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Looking Back at UGBC’s 2016-17 Leadership

Russell Simons, MCAS ’17, and Meredith McCaffrey, MCAS ’17, the Undergraduate Government of Boston College’s president and executive vice president, endured an unusually long election cycle to get to their offices on the first floor of Carney. In fact, Simons and McCaffrey had only entered the race after McCaffrey’s previous running mate dropped out of the race for personal reasons, and Simons, who had worked on McCaffrey’s old campaign, took center stage as a candidate.

“We got really lucky with each other,” McCaffrey said.

And they really did. Throughout a conversation about the past year, McCaffrey and Simons were on the same page, finishing each other’s sentences on more than one occasion, and adding to each other’s stories.

Part of Simons and McCaffrey’s campaign platform was pushing for a student center, and the team has taken tangible steps toward its construction.

“Certainly one of the things we are most proud of is our advocacy with the student center this year. And those efforts continue to be advancing, incremental at times, but there’s always momentum behind it,” Simons said.

UGBC’s push for a student center has manifested itself in an initiative to open up as much space for students as possible. This has led to Hillside After Dark, which extends Hillside Café’s hours to midnight on Monday through Thursday nights for students to use. The extended hours came from a conversation with University President Fr. William P. Leahy, S.J., regarding the necessity for more student social spaces on campus.

Now, after a year of advocating for a student center, the UGBC administration is ready to put its money where its mouth is.

After announcing on stage at Showdown that a portion of the revenue from the event would go toward, a student center, Simons is excited to announce that plans are officially set.

“$20,000 of funds from profits from showdown will be going towards a dedicated UGBC student center fund that will work to finance projects related to the student center—student spaces—and will hopefully help the construction of a student center,” Simons said.

Future UGBC administrations can add to it and people may be able to donate to it. McCaffrey said that they wanted to get behind the ball and commit money to the future student center.

“Coming out of this year, I think we both feel very confident that not only is the student government in a better place than it was at the beginning of the year, but we hope as a result of our work the student body has more opportunities to experience the Boston College that most of us know and love,” Simons said.

Simons continued to explain that their year together leading UGBC has been focused on improving the organization’s connection to the general student body, furthering relationships with administration members, and best representing student perspectives in University conversations, especially as this year was a strategic planning year.

The two groups the organization is tasked to bridge, however, are very different. While there is a small group of administrators who oversee student affairs and student life, there are around 9,000 undergraduate students preoccupied with their own classes, jobs, clubs, and relationships.

“It’s much easier to have a one-on-one conversation with administrators, but we can’t have a one-on-one conversation with every student,” said McCaffrey.

UGBC did try to meet, individually, with as many students as possible through the UGBC survey, which was launched last October with the goal of gauging both student perception of the organization.

The survey was just one part of UGBC’s communications department’s emphasis on outreach.

“We really took a holistic look at our communications department this year and said ‘what can we be doing better?” Simmons said. “One of those things was outreach.”

UGBC’s commitment to students is both one of advocacy and one of education, said Simons. And both McCaffrey and Simons were in awe of the work, effort, and results of the events and initiatives that their executive council had put together for the year.

“Like I’ve told Meredith, and I tell everyone who asks me, this position, for me, has been the best part of my Boston College experience. It’s made me a better person, I think.”

—Russell Simons, president of UGBC and MCAS ’17

The Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) has also made significant progress, especially this semester, in advocating for students with disabilities and starting conversations across campus. A branch of UGBC that was started just last year, CSD hosted its first annual Ability Awareness Week in late April, and has pushed the conversation around improving Eagle Escort through the Student Assembly and onto the agenda for administrators to discuss.

In exploring gender identity, UGBC’s Women and Gender division launched a new social media campaign last November exploring and challenging traditional views of masculinity, something that both Simons and McCaffrey have wanted to focus on for some time.

“That project, to me at least, was a groundbreaking moment in which we were able to get many different student perspectives through a representative campaigns and say ‘what does it mean to be masculine at Boston College?’” Simons said.

On the issue of gender, the Student Assembly has also recently passed a resolution calling for gender neutral signage on single stall bathrooms.

“We’re always trying to strive to be better at representing the student body, and to do that we always have to be finding innovative ways to reach those students, and we can always be doing a better job,” Simons said.

With the administration, McCaffrey said that she and Simons went into the year trying to be intentional about transparency with the administration—building a relationship of honest conversation and honest disagreement.

“We’ve been very fortunate with our relationships with administrators, but that has come from getting to a place where we can respectfully disagree with each other,” McCaffrey said.

Constant communication with administrators about what UGBC is doing has been foundational to the development of an open and honest relationship. Students, however, do not usually feel the open stream of communication that UGBC executives do.

“This semester there has been communication from top level administrators. Maybe not to the full extent that students want, but to the extent that we haven’t seen in the past few year,” McCaffrey said.

Throughout this semester, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., has signed two statements supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and in an email to the BC community, condemned the travel ban that Donald Trump had instituted by executive order. The last letter that Leahy sent to the BC community was in May 2014, when he sent a generalized end-of-the year update.

The past year has been characterized by a time of historical divide within the nation, and this national sentiment has pierced through the BC Bubble. More than ever, students looked to the administration for comment.

Eradicate BC Racism, an unregistered student group with the mission of eradicating racism on campus, held two unregistered rallies in response to the national affairs—the election of Trump, and the subsequent threat to undocumented students.

“You had this grassroots student effort to develop a petition for a sanctuary campus, which itself came from a larger national conversation about sanctuary campuses. Our feedback as student representatives was quickly solicited by members of the administration,” Simons said.

McCaffrey feels fortunate to be in a position to explain why student groups, such as Eradicate, are doing what they are doing to administrators, and explaining to student groups why administrators are taking the action, or not, that they chose.

As student representatives, Simons and McCaffrey were asked, by members of the administration, what Eradicate’s walkout was a result of, what it was asking for, how the administration could engage in the dialogue, and ultimately what were students seeking from administrators.

“At the end of the day administrators also want what is best for BC, and sometimes we have a difference of opinion of what is best, but we’re all working toward the same things,” McCaffrey said.

Coming out of a year of advocating for student needs to administrators and translating administrative action, or lack thereof, for students, Simons says that he has become “more chill.”

“The person I am now is more comfortable with chaos,” he said.

Looking up the Serenity Prayer on his phone, Simons identified with the first four lines.

“The Serenity Prayer is me,” he concluded.

McCaffrey seconded the sentiment of accepting chaos, and added that the year has made her accept that she can never please everyone. A challenge that she has faced, like much of the UGBC leadership before her, is the difference of timelines that students and administrators work on. While students are looking for deliverables within months, administrators are planning the future of the University decades in advance.

“Institutions do move slowly, and timelines are not always agreeable with a one year term, so we’ve been very interested in finding conversations where we can have an immediate impact,” Simons said.

Reflecting more on the things UGBC has accomplished this year, both Simons and McCaffrey were incredibly thankful for the guidance that Mark Micelli, the associate director of student engagement who oversees UGBC, has offered them over the year.

“All of our problems just go straight to him,” McCaffrey said.

As for post graduate plans, McCaffrey has committed to BC Law School, and Simons plans to attend medical school at the University of Chicago.

“I really feel that BC has given so much to me that I can’t leave that yet,” McCaffrey said.

Simons echoed McCaffrey, but couldn’t stay as BC does not have a medical school. Serving as president of UGBC has influenced him to explore more about how he can incorporate medicine into public service, whether through policy or otherwise.

“Like I’ve told Meredith, and I tell everyone who asks me, this position, for me, has been the best part of my Boston College experience,” Simons said. “It’s made me a better person, I think.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

May 4, 2017

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “Looking Back at UGBC’s 2016-17 Leadership”

  1. It is disappointing that the work of EBCR would be evoked as evidence of the advocacy the current UGBC leadership to administrators about the motivations, asks, and interests of the group while remaining silent about the irresponsible and prejudicial sanctions against its members this year…I’m not sure how to square the two assertions