The new president and vice president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College are scrapping the organization’s freshman mentorship program—a decision that has come under fire from various students affiliated with the student government.
The program, the Undergraduate Leadership Academy, provided bonding activities for freshman students, mentors from within UGBC, and an annual retreat. It culminated with mentees designing and implementing a UGBC initiative.
Christian Guma, UGBC president and CSOM ’21, and Kevork Atinizian, UGBC vice president and CSOM ’22, defended their decision, saying that it was thorough and warranted, and that the process was transparent. Critics countered these assertions, insisting that the program provided a valuable resource to mentees navigating the transition to college and created student leaders within UGBC and across campus, and that the rest of UGBC was not properly consulted.
Leonardo Escobar, a former UGBC senator and MCAS ’22, spoke out against the decision on social media and in a petition on Change.org, which has garnered nearly 250 signatures.
“I would be sad to see no ULA members on campus, as a group, because you can make the argument that only a few students really are exposed to the positive experience that ULA brings, but the truth is that the students who don’t get in, like myself, still benefit from what they contribute later on,” he said.
In an interview with The Heights, Guma and Atinizian—who, along with Escobar, have not gone through the ULA program—said their decision was the result of a months-long process. They said they ultimately decided to eliminate the program for a variety of reasons, including insufficient value to the student body, the exclusivity of the program, and a lack or integration within the branches of UGBC.
“It’s all about value to the student body,” Guma said. “We’re coming in from admittedly a different perspective. We don’t want UGBC and ULA to just be a social group. It’s about value to the students. That’s what’s most important.”
Guma and Atinizian said that they are not planning to replace ULA, though they expressed ideas for how a future freshman mentorship program could be an improvement from ULA. When asked why they discarded the program entirely instead of reforming it, they said they worried that the problems were too fundamentally rooted in the program and that they didn’t want future administrations to be able to reverse any changes.
In response to concern that they were taking away an important resource for freshmen, Guma and Atinizian said that only 30 students participate in the program and that their new administration has instead offered other resources, such as Zoom coffee chats and webinars, for incoming students.
Atinizian conceded that the program fulfilled its purpose of forming campus leaders, but he contended that it did not create campus-wide leaders consistently enough to warrant the resources that go into the program, which is allotted $10,000 of the $343,000 budget for UGBC.
“It’s not just you becoming a leader for the sake of becoming a leader. It’s you becoming a leader so that you can help and serve others who might not be in your position as well.”
Despite the pushback, Guma and Atinizian insisted that their decision-making process was comprehensive. After an in-person UGBC meeting in March, the last before BC’s sudden decision to move classes entirely online, Atinizian asked some members to stay behind to discuss a variety of topics. Though Atinizian said that he and several of the senators who remained discussed the topic of ULA, he said they never discussed the cancellation of the program with the Senators and that the final decision was made in mid-July.
All senators’ terms expired at the end of the 2019-20 academic year without a new election, leaving UGBC without any active senators until new elections can be held in the fall.
Over the next several months, Guma and Atinizian told The Heights, they engaged in discussions with numerous people, including staff from the Office of Student Involvement, former UGBC senators and executives, student government officials from other schools, and applicants for the upcoming year’s ULA director position.
“Kevork met for hours, I met for hours with people in the Student Assembly, and that was noted in [the discussion of] the timeline,” Guma said, referring to his explanation of the process to The Heights. “So the notion that we somehow didn’t involve them is crazy. It’s just not true.”
Atinizian added that with the lack of any members of the Senate until the next elections—elections were pushed back to the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic—they were unable to hold any official meetings of the entire UGBC Senate.
Despite the discussions, the first time the change was disclosed to the former UGBC Senators was in a UGBC promotional video released July 22 did not include ULA in an outline of the structure of UGBC. Atinizian confirmed the decision to cancel the program when Ted Park, a former UGBC senator and MCAS ’23, expressed surprise in a group chat of last year’s UGBC senators.
“I’m sad to see the way that this crass decision was made, very abruptly,” Escobar told The Heights. “… I thought ULA equips students with the necessary leadership skills to run a successful student government—not saying that their administration would not do good things, but I know that that was a function of ULA, producing students for and from the BC community.”
Park, who went through the program himself and was a senator for the Class of 2023, was among those who took issue with the move, decrying both the ultimate decision and the process with which it was made, both in an interview with The Heights and in a public letter with 50 co-signers, including former senators and ULA members.
“The discussion of efficiency in this manner seems like a very cold and detached manner to view ULA,” Park said. “ULA is like a second family. It’s not all about efficiency. It’s not about statistics.”
Park, Escobar, and Czar Sepe, a former UGBC senator and MCAS ’21, said that they hope this matter can be discussed with the UGBC Senate in the future, lamenting the unilateral decision from the executive branch. Sepe even suggested that the members of the next student senate might refuse to pass UGBC’s budget without appropriations for ULA or a similar program.
“I just feel like this is a discussion that needs to be further had, not behind closed doors, but publicly, with openness,” Park said. “… We don’t want an explanation about how they came to this decision. We want a discussion about the future of ULA, and if reforms need to be made, we want as many people as possible to be able to contribute to that discussion.”
Paul Murphy, the assistant director of student programming at OSI who oversees UGBC, declined to comment.
Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Senior Staff