As rain battered parts of western Massachusetts, the Student Government Association at the University of Massachusetts convened its weekly Senate meeting Wednesday night.
Newly-elected Speaker Julia Fox presided over the first meeting of a new administration by the light of a candle, despite having lost power. Due to SGA bylaws, the president of the SGA opens the initial meeting of the Senate.
President Sonya Epstein introduced themself to the senators with Vice President Jenny Chang and outlined their administration’s goals and plans for the upcoming year.
Epstein noted that “student rights, racial justice, RSO supports, justice at UMass and transparency” were their priorities.
Epstein further split student’s rights into three categories: jobs, affordability and academic rights.
“We want to make sure that all students who rely on UMass for employment have stable and fair conditions,” said Epstein. They noted that they’re working with the “RA/PM Union as well as any other student workers around campus.”
Epstein also said that they “want to continue advocating for increased state funding.”
“We want to fight for, in a dream world, hopefully having an ultimately tuition- and fee-free UMass so that it’s accessible to every single student,” they said.
Epstein noted that due to COVID-19, some professors have been giving more work than they normally would. They further explained that they will be working with Disability Services to make sure that all students get the resources that they need.
Chang continued explaining their platform by talking about the Racial Justice Coalition.
“We want to make sure that UMass becomes an anti-racist campus to ensure that BIPOC students are able to succeed and not have to deal with outside the academic work in order to feel safe and comfortable at UMass,” said Chang. “We also want to make sure that environmental justice is applicable to our work. We want to make UMass 100 percent renewable by 2030.”
Chang spoke about another platform, registered student organizations.
“We also want to make sure that all RSOs on campus have as much support as they need, especially since we are on zoom,” said Chang.
Chang noted that communication had to be “clear and consistent,” particularly in terms of moving into the new student union.
Epstein wants to systematically work on “defunding, demilitarizing, and disarming UMPD,” with focus on students and their safety. Epstein continued by saying that they want to relocate those funds to support BIPOC students and other resources. Additionally, Epstein wants more transparency for University of Massachusetts Police Department funding.
For Restorative Justice, Epstein explained that “Restorative Justice is conflict resolution which centers healing and guided discussion and leads to a resolution that comes from student’s input instead of one that’s automatically given by UMass. That makes sure that the process is a lot more student centered and a lot less punitive.”
“We want to make sure that survivors feel safe and are able to get justice on their own terms through the conduct process, through support through mental health, accommodations from professors.., we want to get to a point where we’re just dismantling the rape culture on campus,” said Epstein in regards to changes to Title IX.
Chang said that last semester showed that the UMass administration acted without SGA or student input. “We want to make sure that admin does prioritize student’s voices through various means and make sure that we have clear communication with this upcoming semester.”
After their presentation and additional reports from Cabinet and other student representatives across campus, Speaker Fox explained the appointments of senators to the eight committees.
Fox explained that these appointments were given after senators submitted their choices during training from the previous weekend.
“All the interim chairs talked about the different committees and what the roles were and then all the Senators filled out a form with their top three committee preferences of where they felt that they had the most passion,” said Fox.
Fox noted that every appointment was within the top three choices and the committees were fairly balanced in terms of size. She further explained that these committees lacked a chair currently, but that one would be chosen soon.
Following the vote, all senators were appointed and the Senate meeting was adjourned.
Alex Genovese can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @alex_genovese1.