Features, Profiles

Kotzen and Heckelman: Acceptance, Academics, Activity, and Adjustment

As someone who grew up alongside a sibling with a genetic disorder, Jonah Kotzen said he is devoted to advocating for individuals with disabilities—a commitment that eventually motivated him to join student government.

“My brother specifically is someone who has really defined my relationship with advocacy,” Kotzen, MCAS ’24, said.

When he came to Boston College, Kotzen quickly became involved with UGBC. Currently, he serves as the Council for Students with Disabilities policy coordinator and the Student Assembly (SA) Intersectionality Committee chairperson. Now, Kotzen is running to be the next UGBC president.

“UGBC has given me a community on campus and a place where I can advocate for my fellow students in terms of accessibility and in terms of just general student concerns,” Kotzen said.

When Kotzen was brainstorming who would be his running mate, he said Meghan Heckelman, LSEHD ’25, was the first person who came to mind. Kotzen said Heckelman is exactly the type of person he wants to work closely with.

“To be able to run with someone you trust, and you’re actually friends with, and you know will have your back in those high-pressure, high-stakes situations … is a really good feeling,” Kotzen said.

Heckelman is currently the director of Student Initiatives (SI) in UGBC. When she was confirmed to this position last year, Heckelman said she was asked what she would do differently to improve SI. Seeing that SI was disconnected from the SA, Heckelman promised she would attend every SA meeting.

“That was a promise I made and a promise that I executed on, because it was a practical promise,” Heckelman said. “And I think that’s what our campaign is also about … what can we accomplish even on the micro-level that’s going to make a difference on the day-to-day for students.”

This emphasis on practicality is central to Kotzen and Heckelman’s platform, they both said. Though they have big projects they hope to accomplish as long-term goals, Kotzen said their platform is focused on feasible policies.

“We recognize the importance of, you know, an LGBTQ resource center or Upper Campus accessibility,” Kotzen said. “But, we also have policies that work to address how we can build towards those ultimate goals.”

Kotzen said his specialty is tackling issues of accessibility. Some examples of policies he wants to implement in this area include expanding Eagle Escort’s services, increasing the amount of wheelchair-accessible vans, increasing Panopto recordings, and starting an accessibility conference on campus.

Though Kotzen is especially passionate about disability advocacy, he said he feels connected to all groups within UGBC from working alongside them. If elected, Kotzen said he plans on using these connections to effectively address the concerns of all groups.

“One thing that sets us apart is that the connections we’ve already made are so extensive,” Kotzen said. “We have the foundation that can allow us to hit the ground running.”

Kotzen and Heckelman’s campaign is centered around people, said Ryan Milligan, the team’s campaign manager and MCAS ’26. He said the team wants to get input from the student body regarding key issues and then brainstorm solutions to these issues.

“I think that things change when you hear what’s wrong, and when, you know, you can turn around and make changes based on the things people are telling you,” Milligan said.

Kotzen said his team’s biggest strength is its experience. During his time on UGBC, Kotzen said he has already worked on DEI initiatives, talked to administrators, and attended events put on by all groups within UGBC.

From her experience leading SI, Heckelman works with different offices on campus. She said she has also familiarized herself with many of the concerns students have through attending SA meetings.

“Because of both of our involvement in different pockets of campus, we reach a lot of people and we’ve heard a lot of opinions, and I think that those inform the ideas that you bring,” Heckelman said.

As two students who are already involved with UGBC extensively, Heckelman said the presidency and vice presidency would come naturally to them.

“I think that we have already started, and this will be a continuation of all of the things we’ve done so far,” Heckelman said.

Milligan said he noticed how well connected the two candidates are to many groups on campus leading up to the recent UGBC debate, when Kotzen and Heckelman spoke with representatives from GLBTQ+ Leadership Council, AHANA+ Leadership Council, as well as the Montserrat student coordinator in preparation.

“When you are in a room like that, and you get to hear a diversity of perspectives, and they’re sitting there listening and you can tell that that’s important to them,” Milligan said. “They’re ready, based on the input that they are given and the things that they see, to go out and put in the hard work and make the changes.”

Listening to this input, Heckelman said she and Kotzen came up with a four-pillar platform—acceptance, academics, activity, and adjustment—that aims to address students’ day-to-day needs.

“There are issues that affect every single person, every single day,” Heckelman said. “And I think the Student Assembly can be a launch pad for those initiatives that will better the everyday life of students.”

Within these four pillars, the two candidates have an abundance of smaller initiatives they want to implement into student life, Heckelman said.

In the acceptance pillar, Kotzen said he wants to have an administrator on campus who is dedicated to serving as a resource for queer students. Within academics, Heckelman said the team wants to improve the academic advising process.

In the activity pillar, the two candidates said they want to work closely with the Center for Student Wellness and University Counseling Services to improve the mental health services offered to students. Lastly, the two candidates hope to adjust UGBC’s structure by narrowing the scope of certain positions and promoting collaboration between different councils.

“It’s very obvious where we fall short and where we can improve,” Heckelman said. “But we want someone to look at our four policy pillars and think, ‘Wow, they thought of everything.’”

Kotzen said that their slogan, “Eagles for Others,” encapsulates the goal of their campaign. The two candidates both said they aim to advocate for all students.

“No individual goes through a problem alone,” Kotzen said. “It’s not on them to be their own advocates.”

The entire student body should feel unified, Kotzen said. If elected, Kotzen said he and Heckelman plan on uplifting student voices to make sure everyone is heard.

“It’s not every Eagle for themselves,” Kotzen said. “It’s Eagles for Others.”

March 26, 2023