regard to RSOs?

MS: The executive cabinet does not have the authority to expressly vote on bylaws, but it does have the ability to propose that the senate make important evaluations, as well as bring ideas and specific verbiage even to [AA], which [Vo] serves on. By taking the time to listen to the students and student groups and what they need, we absolutely intend to apply that through bringing these proposals to [AA], and other necessary bodies in the senate so that we can begin the process of internally changing how we can address these needs.

SV: And just to add on to that, another thing my committee chair for UROC is having us do right now is to sort of start researching what other universities do with [RSOs] and how their process is to see if we can choose and pull, and see if we can start making suggestions to these bylaw amendments to hand off to my other committee, [AA], to see if this all makes sense, to see if its legally plausible and workable, so definitely, bylaw amendments are an active discussion.

In last year’s election, there was some controversy over campaign violations. Does your campaign have any specific plans to prevent any violations?

MS: Absolutely. Our campaign has already communicated with and is in constant communication with all the other campaigns because we ultimately see each other all as people with the fundamental goal of making the [SGA] work better for the students here. While we may differ on our priorities to do that, we all recognize because we are working to the same common goal in the big picture, we need to restore trust, even at the lowest levels to make that happen. So, we actually have established clear methods of communication with all campaigns collectively so that we can all be aware and work amongst ourselves to ensure we are all on the same page about anything that arises maybe that was not expected or planned for that we can address without the need to rely on as heavily the elections commission to assess the cleanness of the campaign. We’ve all committed to run very clean and professional campaigns, and I hope the other campaigns will join us in that mission as they have indicated they will.

With campaigning being broken up by spring break, how are you going to ensure your message reaches students?

MS: A lot of that comes down to the methods of communication with them. Largely this will be a trial run for how our presidency will work going forward. After the election, we will be able to see these same methods of communication, obviously at a larger scale with the entire student body, as we can see and will be seeing, starting tomorrow on this campaign. While it is unfortunate that the timeline fell in such a way that it is broken up and voting does not immediately succeed most of the campaigning period, we don’t see that so much as a major loss. We actually see it as an advantage given our campaign’s prowess in communication and marketing.

Is there anything else you would like to add that hasn’t already been mentioned?

 SV: This one [to Suchecki], by persona, is so good at reaching out to people. His very core personality is just so good at reaching out to people, so I have faith that our campaign will be heard, as well as, should we win, our desire to establish trust and just to help the student body, will remain an active voice.

MS: And, I fundamentally believe, that while I may bring some of the communication skills to the table, a lot of the nitty-gritty work that is done behind the scenes is through the committees [Vo] serves on. We can’t lose sight of the fact that in order to succeed as a ticket, and in order to succeed as president and vice president as we will next year, we will need to have both sides of that coin. We can’t just have the vision, and we can’t just have the nitty-gritty details, because without both, you’re going to get lost, and you won’t be able to see the forest from the trees. And, I think fundamentally, our unique skill sets, along with our open communication and team work amongst each other and amongst our other teammates on the campaign and the [SGA] as a whole, will set us up for success in a way that no other campaign can hope to match.

SV: And I think that, I have been watching a lot of sappy things lately, but one of the things that is sort of resonating with me right now is how we are running is based on the message of ‘we cannot and we should not be doing this alone,’ you know. We are all stronger together. And that’s a Supergirl message, we are all stronger together, and that is how, should we win, we will be getting things done. We will not be doing anything alone.

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