At the Diversity and Inclusion debate—the first of two put on by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College—the four teams running for president and executive vice president squared off on issues of diversity at BC.
The duos facing off on the night were as follows: Czar Sepe, MCAS ’21, and Jack Bracher, MCAS ’22; Christian Guma, CSOM ’21, and Kevork Atinizian, CSOM ’22; John Gehman, MCAS ’21, and Leonardo Escobar, MCAS ’22; and Dennis Wieboldt and Lorenzo Leo, both MCAS ’23.
Debate moderators from the Elections Committee posed questions to one pair at a time, allowing each team two minutes to answer. If another team wanted to rebut, signified with a raise of the hand, it would be given one minute to do so. There was no time allotted for questions from students. The moderators asked the candidates to refrain from personal attacks when in disagreement with one another and to instead focus critiques on differences of policy.
“I think first and foremost, UGBC is a vehicle, a student advocacy group, to create cultural change on campus,” said Sepe when asked about the organization’s role in addressing diversity and inclusion. “Because we can put on as many events and programming as we want … but we need to harness a bigger cultural shift on campus.”
In response to a policy question pertaining to the experiences of LGBTQ+ students on campus, Gehman, who said he identifies as a queer person of color, advocated for the creation of an LGBTQ+ resource center on campus.
“But we also have to consider, in the meantime, what are we going to use as a substitute?” Gehman said. “We have to look at the home away from home, and that’s specifically the residence halls.”
Gehman proposed the creation of a director of diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality overseeing all residence halls, arguing that residence hall programming has not, in his experience as a residence hall president, been focused on questions of diversity.
Guma said that in his administration’s first day in office, he and other student leaders in UGBC would draft a “concrete plan of action” to bring about an LGBTQ+ student center to bring to the Board of Trustees.
“We’re going to outline exactly what the center will look like, where exactly it will be … and have a concrete plan of action,” he said. “So when we go before the board, when we go before VP [Joy Moore], they’re going to have to say ‘yes,’ because we have exactly what they need to do.”
Later in the debate, Guma challenged an earlier statement by Bracher that a dedicated LGBTQ+ resource center is not something “the administration is going to support … right now.”
“I understand there are challenges,” Guma said. “I’m not saying that the center is going to be easy … but I just think that you owe students who are fighting for the center … a little bit of an explanation as to why you don’t think it’s realistic, while at the same time saying, ‘We’re going to fight for them.’”
“I’ll say this, we need immediate action and that is why we are advocating for a space in Carney to address our short term goals that we will fight for, for the LGBTQ+ community,” Sepe rebutted. “But a student center that may be in the long term future, maybe it will be when we graduate. We want to make meaningful impacts now. … I want to be an ally and I want to signal that I will stand with the LGBTQ+ community—so I didn’t appreciate that.”
“But, we are allowed to talk about ideas, right?” Guma responded. “If I’m out of line, just let me know.”
Escobar talked about his previous successes in the realm of advancing the interests of students with disabilities. He said that he hopes to expand upon his previous work laying out for the administration “blind spots” on campus, where accessibility to students with disabilities is lacking. Leo added that there is no pathway to Upper Campus for students with wheelchairs.
Acknowledging their statuses as newcomers to the sphere of UGBC, Wieboldt and Leo often emphasized what they described as their history of change in their relatively short times as UGBC senators, in addition to their newer perspectives in the organization.
“Since Lorenzo and I announced our candidacy, people have questioned why these two very young students, in comparison to the other candidates on stage, are running,” Wieboldt said. “It’s mostly because we need a fresh perspective on tackling issues.”
Speaking to what new initiatives each team would take to address issues regarding intersectionality, Gehman and Sepe both pointed out the changes they would advocate for in the core curriculum requirements—Sepe characterized the cultural diversity requirement as unfocused, while Gehman called for a broader revamp of a variety of core requirements.
“I think that when we’re saying that European history is the only history that will fill the core, I think that is incredibly problematic,” Gehman said. “So I think by working with the history, English, and AADS [Africa and African Diaspora Studies] departments, we can bring about diversity and inclusion within our conversations in the classroom.”
Atinizian said that an important component of increasing diversity on campus is dedicating more resources to financial aid—he pointed out that the University raised $12.3 million during Parent’s Weekend, which goes toward student scholarships—so partnerships with scholarship funds and departments concerned with financial aid have been successful and are worth pursuing, he said.
Each team acknowledged a link between mental health and diversity.
“Next week, myself, Lorenzo, and another senator will propose a resolution to help Asian American and Asian students who have family who are affected by the crisis in the Wuhan Province right now,” Wieboldt said. “We want to make sure that they have special access to mental health counseling services and that includes linguistic diversity.”
At the close of the debate, Guma touched on the need for more conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion at BC, noting that all four teams in the race have shown a willingness to commit themselves to taking on that task.
“We want to engage in conversation with everybody, in dialogue,” Guma said. “I think every team on this stage has talked about that. It’s about having difficult conversations with people—they may not even be your friend—but going out of your comfort zone to have these difficult conversations when you need to.”
The final debate, which will allow questions from students, will take place on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. in Robsham Theater.
Featured Image by Bridget Clark / Heights Staff