On Campus, News

UGBC Candidates Talk Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in First Debate

After launching their campaigns on Tuesday morning, the two teams running in this year’s UGBC presidential and vice presidential election faced off for the first time in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) debate Thursday night. 

Presidential candidates Jonah Kotzen and Jordan Nakash both highlighted the importance of DEI in their respective campaigns. 

Nakash and her running mate Yosan Tewelde, AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC) general coordinator and MCAS ’24, expressed the necessity of representing students of all backgrounds on campus.

“To us, to me, diversity, equity, and inclusion is tackling every identity of the person,” said Nakash, BAIC ambassador, former Student Assembly representative, and MCAS ’24. “It’s appreciating and accepting every identity of every person and ensuring that we can make a campus that is best suited to all of those people.”

Kotzen—standing alongside running mate Meghan Heckelman, UGBC director of student initiatives and LSEHD ’25—spoke about his experience with on-campus advocacy through his work as policy coordinator of the Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD). 

“What we want to do is put diversity, equity, and inclusion at the front stage of our administration and make sure that students’ voices … are heard,” Kotzen, MCAS ’24, said.

Both teams emphasized the importance of expanding support for Boston College’s LGBTQ+ students, particularly by bringing a queer resource center to campus.

“[LGBTQ+ students] have a centralized place to go for support, but they need a physical space,” Nakash said. “Every other marginalized group on this campus has one, and I think they deserve one just as well.”

Heckelman pointed to the lack of a resource center for LGBTQ+ students as a shortcoming of the administration.

“After talking with my colleagues in [GLBTQ+ Leadership Council], I’ve learned that year after year, GLC puts forth a proposal to the administration about a queer resource center,” Heckelman said. “And year after year, it’s denied because our school has prejudice under the guise of religion.”

Both teams also stressed the need for more transparency between students and the administration, especially with regard to bias-related incidents against AHANA+ students on campus. 

“One problem affecting AHANA students on campus is just the lack of not only accountability, but the lack of acknowledgement of the problems that they’re going through on campus,” Tewelde said. “And one of that being specifically to bias-related incidents and hate crimes and not having the follow-up.”

Kotzen added that he and Heckelman hope to redefine the relationship between the University and the student body surrounding racially motivated incidents.

“What we’ve learned through talks with ALC is that what the administration wants for the student body to do is define the bias-motivated incident process for them,” Kotzen said. “That’s not a burden that should fall on the students.”

Both teams addressed the needs of students with physical disabilities as well, specifically pointing to the lack of physical accessibility on Upper Campus.

“[Upper] still has a horrible staircase to get up, which could be hard for students, and if you can’t make it up the staircase, there’s a big hill that you have to follow as well,” Nakash said. “We do have Eagle Escort that students can utilize, but there is not one way that every student can use to truly have accessibility on Upper.”

Nakash said if BC does not build a pavilion to make Upper Campus more accessible, one solution she and Tewelde would consider proposing is placing an accessible bus stop on Upper.

Kotzen also suggested bringing increased and more convenient transportation to address the lack of accessibility in Upper Campus. 

“As [Nakash] said, we need to increase Eagle Escort in terms of how we track them, the amount of buses that are wheelchair accessible, and also even installing another road behind Upper Campus as well,” Kotzen said. 

Kotzen highlighted his and Heckelman’s experience working to address DEI issues both within and outside of UGBC.

“We’ll push to make sure that those voices that aren’t being heard are heard, and we believe that, in collaboration with the many councils we’re a part of, we’ll make sure that’s possible,” Kotzen said. 

Nakash said she often feels the term DEI only pertains to certain underrepresented groups on campus, so she further highlighted her goal to advocate for all students and identities on campus.

“We want to ‘Unite the Heights’ to take away the limits as best as possible to make us all have the best experience on the Heights—to make everybody feel at home on the Heights,” Nakash said.

March 24, 2023