Who is Sonya Epstein? An insight into the new president of the SGA

Epstein will focus on five main areas to advocate for students

Who+is+Sonya+Epstein%3F+An+insight+into+the+new+president+of+the+SGA

By Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram, Collegian Staff

Sonya Epstein, a junior social thought and political economy major, was elected as the Student Government Association president at the University of Massachusetts this year with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

In their term, Epstein and Vice President Jennie Chang plan to focus on five main areas they feel need attention at the University: “Racial Justice,” “Student Rights,” “RSO Support,” “Justice at UMass” and “Transparency.”

“The way that those [the five areas of focus] came into being is that Jennie and I had this [document] and [asked ourselves], ‘What does an ideal UMass look like to us?’” Epstein said. “So we wrote down all these aspects that we would have in a dream world and in a dream UMass. We realized these are the things we wanted to fight for, and we separated those out into categories, which is how we came up with these topics.”

In their previous term, Epstein served as the secretary of University policy and external affairs in the SGA. They explained why they made the step up from that position to president: “I felt that I had a really strong and bigger vision for the position, and for the SGA as a whole, that would really serve students and create an equitable and better UMass for everyone.”

In order to achieve their goals, Epstein explained the steps they’ll take to enact their plan this year, which included the recent confirmation of their cabinet members.

“Now we’re able to delegate some of these things out to these people because they all have such strong experiences and are so passionate about our work,” Epstein said. “[The cabinet] can work on these things they have specialties in so we’re going to take our goals and identify who can work on what as well as what we can work on and that will just create a lot more productivity.”

Another one of their goals is to work with the legislative branch more, which they believe can lead to increased efficiency.

“In the past, there’s been a division between the two branches [legislative and executive] where they don’t work on the same things,” Epstein said. “But we think it’s going to be so much more productive and we’re going to get so much more done if we are able to collaborate more closely.”

Epstein said they also plan on meeting with stakeholders, student groups and the administration to ensure that voices from all areas of campus are heard.

Hayden Latimer-Ireland, attorney general of the SGA and a junior political science and natural resource conservation double major, said Epstein has been a proven leader since the pandemic began months ago.

“When the University initially closed down due to COVID, a group of students presented the administration with a series of demands around the situation,” said Latimer-Ireland. “[Epstein] took on a huge leadership role in that initiative facilitating a huge number of group meetings with over 40 students at some points, organizing smaller working-group meetings, and working to present those demands to the administration.”

In the context of Epstein’s goals, Latimer-Ireland also said, “Some highlights of their platform that I am particularly excited about include solidarity with student workers, promoting college affordability, transparency within their administration and from the administration, implementation of a restorative justice program, environmental justice, support for the RJC and supporting and uplifting survivors.”

Epstein’s background in activism before coming to UMass was important as an advocate for students, Latimer-Ireland said.

“[Epstein] has a really strong passion and initiative to make sure that all decisions that the University makes and SGA makes are student-centered,” Chang said. “During this really short and unpredictable year, I think [that] they’re the best person for the job in making sure that the administration is keeping their word and [are] always centering students because they [Epstein] aren’t afraid to say that.”

Witnessing the failures of administration, especially in regard to students of color, over the years has inspired both Chang and Epstein to advocate for students, Chang said.

“We’re creating a UMass that’s antiracist, we’re creating an SGA that centers students’ voices, especially the underrepresented ones,” she said.

Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Mahidhar_sl.