Question and Answer: Timothy Scalona runs for student trustee

He runs unopposed for the UMass Amherst student position on the Board of Trustees

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By Abigail Charpentier, News Editor

In this year’s Student Government Association election at the University of Massachusetts, Timothy Scalona is running uncontested for the position of student trustee.

Scalona is currently a political science and BDIC (policy, journalism and storytelling) senior who will be attending the UMass School of Public Policy to earn his master’s degree in the fall.

Here is the transcript of the question-and-answer interview in preparation for the debate on Wednesday, March 11 at 7 p.m. in the Campus Center Auditorium. Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.

So, why did you choose to run for student trustee?

Timothy Scalona: So this has been a year-long transformation for me. Being a first-generation, low-income student, my family has lived in homelessness for a very long time, they actually still are, and I came to UMass really trying to figure out the meaning of that identity. And I found it very difficult to adjust to UMass as someone who’s unable to afford college to begin with, like at all. So for me, I got involved in SGA when I was a freshman as a senator and from then on, all the work I did, which slowly moved into advocacy work shortly thereafter, was around college affordability, food insecurity [and] different economic justice-type activities. And so my working at SGA over the past few years and then through CEPA, the Center for Education, Policy and Advocacy, and the Collegian as well, I view them as a really good stepping stone for me in terms of understanding the connection between personal experience and policy issues then propelled me to want to actually run for trustee because… I never had actually expected to run for student trustee, if that makes sense. I see it now in my thought process leading up to it was even as an undergrad in SGA, we’ve had a lot of barriers in terms of trying to create support services for students in need that I could elevate on the Board of Trustees level to all the UMass colleges.

The main priorities for me that I’ve been trying to do for a long time is the creation of a first- generation, low-income student support center. We’ve worked very hard in terms of starting those conversations and starting dialogues here at UMass and within the administration, but those barriers still exist. And the trustee level is an opportunity to bring that higher and expedite those conversations. 

What are your strongest qualifications as a candidate? 

TS: I’d say I am someone who understands the depth of experience, like I am a student who’s directly affected by the lack of college affordability, which is very central to what a trustee should aim to understand. They should aim to understand the impact of the policies that they’re advocating for. So for example, as a trustee, I will not, if it comes up, especially since UMass Amherst has the vote next year, it alternates every year, I will not vote to increase tuition and fees [because I am] a student that represents the student impact of college debt. So, I bring to the table the combination of experience in advocacy groups, as well as knowing and being among communities where college debt has forced students to drop out and the rising meal place prices has made students go hungry and has made them skip meals…So I think that is what is a very unique draw for me.

Having been in SGA for a long time and CEPA advocacy circles as well as then branching off into creating with my peers the first-generation, low-income student organization, and then having previously dabbled in the Collegian and then also being a part of Greek life as well, I’m hearing all these different problems and student experiences that I think is for any student representative, it’s particularly beneficial.

You’ve mentioned some of your priorities already, but what are other things you’d make a priority as student trustee?

TS: So the way I see it, the role of a trustee is to elevate the issues that are present on the UMass Amherst campus to every other college/university that’s in the UMass system. So as a student trustee, I would like to try to work with the other trustees to continue the project done by the current [student] trustee, Jake Binnall, in terms of trying to create a five vote yearly system, so that each student trustee has a vote. Because right now, not every student trustee can vote every year. That’s a big project I want to continue. Additionally, elevating, like I said before, the creation of first-gen, low-income support centers and other support centers that we have here, extending that conversation to the other college and universities. Another idea is, this is present in Florida and Georgia, there is a scholarship system set up for students who are the top achieving students in public high schools and they’re automatically given a tuition waiver [for] the state schools. While I advocate for free college, I realize that that might not be in the state’s priorities right now, unfortunately. So as a trustee, I would want to work with the other elements and the other actors in the trustee environment to somehow work with legislators to at least make this a priority. To make sure that the achieving members of public [schools] can attend to the state colleges for free. And then obviously, not voting on tuition fee increases, elevating the need for institutionalized food pantry at UMass in terms of combating food insecurity and reducing mealtime prices, as well as…housing [for graduate students]. Lincoln Apartments is being renovated and removed, North Village Apartments – there was a giant issue earlier this year in which graduate students are being forced into the private rental market so that North Village can be fixed and renovated. While these conversations are ongoing right now between graduates and senate and the trustees, next year, I would hope to continue to be an advocate for graduate students who are facing that transition to ensure that the university provides equitable housing access for students.

So there’s a lot that I want to do but to break it down for clarity – affordability, food insecurity and housing access, and you can break each of those categories into all these different policy issues.

How are you planning on communicating with the student body when elected?

TS: So this has been a historic problem within SGA, the issue of transparency and accountability. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to maintain a personal SGA Facebook account to like keep people updated as to news and whatnot. That is something I would like to reintroduce especially because as a senator, you’re accountable to your class and the students as an undergrad. As a trustee, you’re accountable to graduate and undergraduate students. It’s a major population… I don’t know if people use Facebook as much anymore, so then expanding beyond that to Instagram and other forms of social media to update people. And the SGA recently has released like a monthly newsletter of sorts. I don’t know the exact process behind this yet, but I would like to continue to update the students through an email newsletter like that over time just to keep people aware. And a lot of this can be a collaboration between not only like my own position, but with the executive, whoever’s elected to the executive for the SGA, and then all the senators, because there generally should be more advertisement of what is actually going on. But for me personally, social media and all the different platforms – TikTok, if that comes to fruition – and then emails, if I can.

You said earlier you want to continue working to make sure all of the student trustees on the Board get a vote. What’s something you want to do differently from current student trustee, Jake Binnall?

TS: I think Jake has done a very good job, thus far. As the potential trustee, I would like to bring students, like marginalized students, into those trustee’s spaces more by using the connections that I have. So for example, if they’re planning to increase tuition and fees, as a voting member of that board, obviously, that is something that I would vote no on. But at the same time, finding those spaces and where you can bring students who are directly affected by it into a space like that. Beyond influencing and humanizing the situation, and involving students in the policymaking sphere of the University when they’re here is something I want to do, as well as maintain direct relationships with advocates and other leaders in the community. So beyond like affordability and food access issues, but continuing networking with RSO leaders and agencies and businesses, because we’re all affected differently.

And I don’t really know what that collaboration looks like. But I just don’t want to be a hierarchical figure above everybody. I want this to be an effort in which we all have a role in doing in keeping the board accountable, especially when many of the members of the Board of Trustees right now, don’t exactly act in student interests a lot of the time, in my opinion… So for me, my biggest differences, what I would like to do is collaborations within SGA, as well as other like RSO and campus leaders. Also, at the same time, elevating issues to the Board that are present at UMass Amherst.

Is there anything else you want to bring up?

TS: I’d say for me, I never expected to run for this position and I’m not going into this looking for the title of student trustee interesting. It was never like a stepping stone for me. I’ve taken a break from SGA this past year so that I can move into more specific advocacy around first-generation, low-income issues. I just want to emphasize that my run for this position is not for a position, but rather it is out of the cumulative experiences that my community and family are continually going through. I was at a talk recently and there was a previously homeless speaker at the statehouse and they were talking about how their campus advocacy efforts or their campus involvement and academic involvement was not for their personal enjoyment all the time. In many cases, it felt like to them that they were running from a very bad future, about the future that would happen have they returned to their home life that was not that stable. For me, with the understanding of how like my family operates and how the communities I come from are suffering right now, this is a personal issue for me. It is a personal issue to me that the Board of Trustees right now does not directly support student interest as much as it should… I am a child of poverty, and that is something that won’t leave. And I hope to use those experiences as well as those of all the groups that I’m involved in to humanize policy issues that sometimes people in positions of power like to forget.

Editor’s note: Tim Scalona was a Collegian columnist.

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.