The Daily Campus Editorial Board sat down with both USG Presidential Candidates to talk about issues facing the school — and what they plan to do about it. The following transcript of our interview with Jase Valle has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Elections are taking place from Sept. 29th to October 1. Vote at vote.uconn.edu.
The Daily Campus: This summer, there’s been a massive wave of protests about issues of police brutality and systemic racism which have also impacted UConn. Within USG there’s been a reckoning with systemic failures to create a diverse and inclusive environment, at the university level theres been a movement to defund UCPD, the spirit rock vandalism incident. As president of USG, what concrete actions would you take to tackle these issues at UConn, and how do you think President Katsouleas has handled the two racist incidents on campus (including the spirit rock and charter oak incidents)?
Jase Valle: In terms of concrete resolutions to the problem, I think as we talk about this whole racism as a whole thing and just like racial injustice as a thing, I think even our nation is struggling to come up with a concrete solution to this whole thing. I’m not gonna lie to you and I’m not gonna come up with something on the fly. I don’t have a concrete solution for this issue. I think it’s something we need to start addressing, and running away from the problem is not going to address the issue. We’ve seen that in the past, we’ve seen that last semester. Running away when it gets too hard or racism gets too like — you don’t feel related to the students and that’s the problem. And I think when you’re silent you’re willingly participating in allowing it, and that’s the issue. When we talk about it I think on campus we have to start recognizing that we can do all these things on campus but for instance the rock incident, it’s a public rock, it’s so hard to hold people accountable when it comes to like how do you know who wrote that. That’s like my logic in some ways like how are you very upset as anyone else is about this rock but the issue is now where do we move forward with it? Like are we now gonna monitor this rock? Because if that’s the case we open up policing and that’s a whole nother issue we would have to talk about. Like we’re advocating for defunding UCPD, and I do agree, it needs to be done, there needs to be a switch up of money from UCPD and actually go to promoting diversity and inclusion. If we really care about diversity we should be funding it as much as we fund our student activities. If we’re not funding it to the same capability as any other department it’s clear that we don’t care about it as much. For Katsouleas, he’s in a tough predicament, as a new president I think overall he’s been more present, more engaged than I’ve ever seen a president, even when I saw Susan — trash.
We don’t want to just create things to do. We want things to actually work.
My issue is that we expect change overnight, and that class that Guymara [Jase’s Vice Presidential Candidate] helped formulate — some people are not happy with the class, but it’s a step in the right direction and something we need to start reevaluating and redeveloping. We need to figure out how to make sure anti-racism and anti-blackness is a requirement for graduation. You should not be able to progress in an institution which prides itself on teaching holistic education — if we want to pride ourselves on that we need to be willing to teach ourselves about these injustices. Almost every single degree was withheld from Black americans way back then, so every degree holds a stake in the future of black students at UConn. Something Guymara and I really want to push forward with this campaign is the fights not over, and we’re showing up, and we did it in the Spring, we’re gonna continue it this fall and really push it forth because this time the culture needs to change and it took the President and Vice President to step down to realize that.
So first we need new leadership, and from there we need to work to actually teach individuals, but also hold students accountable, and people who are known and are caught doing that need to be held accountable. And that’s the hard part, if we don’t know these students how are we holding them accountable? How do we actually protect people when it comes to writing stuff on the rock? Are we going to create standards for that? I don’t know because then that starts crossing another boundary of silencing people from truly expressing what they want to express on the rock. So there’s just like a whole bunch of factors that have to come into consideration when it comes to creating rules for students. We don’t want to just create things to do. We want things to actually work. We don’t want things to just work for our presidency — we want them to work for the future. It’s not just on us, it’s on future presidents and on students to vote with their heart and vote with their conscience and see people for who they are. I apologize for not giving a concrete answer, it’s just a really rough issue where we need to sit down as an institution and I don’t know if we’re really ready to have that conversation. Students also need to be willing to come forth when it comes to these town halls, like that’s something me and Guymara want to do. We really want to reach out to students and share and vocalize their issues. Administration will not listen if it’s just from the President or just from the Vice President. Even when we get to talk about this with higher-ups — how can we enforce diversity and inclusion on campus? I just think if we really care about it we need to start funding it appropriately. If we really care about it we need to start treating it like we care about it.
The Daily Campus: The international student community is a vital and significant yet often under-represented and isolated community on campus. What are some of the challenges or issues you think are faced by this community, and how will your leadership address those challenges and issues?
Jase: I think they don’t feel connected to this university and I think that’s one of the biggest issues we have. I think COVID-19 opened up a whole nother issue in terms of international students, how we portray them and how we view them, especially in terms of our asian-american community, and that’s where I think we have a lot of bad sentiment towards them just because of this whole corona thing, and I think that’s where proper education needs to be done. At the same time I think we need to start putting ourselves into those spaces, like actively going into the International Student Support Services and figuring out ways we can engage them, meeting them in the places they are, stop expecting them to show up to us and we need to show up to them. We always want to do these town halls and I think that’s great, but who are we catering to if we’re just having a USG town hall? We need to have deliberate town halls that are in regard to international students and we’re going to go really H.A.M. on this if that makes sense. We want to say we are opening up these spaces but if we really want to open up these spaces we need to confront them first before we can say come on in these spaces. It’s different to party than it is to dance. I’d rather be asked to dance than to be told I’m allowed to always dance. It comes to reaching out to them and gaining useful information where it’s not just one student speaking for all because that’s not what we need. I think it also comes down to holding our professors accountable, because there’s a lot of like different groups at UConn, I think as a whole institution we fail to do that, which leaves international students to feel even more lonely than they felt before. If you don’t feel connected to students or your professors, how are you ever going to feel connected to the university?
The Daily Campus: USG is tasked with supporting the undergraduate student body through funding, legislation, and outreach. With the COVID-19 pandemic, students and student groups are struggling with isolation and remoteness. How do you intend to address these issues?
Jase: Great question. That would have been a great question to prepare for. COVID-19 create a whole nother pandemic of issues. It’s not just a pandemic of health. It opened up a whole can of worms that I don’t think the world was ready to chew on yet. We are all so frazzled with this whole online learning. I think orgs need to start taking action and maybe during this time they should use their platforms to educate their members on different issues that are pertaining during this time. People are already tired of these zoom calls. This situation is just so odd I don’t know if I can answer this. It just opened up a whole nother worm. This whole online learning is not it. These online meetings are not it. There’s a whole lot of not it. I think professors need to be more willing to meet students where they’re at. Our students need to continue to feel supported even though we’re so distant from everyone. Organizations need to continue to keep showing that we’re here as a support system, so maybe online meetings may not be it, but check-ins, those are I feel going to be a lot more beneficial and a lot more turnout. Me and Guymara are really considering the wellbeing of our students especially during these times. Even when it comes to the [Spirit] Rock situation, students don’t feel safe on this campus, there’s a lot of groups that aren’t feeling together and that’s something we really need to start working on. We need to start rounding all the tables together and not just thinking of what me and Guymara’s solution to the issue is but what is the solution proposed by the people impacted.
If we’re going to talk about racism we should always have marginalized communities at the table. It needs to be a thing where we are like I’m going to PRLACC, I’m reaching out to the cultural centers to get this information. Like, how is your Latinx community doing? No. I’m not the representative for all my group and neither is any black person or any asian-american person or even a white person, we’re not the representation of a group. That’s something we have to fail to realize, we always choose these token people to speak on behalf of a group. I just think we are all students, and people don’t feel heard, and we need to start allowing them to be heard and be validated. That doesn’t happen until we go to students and let them know we’re here. Like USG is known for not being known on campus and that’s a problem. We need to make ourselves known outside of social media. Something I’ve been pondering is random surveys to students that are not like a generic survey, like you’re specially selected as one student out of a hundred. We do these campus climate surveys and expect the whole population to respond and it’s not going to work. I think if we find ways for small subgroups of populations across the board to respond we’ll get more reliable results and more reliable data. We need to push them as important because if they’re not important it’s not going to be followed through.
The Daily Campus: Given the problems that have come to light regarding the diversity in USG and the overall negative environment for people of color, what do you specifically plan to do in order to make that specific environment more welcoming?
Jase: I want to round up all the senators. I want a day where we’re not complete business, where we’re actually learning about the issues that pertain to our community. We’re all going to engage with this and this should not be a silent room. We need to start holding people accountable like I’m tired of seeing the senate silent. We need to have conversations with our senators from all those different places. I think we need to teach them what diversity and inclusion look like. It needs to be a beginning, middle and end of semester. There’s no way that you cannot know by the end of the semester what we taught you or how you should be acting around people. That’s where we need to start educating the people that are supposed to be representing all of the students. I think my problem is we need to thoroughly do it, like we do it once or twice but we need to do active engagement. We need to collaborate with cultural centers, use USG as a platform to uplift our cultural centers and our cultural groups. People are very standoffish with USG and I think we need to start collaborating. When we talk about representation in USG there’s nothing I can change right now because I can’t remove people because technically that’s illegal, to go in and remove half of the executive board is illegal I found out, I thought about it, but that’s neither here nor there. But like I’m going to have to clean up messes.
The Daily Campus: There is a severe issue with the democracy of our student government in storrs. Consistently, elections leave vacant seats and only handfuls of a given student population vote. How, especially during COVID-19, can USG become and remain a democratic institution with high student participation?
Jase: I’m not going to lie to you, I’ll call it right now, we’re going to have horrible turnout I think. My campaign is trying to push all of our stuff out online, but I’m fearful it’s going to be really bad turnout and that’s also because, like, around election time USG should be emailing students. At the very least we should get an email from the President saying, hey, elections are happening. I don’t know if that’s a hard thing to do, because I’ve never seen it. Like, has anyone ever gotten an email about an election? Obviously not everyone checks their emails but a lot more people would know if they were at least notified and not just post on social media. This should be a campus announcement rather than just seeing it on instagram. I think thats a start. I’m going to write that down because I just thought of that [laughs].
The Daily Campus: As you know, there was controversy this summer over the story that came out over Instagram about the fraternity which you preside over [editor’s note: allegations of a horrifying sexual assault — and the long-lasting repercussions — were levied anonymously on social media at three members of the Lambda fraternity. Jase was president at the time]. With that in mind, there is understandably hesitance about you leading another organization that is in a tumultuous period. What would you say to people who are doubting you because of your leadership of that organization?
Jase: First and foremost, there is no information on who it was. If I knew, the whole world would know. But obviously that’s easier said than done and I can say that and people can not believe me. The situation actually makes me very upset. It’s opened up a whole lot of other wounds for my personal self, like being a survivor, but I think something we’ve failed to realize is the actions of one — or three, whatever it turned out to be, because I don’t even know — do not represent all members of my organization. They certainly do not represent me. My mother did not raise me that way, I was predominantly raised in a female household and had no father present and the way that I was raised was not that in any way shape or form and I truthfully and wholeheartedly say that to the whole student body, and I cannot stand to allow that.
I’m taking a personal step back because I personally cannot represent that.
That’s why this semester I’m no longer even President of my fraternity anymore, and I’ve taken a major step back from my organization because I’ve started to realize there’s a lot to greek life and its toxicity when it comes to even masculinity as a whole. I’m taking a personal step back because I personally cannot represent that. So until the situation clears, I have to kind of stay away from that. I don’t want this to ruin my chances and I’ve thought about this, this is actually why it took me forever to submit my form. I realized I shouldn’t let something hold me back from trying to do something that I tried to do way before that situation even happened. I tried to run last semester and I did not win, and I’m here for the long run and I want students to know that. Just because that issue happened — it’s sad, and it makes me sick to my stomach — but in some ways we have to look over that for me. I don’t represent that and it’s going to be hard for students to not attach me to it but it’s one of those things that we kind of have to move forward as a unit. It’s just such a tough situation I’m not even going to lie, this is such a hard thing
The Daily Campus: Many of the recent events of this past year and a lot of the issues that we’ve talked about in the previous questions have made it seem that we are presently at a very unique and crucial moment in higher education. Where do you think UConn fits into that, and more specifically, where do you see yourself in that moment?
Jase: I think in this moment I think UConn needs to play a role in educating our students, we need to continue to play the role we’ve always been playing but we can’t stay on the sidelines as a university, activism has got to start becoming more frequent. I’ve been seeing it from the diversity and inclusion page even more, some aspects and parts of the administration need to be more activism-like. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion needs to start advocating on behalf of the students of color and presenting information on social media and to the public, because that’s also a step in the right direction. If we’re always silent and our university’s always silent, we’re truly never going to get the answers. That’s why I appreciate [President] Katsouleas in some ways, because even though people have issues with him, I think in comparison to where we were a few years ago we’re in a lot better place and he’s been addressing a lot of our issues and working towards meaningful solutions that aren’t just going to be a bandaid.
It’s hard, there are so many things affecting us and I think we have to really come together as a UConn community and really believe in this and keep moving forward in terms of racial injustice, climate change and even this pandemic. I need to hold members of my executive board accountable when I hear things or I hear language that is not OK. We need to as a university start holding people accountable. Over the summer I went through a range of things when this whole sexual assault allegations came out, I’m not even mad that it came out, it was meant to come out in some ways. That’s what I value about these [Instagram] pages is their sharing people’s stories and sharing people’s lives, and we need to turn all of these things into action plans, like what we are doing now. In terms of sexual assault, what are we about to do now? How can we make the campus feel like they can go to administration when in the past they have felt like they could not? Even if me and Guymara were to get elected, it’s not going to change overnight. But I think it starts with leadership students can actually believe in. I hope this whole year shows students who are really there for them and our campaign is there for the students.
Anyone can lead this university.
After the spring, I wasn’t going to run again, but I also found out this election would possibly go uncontested and I could not stand by so I ended up running very last minute. I think students need to be leaders. We want all of this change but I don’t think we are all ready to take on the hard work. We want to demand change but we never want to formulate actual solutions for it. People want to demand change but never be at the table. And maybe more people need to know that there is a table, but even when tables are known people don’t want to share or speak up. I hope me and Guymara, our presence just helps reinvigorate students like they’re doing this a second time, like we can do this, if they’re doing it a second time after losing, anyone can do it. Anyone can lead this university, anyone can do it, it’s not just me and Guymara. That’s why I value my opponents as well — one of them is from a different campus. I’m like wow, look at you, doing that transferring from a different campus is amazing. Hopefully what me and Guymara, if we create a space where people feel encouraged to speak up, hopefully activism becomes more prevalent. Guymara is an activist at heart, and through her activism and my own I believe we can bring people together and turn them into activists as well.
The Daily Campus: Students often report that there is a lack of communication between students and the administration. How do you plan to improve this, and ensure that the administration hears students’ concerns?
Jase: It’s as simple as an email sometimes. Which is something I appreciate our administration has done a lot better over the years, I’ve received many more intentional emails, especially when COVID-19 happened, I did not expect the whole email listserv to form. Stuff like that is very important, we need to start constantly communicating to our students. There needs to be some sort of liaison that’s solely responsible for communicating with the students and making sure a lot of students are communicated to. Sending emails to different offices and making sure they send it to their Listserv, and if that means we have to step into these offices and make sure they do it, that’s kind of like the hard work we have to do. People need to start knowing about these situations, and not enough do. We need to build upon what we’ve been doing and the constant emails are great. Even on social media, I’m not going to say Katsouleas’ post was OK, but it was relatively quick in response to the situation, rather than 24 hours later. People will have a tit for tat like oh, it was so bad, but at least he addressed the issue early on. I don’t think it fully addressed the issue at all I just think we’re moving in a direction where as long as we keep the pressure up, people will keep their pressure up. I think it involves keeping the pressure on students and leaders, like keeping the pressure on me to hold us accountable.
The Daily Campus: Mental health resources remain dramatically underfunded on campus and students continue to be hurt by this situation. How will you direct USG’s resources towards helping students gain the mental health resources they need to survive and thrive?
Jase: I think it involves figuring out ways to bring in more clinicians to our university, or even visiting clinicians and finding out ways they can visit our center and visit places and groups and USG. I would obviously have to look into funding bylaws, but I think that’s a great start, bringing in new clinics where it may not be local, but now we’re living in a virtual age where we can connect people to clinics that might not be nearby but might be the right match for them. Bringing all these clinics in will be important just so people can see where their options are. Obviously it won’t solve everything but it will help people figure out the help they need. Maybe going to CMHS [now SHAW-MH] might not be the best situation because it could over dramatize or over stigmatize, and people might get turned away immediately. Maybe you don’t need mental health and you just need to see a social worker. Thinking about those different ways, maybe you don’t need medication for the issue you’re going through. So I think we need to bring in other places, because it’s clear UConn can’t support it, but I think our fee money can definitely support it.
The Daily Campus: Give us your candidate elevator pitch. In a few sentences, tell us why people should vote for you, and what your goals as USG president are.
Jase: People should vote for me and Guymara because we are true fighters and we’re not going to give up, which I hope is shown with our second campaign, this is not just a temporary issue and we’re not going to run away and we’re not going to walk away. We’re not going to turn it into a cycle of last semester, and I know that really challenged democracy for our university — I mean I’m sorry how are you going to run for something and then just quit? I want my students to believe they can come to me and Guymara, which is where I think we are different, we are approachable and we want to be there for the students. We are showing this commitment that we have to the wellbeing, excellence and representation of us all. That’s what we’re going to be working towards. We need to make sure wellbeing is up, that students are thriving equitably and equally across the board. I think thats what make me and Guymara show differently than our opponents.