Last week, the Editorial Board interviewed the two candidates for the USG presidential elections, open March 3–5. Today, we share with you our interview with Jase Valle. This is the full transcript, with all questions and complete answers included.
The Daily Campus: What is the most impactful lesson you’ve learned at UConn so far, and how has that prepared you to be president?
Jase Valle: Probably my most impactful lesson I learned was how supportive our UConn community comes together. Like when times [are] hard, we tend to always come together and show out more than I think we expect. Especially when it comes to a lot of different causes and issues. Just because we all connect to it, even as Huskies to begin with, but one specific time was when I saw the marches. That was a time when I was really proud to be a Husky and really proud to even want to be president now. To help lead this change that everyone is pushing so hard for, so that’s my most impactful experience I’ve had just living at UConn.
DC: What do you see as the current relationship between USG and the Administration, and what would you like to change about that relationship?
JV: In terms of administration, we need to continue building relationships within the administration. One of the biggest things within USG that I have a problem with is the culture within it and how I hear a lot of the senators tend to talk about stagnation and people not wanting to continue. And I think that’s an issue. That’s something we internally need to fix in terms of building comradery. It’s one of the main things we’re trying to fight for, a sense of well-being and people valuing themselves, feeling wanted and feeling like they belong. And that’s probably one of the biggest issues in terms of USG. We need to value everyone’s input and start to make it known that they are valid and make sure we make every conscious effort that they are wanted in their space.
Administration-wise, we need to start calling out and being less politically correct and really just saying how it is at times, because I think we tend to walk around the issue which causes us to never solve the issue.
DC: If you had to only pick one issue to focus on, what would it be and why?
JV: The sole issue would be a sense of well-being. Just because it encompasses so much of people’s existence here at UConn. It’s more than just race or sexual orientation. It goes into a lot of things — it even goes into mental health. So, as we live in a climate where mental health is vitally important, I think we also need to use sense of well-being as a sort of umbrella for all of that. People feeling like they belong here should be the main priority we make as a university and especially as a student government. Making sure people feel like their voices are heard — that’s really what we need to start working on.
DC: How do you think your lack of experience in USG will either negatively or positively impact your performance as president, and what would you say to people who may consider experience in USG as necessary to govern the organization?
JV: The fact that you’re a student means you’re involved in USG at the end of the day. You don’t have to be involved in USG, per se, to be a person that wants to do change. I’ve done it within my cultural center. I even pushed out of that and tried to make relationships with various other cultural centers.
As a whole, we need to stop getting in this mindset that we have to be involved in USG in order to make change in USG. That becomes toxic as we keep progressing because we want people to continuously want to be involved in USG.
Sometimes, I get frustrated as an outsider — at least, what I’ve been hearing. Yes, I’m an outsider; I think that’s what we need at this current moment. We need someone that’s going to be here from the outside looking in. Me not being involved in USG: Yes, that’s a true narrative, but I also worked as a justice for a semester, and I ended up leaving as a justice. I don’t know how to say this not so rude[ly], but it was a mess when I was a justice. It was just so unorganized, and I couldn’t deal with it.
After that experience with being a justice, I really want to come back and change it from the outside. I want to give that new perspective and that outlook for the future. We get complacent with people wanting to be part of “Oh, you have to be in USG to be president.” We need to break that mold and show the student body that you can literally do anything and become a leader on this campus and become USG president to lead the next generation of students.
DC: Given that you and your running mate both hold leadership positions in large campus-wide cultural organizations, how might you cater to UConn’s diverse student population?
JV: That has allowed us to build connections outside of our cultural group. Just being so involved, we cater to so much more. Like, I’m the president of a culturally-based fraternity right now, and that has really opened my eyes to a lot of things, and it has allowed me to connect to so many different bodies of people regardless of just being Latino because we are more than just Latino-oriented.
In terms of Guymara, she is very involved in the NAACP, and that has been a really good coalition in terms of bringing us together as a university because a lot of people, regardless of your racial background, have really fallen behind NAACP and supported a lot of their marches, a lot of their protests — especially alongside UCCO, which I am very good friends with as well.
As a coalition, we can make the change for the grander university in how we address those issues. We obviously have to put in more work and more effort to reach out to people who may not be involved in cultural centers or Tier IIIs or Tier IIs. But the main point is we’re here to show that we’re here to break the barrier that this is something for everyone to achieve at some point.
DC: USG’s recent elections have been marked by very low turnout. In last fall’s senate races, only 5% of students voted, and several seats were left vacant. How do you plan to increase turnout and participation in student government?
JV: I was just previously talking about stagnation of senators, and there are not many senators who show up to senate. I’ve seen the senate — it doesn’t actually take a whole room. And I think that has to do with us; we need to reel it all back in again and take a minute. Maybe not have senate for a week or two, but take this moment to really see what’s the issue and what makes people disengage. We really need to bring back engagement. It has to fall back on a sense of belonging. People who are advocating for their communities don’t feel listened to as they speak or as they converse in front of the body, and that’s what’s pushing people away. Just from what I hear and the vibes. We need to start making people feel more wanted. That will be more engaging. You have to validate their work.
DC: Many undergraduate students feel powerless or voiceless against the decisions of the university. What do you have to say to them?
JV: We’re not voiceless. We all pay funds, but it’s really valid to feel voiceless. I felt voiceless for a long time as well. At this point, we have to start working backwards.
Instead of thinking about moving forward, we have to start moving backwards if we’re ever going to move forward. We have to address why people feel voiceless to begin with if we’re ever going to want to start pushing people’s voices out there. Doing a lot of the internal stuff is really the priority at this moment. If we really want to keep pushing student government and people believing in student government, we have to fix the toxicity that exists within it. As we dive into that, we have to make people feel they matter, just reaching out to various bodies.
I have faith that this election cycle will probably have a larger turnout. One of the biggest things I’ve been advocating for is hearing people’s voices. Even within my petition form, I had: “What do you think the biggest issue on our campus is?” That’s something me and my running mate wanted to hear, and we gave them a list of five options and gave them a write-in answer.
Really hearing what students felt, one of the biggest issues was diversity and inclusion. Some people don’t know what USG is, and that’s a problem. We need to make that known. Freshmen entering college, there needs to be some type of explanation on how we run, what we do and how we do it. Sometimes, even the bylaws and constitutions are so unclear, it makes people not even want to learn what it is because it’s not clear enough.
It really has to do with how we portray ourselves. I feel we get really political in these processes, and we need to make it more people-friendly and more accessible. I was even reading the election policies, and I don’t even understand them as a political science major. I can only imagine how other students feel reading this documentation. It’s so misleading, and we need to be better at explaining what we do if we want people to support us in the long term.
DC: How specifically do you want to advocate for all undergraduate students, including those at regional campuses and of different majors?
JV: I want to be accessible for people. Something me and my running mate have been running with is the idea of doing office hours in different locations so we can really be accessible firsthand. Office hours are a really good tool that USG has not taken advantage of. I’m going to be honest: I walked in to see people during office hours four times this semester, and they were never in office hours. That’s one of the things we need to communicate with students: When we’re available or when things change. We need to make sure we’re 100% transparent with our students in letting them know what’s happening. Even explaining our limits.
DC: Say, at some point during your term, the university plans to host a controversial guest speaker. How would you respond in the event that members of the student body call for that speaker to be barred from campus.
JV: That draws a really interesting perspective on how we view the First Amendment and how we view people’s voices. Everyone’s valid for bringing in whatever speaker they want. No one should feel like they’re invalidated for doing so.
The issue comes when people feel attacked or unsafe. That’s when the lines get blurred and gray. When people feel unsafe, that’s when the student government has to step in because people should feel safe on this campus regardless of socioeconomic, religious, or background you’re from.
The main important part is that people don’t feel attacked. Obviously, people are entitled to their own opinion, but people shouldn’t be attacking various populations. Going back to sense of belonging, making people feel they belong at UConn. In order to handle that, that’s a conversation where we need to sit down and see what explicitly they are going to talk about and what is going to be said.
Yes, you have your First Amendment right, but you also don’t want to marginalize people more than they’ve already been marginalized in history to begin with. That’s a conversation we need to have on the speaker. There are so many speakers with so many different narratives out there — you never know what people are going to say when they show up to campus. Just being clear and conscientious.
I brought a speaker a year ago when I was in SUBOG as a lecture chair, and I had to go through a whole review process for my speaker just because after the first speaker in the fall, they had a whole new process. Continuing that, and making it more intentional so it’s not just a burden on the students, but also understanding, “What’s the point of this? What’s the learning outcome?” That’s really what matters. We’re coming to the university to learn, so there should be some type of clear learning outcome, not just bringing a speaker to bring a speaker.
DC: After the various racist incidents on campus last semester, there was a lot of talk about racism on campus. How would you run USG as an explicitly anti-racist organization that emphasizes diversity and inclusion?
JV: One good way to do that is teaching people what diversity and inclusion looks like. Everyone comes in here with their own perspective on what that looks like. We need to start with explaining what the university currently does.
We have various cultural centers. I think explaining to our student leaders what each of them exactly do and about their cultures to begin with increases cultural competency. If we can allow that, we allow more dialogue and allow people to gain more understanding, and that will trickle down to the constituency. If we can teach all the senators and all the chairpersons exactly what each cultural center does, they will pass that down.
Making it clear that we are anti-racist and making it clear we don’t want anyone to feel they are unwanted. We have multicultural seats that go untaken. We have a few of them. That’s an action that speaks louder than words. Why are multiculturalism [seats] empty when so many people advocate for it? That’s the issue of people not being listened to, and that’s what we need to change. That has to be our focus and our priority: really increasing cultural competency in the student body.
DC: Considering the two recent on-campus suicides and the generally stressful nature of college life, how would you address mental health, and is there anything you would add to what President Katsouleas has proposed?
JV: We need to really take a step back and really go into CMHS [Counseling and Mental Health Services]. They’re already severely understaffed, so we need to staff that more and really work with students on how we can get more. I’m grateful we have increased the amount because of President Katsouleas, but it’s obviously retroactive. We did it after the fact, which is really common. We need to be proactive: When something bad happens, let’s not try to fix it but avoid something bad from happening to begin with. That’s what we really need to hone in on.
Right now, it’s promotion of mental health and being available to students. One way we can really be available for students is being in all the social spaces. CMHS could have a counselor or clinician come into the various social spaces we have around campus and have an office hour. I think the Dean of Students already does it in every cultural center, and that could be a good way for international students especially.
There is a large proportion of international students coming into this university feeling unwanted and unheard. They’re a large proportion of our university statistically; they shouldn’t feel like that. We really need to hone in on that as well. Making aware to the different organizations what mental health is looking like, we can better it. The office hours for different clinicians can really make a difference. When you see people that look like you, you are more likely to go get help from them.
CMHS doesn’t really do a good job advocating and being there. Even for myself, when I had called, I got pushed for a week. It’s one of those things where we need to ask what is our priority, and we really need to think about that. More money needs to get invested if we ever want to care about mental health to the same degree the student body does.
DC: Tier II organizations often complain funding is really difficult to receive through USG. Do you have any suggestions for improving the funding process?
JV: I’m a part of a Tier II org., too, so I definitely understand it’s really complex. We need to become more understanding of these Tier II organizations. A lot of organizations get declined funding because their events aren’t considered inclusive enough. That’s a whole narrative where I don’t even know if we know what inclusive really looks like or how that portrays in the world.
We need to clearly define our expectations. When I was reading the funding policy, it was very unclear. I get it, it’s a governing document, but we can definitely make it more people-friendly. That’s the priority. Making these documents more people-friendly to where people can understand. I texted so many people about election stuff because I didn’t know what it meant. They told me what it meant, and I just said, “If you guys meant that, why didn’t you just put that?” I was just thinking to myself that we can change that really easily. Obviously, the senators all have to agree to the change since it’s to the constitution. We need to make it more student-friendly if we’re ever going to want more student involvement and not so much elitism. It’s not that students can’t understand, it’s just that the wording makes it ambiguous at times.
We need to work with the comptroller on how we can make funding more accessible. These Tier II organizations, we’re supposed to support them. If we’re going to support them and help them grow, we have to work with them. They are the backbone of the university in some ways. We really need to address what helping them looks like and not just create rules to make our lives easier.
DC: How would you measure or define success in concrete terms for your administration?
JV: Success in concrete terms would be increased engagement. Our student body needs to be more engaged. It’s not engaged. Not to sound rude, but it’s horrible to see how we hold such a large portion of this university but we’re not engaged in USG. When we can really hone in on engagement, we can reach success. If I can see a senate that’s full, and engagement and involvement are at their highest, that’s truly when I will find success in my administration.
DC: What is your perfect crime?
JV: I’m broke, so I’d probably say a robbery. I’d think a bank robbery just because I need some money for this tuition, and this FAFSA isn’t always cutting it, so I just need some money.
DC: Give us your candidate pitch.
JV: I’m here for the students, and I’m always going to be here for the students. I’m an outsider that wants to make a change and really shake the boat. We can fix a lot of the internal issues, and we need to make it more accessible to students. One of our biggest campaign slogans is “opening the gates for innovative thinkers and monumental change.” I think that’s really what our campaign is all about: opening these gates and the power for the students to voice their opinions a lot more. Making people feel like they belong.
That’s really why people should vote for me. I don’t fit the mold: I wasn’t involved in USG for the past three years. Me not being involved is the thing USG needs at this current moment. We need a culture shock in some ways so we don’t get complacent. You can get involved at any point in time. I’m a student. We all have the same opportunity, and we all have the same advantage in running for president if we choose to do so. Anyone should be able to do it. Everyone is a leader in some way, shape or form.