UGBC Presidential Candidates Meet for Final Debate

The four candidates for president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College—Spencer Sandusky and Kevork Atinizian, both CSOM ’22, and Urwa Hameed and Jack Bracher, both MCAS ’22—met for a final debate on Sunday ahead of Tuesday’s election. 

The candidates debated in person while the audience attended virtually via Zoom webinar. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the vice presidential candidates were unable to participate in the debate. 

Each of the candidates addressed distrust in UGBC among the student body. Hameed said that UGBC needs to address its systemic issues and become a proactive organization in order to gain students’ trust.

“In the wake of any social issues, students and student organizations call on UGBC to address the systemic issues,” Hameed said. “UGBC needs to transform from a reactive student organization to a proactive student organization. It needs to change from being cautious, to being activist.”

Bracher spoke to the important role he believes student activism plays in the successful functioning of a student government. 

“Fundamentally, UGBC is the vehicle for the will of the student body, and therefore the success of any UGBC president or vice president depends on their ability to translate students’ frustration and anger into tangible change,” he said.

Sandusky, who has never held a position in UGBC, said he and his running mate would bring a new perspective to the organization.

“I want you to ask yourselves in the past year, what difference has UGBC made in your lives?” he said. “Can you really see a tangible change in how you go about things and how your Boston College experience has been shaped?” 

Bracher said that UGBC simply needs to do more to regain students’ confidence. He proposed creating an environmental sustainability division within UGBC to pressure BC to divest.

“The environmental sustainability position in student initiatives isn’t cutting it,” Bracher said. “That’s why we need an environmental sustainability division—to not only pursue divestment but also short-term, tangible solutions towards reducing waste on campus.”

Sandusky asked why the candidates have not already brought up the changes they are proposing while serving in their current positions in UGBC. 

“Everyone here has had their chance and nothing has changed,” he said.

The candidates also discussed Atinizian’s proposal of the creation of a bar and restaurant on campus. While Atinizian said it will improve student life on campus, others claimed that such a proposal should not be a priority while BC is facing many other issues.

“Advocating for an on campus bar [and] restaurant has been done before at BC,” Atinizian, current UGBC vice president, said. “It’s looking at the current spaces we have in terms of how we can make sure that such spaces really interact with the student body.”

Hameed said that BC must prioritize attempts to make sure AHANA+ students feel comfortable on campus. She also promised to mark the success of her administration by the comfort levels of AHANA+ students on campus.

“I think real change will happen on Boston College’s campus when every AHANA+ is assured in their person that BC is enacting a zero-tolerance policy to hate crimes and racism,” Hameed said.

Sandusky proposed three changes—improvements to BC dining services, free apparel, and free use of the MBTA—to improve the lives of BC students. 

“All of those are reasonable, tangible, and simple goals that we can get done by the end of our administration,” Sandusky said.

Sandusky also discussed his plans to use UGBC funding to expand University Counseling Services, acknowledging backlogged wait times, among other issues, that students are currently facing. 

In the meantime, he said his policy is focused on outsourcing counseling to other institutions in the Boston area so that students’ needs can be addressed immediately and adequately.

Something Bracher praised the current administration—led by Christian Guma, UGBC president and CSOM ’21, and Atinizian— for are the video updates early last semester regarding COVID-19 policies. 

Bracher said plans to build on that idea by working with Douglas Comeau, director of University Health Services, to produce Zoom webinar COVID-19 check-ins once or twice a month.

“I think it’s a win-win,” Bracher said. “You get a more informed student body, and you get a more transparent administration.”

The candidates also discussed the need for gender-neutral housing and bathrooms on campus. Atinizian said that he will pressure the administration to pursue these policies.

“I think it’s an important job as a student leader that one always has to be pro-queer, pro-AHANA+, pro-accessibility, because that’s our job,” Atinizian said. “It’s making sure that at the end of the day, students know that they could be supported and gender-neutral bathrooms are part of that.”

Sandusky said a focal point of his campaign is using precedent from other universities that share values with BC to enact the same changes they have made. He also advocated for the removal of outdated restrictions from the Code of Conduct so that administrative attention may be redirected to more pressing issues, such as hate crimes on campus. 

“What that includes is enacting our divestment policies and the transparency behind that,” Sandusky said. “What that is is legalizing sex, which is still an actual restriction on Boston College’s Code of Conduct.” 

Bracher mentioned that UGBC needs to advocate for students’ best interests, even if it goes against BC’s Jesuit and Catholic mission.

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that any decisions we make … are in the best interest of students,” Bracher said. “If that may run contrary to Catholic theology, I know that at the end of the day, Gianna and I are going to be representing the students’ best interests.”

Hameed discussed her proposal to create an all-women networking platform. She came up with the idea by speaking to various women’s groups on campus, looking at their networking programs and seeing how they are underutilized and could benefit from collaboration, she said.

“We want to bring in all of those student organizations together, and their resources together, and their mentors together to create a comprehensive system that can empower women here at Boston College,” she said.

Atinizian responded to her proposal by mentioning how he wants to move matters regarding women and gender from Student Initiatives to the Diversity and Inclusion (DI) division of UGBC

“This is just to ensure that in terms of miscommunication and mismanagement, that everything in terms of intersectional projects goes through DI,” he said.

Sandusky finally discussed how his platform is directly built upon the needs of the student body and how he plans to listen to student voices while creating future proposals.

“I think that UGBC has a tendency to talk to the student body rather than open a dialogue with the student body,” Sandusky said. “We want this to be a two way street. We want to listen to what you have to say … and then we want to go about and make the change that you’re telling us.”

Voting begins at midnight on Tuesday and will close that evening at 6 p.m.

Featured Image Courtesy of Emma Dawson / Heights Staff

March 1, 2021