Jennie Chang rises to the role of SGA vice president

“We have to make sure that the students, the ones who voted and didn’t vote, are being prioritized and heard”

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By Sara Abdelouahed, Collegian Staff

For Jennie Chang, the chance to hold the title of Student Government Association vice president isn’t what made her decide to run for the position. “There isn’t anything particular about the vice president that I am in love with or obsessed with,” she said.

“To me, this is just a role, this is a job. A job that’s connected directly to students, and I want to stand by and honor that,” she said.

Chang, a sophomore double majoring in legal studies and social thought and political economy, ran for vice president on a ticket with junior Sonya Epstein in the role of president. The two were elected earlier this fall after receiving 60 percent of the vote.

Epstein described their vice president as being “one of the most hardworking people” they have ever met. “In all aspects of her life, [Chang] brings this really strong lens of social justice, of prioritizing people over everything else, [and] making sure peoples’ needs are met,” they said.

The pair initially began working together when they both joined the Racial Justice Coalition over the summer. The RJC has five task forces, one for each category of demand, to work on answering the question of “what does an antiracist UMass look like,” Chang said.

Chang currently works as the task force leader for healing amongst racism, “which deals with [the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health], . . . the cultural centers and CMASS in order to create safe space for BIPC students . . . to heal and feel empowered.”

Zachary Steward, a junior Afro-American studies major and one of the co-chairs of the RJC, said Chang “is the best person currently for the role of SGA vice president.”

“It’s not just because of the work she’s doing in the coalition, but also just because of her natural drive and her natural work ethics, and . . . her ability to be personable, be kind, be true to herself [and] be true to other people,” Steward said.

As for her work with the coalition, Steward said that “she [has] consistently and constantly worked in order to ensure that BIPOC voices are heard in . . . meetings with administrators.”

In her new role as vice president, Chang said she and Epstein want to continue to push for the RJC’s demands. Though, “that would have been regardless despite our roles being vice president and president.”

Beyond her work with the RJC, Chang expressed the importance of making sure University administration is consulting with students in the SGA on decisions that have to do with student life per the Wellman Document. As the Collegian previously reported, the document establishes that “governing bodies have the ‘privilege’ of contributing to long-range planning when ‘appropriate.’”

Currently, this takes form in “making sure that spring 2021 is student centered,” she said.

Chang began her time in the SGA last year as the undersecretary for the secretary of diversity. After that, she served as a senator for the class of 2023. Although the SGA looks different operating in a virtual setting, Chang said that she thinks “everyone who’s been a part of the transition team from going from in person to remote for SGA has done a really wonderful job.”

On an individual level, though, “it’s just harder,” she said. “It’s hard to build that . . . connection over a screen when you’re trying to get to know people.”

Despite these challenges, Chang is confident in Epstein’s “ability to lead not only the SGA, but UMass, and to be a UMass that actually prioritizes student needs.”

“I wanted to help them in their goal, in their vision . . . because that’s also my personal goal and vision,” she said.

Chang expressed that neither of them would have their current positions without the votes of fellow students.

“We have to make sure that the students, the ones who voted and didn’t vote, are being prioritized and heard and making sure they’re being taken care of by the SGA, especially during these uncertain and unstable times.”

Sara Abdelouahed can be reached at [email protected]