The four teams running for president and vice president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College convened on a Zoom webinar Monday night for the UGBC Diversity and Inclusion debate, one week after officially kicking off their campaigns.
The teams facing off were as follows: Spencer Sandusky, CSOM ’22, and Ryan Kruft, CSOM ’23; Jack Bracher and Gianna Russi, both MCAS ’22; Urwa Hameed and Sarah Henao, both MCAS ’22; and Kevork Atinizian, CSOM ’22, and Jordan Nakash, MCAS ’24.
“I really, truly believe that each team here has a strong grasp of the change that needs to be made at BC regarding diversity and inclusion,” Sandusky said. “And I think the question then goes to who is the best to implement this change.”
The debate covered issues such as LGBTQIA+ resources at BC, campus accessibility, leadership in the Diversity and Inclusion (DI) division of UGBC, and how teams would go about handling racially motivated incidents targeting AHANA+ students on campus.
Co-chairs of the BC Elections Committee, John Sayfie, MCAS ’22, and Tyler Soares, CSOM ’22, moderated the debate.
Bracher and Russi said they want to create a Forum for Racial Progress that will include students in direct conversation with administration and provide an opportunity to look both inwards and outwards as it relates to racial injustice.
Russi said the most pressing issue facing AHANA+ students at BC is a lack of feeling safe and at home at BC.
“It speaks to some of the fundamental flaws of our institution, and they need to be addressed,” Russi, who also serves as Student Assembly secretary and SA representative, said.
The team also plans to call on BC to employ social workers who will work as first responders to nonmedical emergencies.
Hameed and Henao shared their zero-tolerance policy for hate crimes at BC.
The policy entails a thorough investigation and prompt communication from the administration, according to Hameed, SA representative and chair of the intersectionality committee.
“We have to speak about the profound impact of diversity, and we have to speak about the intersectional change to which we’re all committing,” Hameed said.
Hameed and Henao also said they will initiate a first response team of mental health professionals specialized in racial trauma to support those affected by a racial incident, as well as introduce a Black excellence program under the Student Initiatives division of UGBC.
This program will provide Black students with a platform to make their voices heard in a room where impactful decisions are being made, they said.
Atinizian, current UGBC vice president, said that if elected president, he will continue to advocate for racial diversity across different aspects of campus life, specifically the cultural diversity core.
“I think it’s really embarrassing if students can get out of taking a social justice requirement at BC and engaging in tough conversations,” Atinizian said.
Sandusky and Kruft discussed maintaining accessibility routes on each of BC’s campuses as well as increasing the availability of Eagle Escort vans.
They also spoke about looking beyond the “buzzword” of Upper Campus, where progress is already being made. Sandusky said that the University should not settle for the bare minimum.
“In terms of being ADA compliant, it shouldn’t just be, ‘This is good enough,’” Sandusky said.
Hameed and Henao also advocated for creating “Ability Awareness Week,” through which they will partner with the Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) and the Connors Family Learning Center in order to gain insight on how to best represent students with disabilities.
Nakash said they have a responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities’ voices are always heard.
“It means ensuring that both Boston College administration and students are educated constantly in knowing the correct terminology to use when referring to these students with disabilities,” Nakash said. “It encompasses you advocating for them, whether or not you’re going to get credit for it, whether or not you’re going to get praise from a group around you.”
Bracher and Russi emphasized their commitment to making promises they could keep, noting that the current administration—comprised of UGBC President Christian Guma, CSOM ’22, and Atinizian—had previously promised an LGBTQ+ resource center that was never realized.
Bracher and Russi also said they want to create an LGBTQ+ community center in Carney Hall that would provide students with a safe and inclusive space as well as comprehensive resources for the BC community at large, as it works toward a cultural shift.
Atinizian responded that the setbacks he and Guma faced in pursuit of an LGBTQ+ resource center weren’t new.
“Gianna is mentioning an LGBTQ+ center in Carney,” Atinizian said. “That’s already been suggested by UGBC before, and that was denied as well.”
Sandusky and Kruft said they are looking into opportunities for nonbinary housing at BC. The team firmly believes this should not be a stipend for off-campus housing but on-campus housing, as community means accepting and providing each student with a place to live.
The team said it recognizes the challenges imposed by the “red tape” of University administration, and that they intend to communicate with stakeholders beyond the scope of UGBC, such as alumni networks and social justice groups, to enact lasting change for the AHANA+ community.
Candidates also voiced their stances on policies and procedures related to maintaining a cohesive DI division of UGBC, specifically regarding executive appointments and board meetings.
Bracher, Student Assembly chairman of the Academics Affairs Committee and sitting member of the DI division, said he disagrees with the current rule that DI council is to be politically appointed, noting that he opposed the proposal in the new constitution.
In its place, Bracher said that he will implement a democratic town hall in which DI members will choose who they want to elect via ranked-choice voting.
DI council chairs—the heads of AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC), GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC) and the CSD—no longer attend executive board meetings due to a change made by the current UGBC administration.
“I’m going to require the heads of ALC, GLC, and CSD to be a part of the decision making process,” Bracher said.
Atinizian defended the change, saying that the reason for the new structure is to unite the many identities that fall under the umbrella term of diversity and inclusion.
“It’s actually to make sure that no identities are left out,” Atinizian said. “And the role of the director of DI should be to actively engage with the councils and ensure that everyone is heard and supported.”
Henao said that people of color often don’t have the privilege of being heard without having to prove themselves first.
“In 158 years of the history of Boston College, we’ve never had a leadership of two women of color in our student government,” Hameed said. “In our society, women of color are pushed to the margins, yet they’re always expected to be the backbone of social movements.”
Henao said that she expects the conversations from the debate to continue.
“These conversations didn’t start tonight and they won’t end when the debate is over, or the election is over,” Henao said. “This has always been a battle and we will continue to fight it. This fight truly takes all of us.”
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor
Correction: This article has been updated to refer to the leaders of the ALC, GLC, and CSD as the chairs of the councils. The original version of this article referred to them as the directors.