Opinions, Editorials

UGBC Has the Drive To Make Important Change, but Administrators Halt Progress

“What does UGBC even do?”

You’ve probably heard someone ask this question.

While student governments are established to advocate for student needs and create actionable policies, the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) is a constant subject of jokes and slander. But how much can UGBC be blamed for its shortcomings?

Though UGBC maintains consistent success on small-scale issues, its efforts to tackle the larger issues driving student dialogue are regularly squashed by administrators. As a result, students often misidentify UGBC as a useless body.

Look no further than the recent election. Three out of the four fields were uncontested—most students do not find value in running for UGBC. The election itself garnered a record-low turnout of 543 student votes—it’s hard to care about an election when it’s uncontested.

But why don’t students care about an organization tasked with allocating a sizable $403,775 budget and fighting for student needs? Because they’ve seen the most passionate and well-reasoned efforts fail.

When Jonah Kotzen, MCAS ’24, and Meghan Heckelman, LSEHD ’25, ran for UGBC president and vice president in 2023, their platform built on pre-existing calls for an LGBTQ+ resource center and renovations to make Upper Campus accessible to people with disabilities—neither of which were achieved within the past year.

But when Heckelman and Katie Garrigan, MCAS ’25, ran this year, their platform was markedly more tame. Having learned the challenges of implementing grand visions and ambitious plans, the duo acknowledged what University leaders would allow and opted for more pragmatic goals, such as improving academic advising, expanding resources in the Connors Family Learning Center, and offering more subsidies for low-income students.

These medium-sized pragmatic steps characterize UGBC’s efforts from the past year. From funding laundry costs for Montserrat students to the establishment of the Trans* Collective advocacy group, UGBC’s small victories highlight its contributions to student life.

UGBC recognizes the importance of the larger initiatives and maintains stances on them, but the organization also knows much of the political jockeying that accompanies change involves picking the right battles.

Consider past efforts to make Upper Campus accessible to students with disabilities. After UGBC passed a referendum and resolution calling for Upper Campus accessibility, the University ultimately halted the project due to high costs, blindsiding student leaders. No further University efforts to make Upper Campus accessible have been publicized since.

The conflicting interests of BC and its student body are shown in the absence of an LGBTQ+ resource center on campus. Decades of student proposals have seen nothing but consistent rejection and controversial substitutes.

The University does claim to promote discourse and dialogue.

“As an administration, we must carefully balance the sometimes-competing interests of the institution and its community to engage in learning, teaching, research and other University-sponsored activities, as well as promote and progress our mission,” Colleen Dallavalle, associate vice president of student engagement and formation, wrote in a statement to The Heights.

Time and time again, the University justifies its inaction with its duty to institutional values—never a simple answer, never a practical explanation, always vague institutional values.

Student governments can be effective and their efforts should not be looked down on as unrealistic—the Boston University Student Government outlined the establishment of an LGBTQ+ resource center as a goal in a November 2022 resolution. By February 2023, BU officially announced the opening of the center.

While the issue of LGBTQ+ support differs at BC because of the administration’s Catholic tension with the subject, BU’s success proves the viability of large-scale, student-led change on college campuses. Administrators at similar schools actually implement some of the big ideas their student governments propose.

UGBC’s ability to carry out major action items ultimately relies on BC’s willingness to adjust to an evolving social climate and acknowledge the student needs that have emerged.

UGBC accomplishes positive change. While the student body often sees its work as minor, the representatives of BC’s undergraduates do what they can to advance their objectives. In reality, it is the administration’s resistance that leaves large-scale progress stagnant.

April 22, 2024

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