Former President Epstein and Vice President Chang describe their experiences in office

“Us surviving and coming out the other end alive, it feels really validating”

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Alex Genovese, Collegian Staff

In September 2020, Sonya Epstein and Jennie Chang were sworn in as president and vice president of the Student Government Association respectively. Epstein and Chang’s term concluded following the 2021 election. Reflecting on their time in office, Epstein and Chang described their work and accomplishments, what they’ve learned while in office and a message to the student body.

Epstein described how they initially planned to run for vice president with Barkha Bandari, the newly elected student trustee for the 2021-2022 year, but following election issues, they realized that they wanted to look at things with a “bigger picture.” Previously, Epstein served as the secretary of University policy and external affairs, an experience that showed them that “working with administrators can be really powerful.”

“Both of us wanted to run with focusing on student rights, racial justice, RSO supports and justice at UMass,” Epstein said.

When reflecting on their work in office, Epstein noted that they were “really proud of the way that we, along with our cabinet and a lot of senators, navigated some really hard situations with COVID.”

Chang added that they wanted to work on a variety of projects for students, but COVID-19 related emergencies did not allow them to do so. “Us surviving and coming out the other end alive, it feels really validating,” Chang said.

During their time in SGA, Chang and Epstein worked to promote transparency amongst administration and protect students’ rights following the University’s sequestration in February 2020.

When reflecting on this period, Epstein also highlighted their relationships with other SGA members. “I think I’ve definitely learned a lot about how to work with different types of people,” they said. Epstein described how they worked “to articulate [their] goals and how to push for what [they] believed in.”

“I would tell my past self to be better about drawing boundaries within this role with how all-encompassing it is and especially the amount of time it takes up and also how it really bleeds into your personal life,” Epstein said. “I’ve been forced into situations multiple times this year,” they added. Epstein explained that “there were a lot of critiques of my personal relationships with people and this real blur between my personal life and SGA.”

Chang described how the role allowed her to learn “how to navigate predominantly white spaces.” She said coming to UMass from Boston was a “real culture shock.”

“I just haven’t been in these types of spaces before, so navigating the SGA and those types of relationships was a challenge for me,” Chang said.

Epstein and Chang’s message to the student body? That students have more power than they are taught to believe. “We can always be pushing for more and we deserve more,” explained Epstein.

“This is our campus,” Chang said. “These are our places to live and learn and grow […] if you want something, advocate or push for it,” she added.

Epstein and Chang were elected in September 2020 with 60 percent of the vote, according to a Collegian report. The president and vice president roles are fulfilled every year by popular vote, and whoever fulfil the positions meet weekly with administrators such as the chancellor, the vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life and the dean of students.

Prabhu Rajkumar and Ben Katzman were elected the next SGA president and vice president this spring and were sworn in at a recent SGA meeting.

Alex Genovese can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @alex_genovese1.