Features, On-Campus Profiles, Profiles

Benjamin and Spagnola: Inclusivity, Accessibility, and Experience

The same week Julia Spagnola was planning to reach out to Lubens Benjamin about running together for a UGBC leadership position, Benjamin asked Spagnola if she would run with him as president and vice president.

“Julia was always someone that I admired in UGBC and her dedication to the work,” Benjamin, CSOM ’23, said. “So when I kept thinking about who I’d want to run with as president, Julia was the only person I could think of, and I think if I wasn’t with Julia [it definitely] wouldn’t be the same experience as it is right now.”

Spagnola, MCAS ’23, said that although she had known Benjamin through UGBC, their experience as Appa co-leaders led her to consider him as a running mate as she was thinking about running for a leadership position in UGBC.

“We’d just been paired together to be Appa leaders just before Winter Break, and I spent all that break thinking about who else I would want to maybe run with … and I kept coming back to him, because he’s the one person I trust the most,” Spagnola said.

Benjamin, who described his relationship with Spagnola as a “dynamic” team, said he is excited to run alongside her.

From an early age, Benjamin said he always centered himself around school. A native of Cambridge, Mass., Benjamin said he often found school to be an escape when home was not always the easiest place to be.

Growing up in Cambridge, and inner-city Cambridge, there’s a lot of different things you see go on in and around your hometown, and school was sort of that escape for me,” Benjamin said. “So school is where I thrived and really found myself to be the most like myself. … I just always cherished it. That’s where I seemed to always find my community and wanted to make change in my community.” 

When Benjamin entered Boston College, he became involved in the UGBC Leadership Academy, a mentorship program that introduces first-year students into the UGBC and BC community. It was through that program that Benjamin was able to fine-tune his leadership skills and learned the value of poise, while making genuine connections with other students in his class, he said. In the second semester of his freshman year, Benjamin joined UGBC’s AHANA Leadership Council (ALC), which he has served on for the past three years. 

As the current chair of ALC, Benjamin has worked to coordinate events from teddy bear initiatives—where issues of race and prejudice on campus are discussed—to annual events such as Showdown, he said. With three years of UGBC experience under his belt, Benjamin said he is ready to serve as the organization’s next president.

“I think right now at BC, we’re at some sort of a crossroads coming out of the pandemic and moving into the University’s future plans for what they want to do with this institution,” Benjamin said. “I’ve expressed my concerns about different things, and they’ve been met with positive feedback from [the] administration. So I’m really hoping to continue those relationships and continue to advocate for students at the highest level because it’s one thing to have a seat at the table, it’s another thing to be heard at the table. And that’s really what I’m all about this year.” 

Though Spagnola’s mother is a BC alum, she said her decision to come to BC was entirely her own.

“I think … looking back, what drew me [to BC] were the Jesuit ideals,” Spagnola said. “I didn’t go to a Jesuit high school, but I ended up applying to five Jesuit colleges, and I don’t think that was a coincidence because I think those values in those institutions kind of sunk in, and they were really attractive to me.” 

Spagnola first got involved with UGBC when she ran for a seat in the Student Assembly (SA) her sophomore year. The combination of returning to campus for the first time since being sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of a family member influenced her to run, she said.

“I think what pushed me to do that was just a lot of emotions and feelings,” Spangola said. “I was kind of thinking a lot about how I had missed the BC community, and I knew when I got sent home how much I love BC, but I also knew how much … the decisions being made about COVID at BC were impacting the students. And I just wanted to be in a space where those decisions were being made. I just kind of wanted to be in the room where it happened.” 

Currently, Spagnola serves as UGBC’s Academic Affairs Committee chairperson, and she said she joined the committee because academics touch every BC student. It is through this committee that Spagnola has been able to not only learn more about the academic process, but refine her experience with SA as well, she said.

Spagnola said her passion for SA is what led her to run for vice president.

“I think the decision to ultimately run for vice president for me came from the fact that I knew I was passionate about student assembly,” she said. “And when I think about UGBC’s potential for change as an institution, most of that I see drawn to the student assembly and how much we can do, how much there’s still to do.”

Benjamin and Spagnola created a four-pillar platform to center their campaign. These pillars—inclusive culture, academic experience, student life, and institutional UGBC—each address prominent issues on campus, from the lack of a LGBTQ+ resource campus to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion education in the classroom to resurrecting the Forum on Racial Justice. 

“Lubens and Julia have very good ideas for the Pine Manor Institute and the Upper Campus Pavilion,”  Maddy McGrath, MCAS ’23 and the campaign’s chief outreach coordinator, said. “I think because of their knowledge of UGBC, they have a very forward-thinking perspective informed by their experience.”

Some of Benjamin and Spagnola’s other policies include advocating for gender-inclusive language in the University’s slogan, expanding closed captioning services in University promotional videos and at University events. They also said they want to streamline how students receive mental health and disability resources by fostering greater collaboration between University Counseling Services and the Connors Family Learning Center.

Their joint experience working with UGBC will aid them in their endeavors to create change and implement policies, even if that means starting by laying down foundations, Benjamin said. 

“Julia and Lubens are so experienced in UGBC compared to the other teams running, like they both have a combined total of I think five years in UGBC, and not only that, they occupy executive board positions so they work closely with all the offices in UGBC [and University] administrators and several other different offices,” Jonah Kotzen, MCAS ’24 and the campaign’s chief policy director, said. “They have such a holistic approach to BC as it is, that it puts them in a position to really take advantage of and, you know, develop these connections with all of BC.” 

As president and vice president, Benjamin and Spagnola said that they hope to embody the ideals of servant leadership, serving as leaders of both UGBC and the entire BC community. 

“I remember those first few days at BC being completely lost,” Benjamin said. “I remember not knowing the difference between one office and another. … BC is a place that’s opened up so many doors for me that I didn’t know were possible … because BC opens so many doors [for me], I want to make sure [students] see those doors and are able to open them themselves. And when you give students access to what they need and you give students the resources that they deserve, they’re capable of accomplishing great things.”

Eliza Hernandez contributed to reporting.

Featured Image by Steve Mooney / Heights Editor

March 27, 2022