(Note: Bolded text is The Editorial Board, unbolded is Christine Jorquera, USG Pres. Candidate)
Before but especially with the pandemic, turnout in USG elections has been low. How do you plan to improve public relations and perception of USG on campus in particular with students who don’t currently interact with or trust student government?
I think that we’ve already been pushing for that currently. I think just making ourselves more accessible — accessibility is the biggest key in any administration, making yourself open and making sure you’re receptive to any and all ideas. I think right now, especially social media, has been the biggest tool for activists right now, in spreading petitions and spreading knowledge about movements and educating one another. We’ve been really trying to have a wide reaching campaign, just trying to get as many people acquainted with our platform, making sure that we’re always accessible and open to new ideas. We’ve already been talking with a couple people that have brought up issues about what they want to see from us — with regards to the antisemitic incidents that have happened, we’ve talked to people about food insecurity and about housing justice as well. I already think that we’re having a great start already in getting these kinds of topics and what the students are really looking for and hoping to see with the new administration.
We being your campaign, or we being USG?
Our campaign. Yeah, I would say in the second half of your question, in general, I think that there has been a lot of increased collaborations with other organizations that hasn’t happened as much in previous years. I can say that with student development, on instant development, though, cultural appreciation series was exclusively in collaboration with the cultural centers, and we’ve been trying to expand that initiative to include student organizations as well. I’ve worked with diverse abilities on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities; I’m trying to plan some events with UCCO as well and just expanding any and all outreach that we can.
The international student community is vital and significant, yet an often underrepresented and isolated community on campus. What are some of the issues you think are faced by this community and how will your leadership address those issues?
I think the most blatant thing right now is the divide. There’s a differential experience going on with the international students right now, whether they’re here on campus, or they’re back home. And that’s a huge disparity that we have to acknowledge. Not only are they doing work across the world, but I remember seeing an article about an international student that was having Internet issues from halfway around the world. And those are kinds of the issues that we have to acknowledge right now.
“I think the most blatant thing right now is the divide. There’s a differential experience going on with the international students right now, whether they’re here on campus, or they’re back home. And that’s a huge disparity that we have to acknowledge.”Christine Jorquera, USG Pres. Candidate
As we’re virtual, we’re coming in from so many different places and I think with those kinds of issues, we have to acknowledge that not everyone’s going to have equal access to resources and classes, etc. right now. And on campus, we need to have better mental health support for these kinds of students. In the past year, there have been way too many suicides, there have been way too many mental health crises that have happened and currently right now as we’re facing exacerbated hate crimes for the Asian American community. They need help and resources more than ever, and as we’re pushing for more inclusivity and diversity within CMHS, we need to push for international therapists as well.
There have been recent accounts from students regarding a culture problem within USG. Students, especially students of color, have reported not feeling welcome in the organization. How do you plan to address this and make USG a more welcoming and representative environment for everyone?
I can say candidly for myself, I am one of those people. In the work that I’m doing, I work very closely with lots of BIPOC students, with women and I’ve heard their stories and I’ve shared those stories with them, and feeling unwelcome. But I think if there’s one thing that I’ve really honed in this year is resilience and continuing to push through the adversity. I think that the toxic work environment is something that has been perpetuated yearly within USG; despite the change in administration, there is always going to be tension, there’s always going to be debate. That’s just the nature of USG; you’re not always going to have 100% agreement on certain topics. To a certain degree, that’s healthy.
But what we’re currently facing is exclusionary practices, alienation and constantly where students are already feeling burnt out and exhausted from online classes, from the various emotional family/friends issues that they have going on. In an organization that they’re part of so many students are wanting to leave; that’s where we have to acknowledge the problem at hand. It’s not enough just to have a new change in administration to kind of set the tone. I believe that’s the first step — a new administration really does have to set the tone for the year to come and what accountability will mean, what inclusivity will mean. That’s also intentionally making practices and including institutional change, where we can fix these kinds of problems where it won’t be a yearly thing where this toxic culture and cultural problem is made.
Noel and I have talked about reinstating trainings, in collaboration with the cultural centers. In previous administrations, Fany, the director of PRLACC (Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center), she’s led diversity trainings on cultural values. And unfortunately, these kinds of diversity trainings have just been left in the dust, with everything that has been going on. But as we can see, there is a great importance to these kinds of trainings and getting that cultural awareness. I truly believe that there is education, that there is kindness and education; I think having a fundamental understanding and awareness of the person that is next to you, whether they come from a different background, sexual orientation, religion, etc., as long as we educate ourselves, we can come to appreciate one another.
As a college student, there are a lot of ways to significantly impact the community around you aside from being involved in student government. For your own goals, and the issues that you’re passionate about addressing at UConn, why do you see being president of USG as being the best way to make a meaningful impact?
I think that just goes with the nature of the role of the president; they are the face of the student body. And they’re the most visible person probably on campus, to a certain extent, and I would say like USG has had a better transition with that in previous years being in-person, but unfortunately, during virtual, USG has only had negative connotations and interactions, if students aren’t familiar with USG. But for me, this past year has really taught me not only what it means to be in the executive board as a representative of my community but also just the different people that I have met within USG and outside of USG that have either had good experiences or bad experiences.
For something that is one of the most fundamental, I would say characteristics of someone, I don’t believe that we have enough female representation in USG. I am one of five women and one of three women of color on the executive board. And on
Knowing the importance of catering an event to the Black community, and also having representatives of the Black community moderating those kinds of events in picking and choosing those moderators. Obviously, we can’t have other people talking about a community that aren’t representative of it. And I think that that kind of helped push me to want to run for president. The difficulties I’ve faced this year. The difficulties I’ve heard from other senators and other members within the organization. Unfortunately, I would say, there have been religious related incidences, but there have also been on gender related incidences and as unfortunate as the circumstances were, I am all the more willing to fight to make sure that we are represented and we are heard within this organization.
Hate speech has a shameful history at UConn and continues to threaten the well–being of many community members. At the same time, freedom of expression is very important to activists, to journalists and to many others. How exactly are these two concepts different?
Unfortunately, with the kind of history that we have, it goes wider than UConn, it goes wider than Storrs. It goes fundamentally to the foundation of this nation. After stealing the land from Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples, we have to acknowledge these kinds of histories where power and the dynamics of institutional oppression have been used against people of vulnerable, marginalized oppressed communities. And I think that that is what we’re fighting against here. I completely agree — freedom of expression is vital to challenging the status quo. And as we’re continuously fighting for more and more progress within our society within our generation as is, and knowing just how many activists have been born out of this generation, we’ve been fighting since the very beginning; since the stock market crash, since global warming has continuously caused us all to confront our uncertain future.
But then on the flip side, we have freedom of expression, which invalidates minorities, and this is something that we have to acknowledge, because freedom of speech is being weaponized against minorities and being used to have this right where anyone can say anything and not face repercussions, which is false on our campus. As we saw with the Charter Oak incident, that was hate speech, and they were condemned and they were punished for it, be it not to the same extent if it was a person of color or another situation where they weren’t the majority. But we have to acknowledge these kinds of things and it’s not scary and it’s not something shameful to acknowledge these kinds of identities and backgrounds because we do have to acknowledge the privilege that someone has when they’re talking about freedom of speech not only within the intersectional identities that we have, but continuously going forward and pushing for what we believe in on, we have to acknowledge both sides of the of the fight, and continue to not only work with the system, but constantly push the standard, the status quo.
“With the report that came out with the new tuition increase, they are able to hire new mental health clinicians as well as three or four health educators, I believe. And we need to diversify CMHS. It’s vital to the experience of reflecting our diverse student population.”Christine Jorquera, USG Pres. Candidate
Especially recently with the pandemic, students have reported issues with mental health services on campus. If elected, what changes would you encourage the administration to make regarding mental health?
With the report that came out with the new tuition increase, they are able to hire new mental health clinicians as well as three or four health educators, I believe. And we need to diversify CMHS. It’s vital to the experience of reflecting our diverse student population. I know when I underwent my own therapy, I went to a person that wasn’t reflective of my community and my background, so I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t feel like I was feeling understood. And then I switched to someone. I found a Latina therapist, and just understanding those cultural values as cultural backgrounds as cultural differences, especially being first gen, especially being a Latina within a predominantly White institution. Having these kinds of values understood and reflective in the person that you are seeking advice from is not only vital to fighting your own trauma, to finding your own personal mental health crisis. But it’s essential. Knowing the accounts of other people that have had experiences where they can’t identify with therapists, it’s been detrimental to their mental health.
Additionally, we want to push for an academic reform where a mental health crisis is an acceptable Dean’s excuse.
Lastly, making CMHS more accessible and having same-day appointments. I think this has been something that has been a cry for help for far too long, where CMHS is so backed up where students have to wait a week or two weeks. It’s far too long. Hopefully with the inclusion of more mental health therapists, this will be a solution but if not, we will fight for that.
Even as the university reopens, there are fears of budget cuts in UConn’s future. How will you ensure that student wants are communicated holistically and firmly to the university?
I think this goes back to the answer of being accessible — as we go back to the campus as we are “going full capacity,” our RSOs (Registered Student Organizations) are going to ramp up their activities. And obviously, this is gonna ramp up funding requests. We just have to make ourselves more accessible to not only hearing what students want from us, from their experience, I think we can all say we feel robbed of our experiences and paying for such a large tuition without getting so much out of it.
It is incredibly frustrating as we’re entering a stage where student loan forgiveness is still not enacted. But we just need to make ourselves heard and continue contestation at the state level, at the university level and continuing those conversations with the university as well as making sure that we’re spending money on essential programs that are truly giving back to the community. And we’ll get that will help bring a positive change to campus.
Many students are upset about UConn’s contributions to the climate crisis through fossil fuel developments and other unsustainable practices. How will you hold the university administration accountable to pursuing renewable energy and to protecting the environment?
I would say this is the vital part where we need more collaboration, using our sphere of influence using our resources, as an undergraduate student government, where, you know, we have these close ties to administration, we need to reconnect to the students and actually enforce collaboration with them.
There are already so many organizations on campus performing virtually right now that are spearheading the climate justice, environmental justice, organization, programs, initiatives where, you know, they are spearheading this conversation, and we should give them a platform. They deserve it; they have put in all this work these past few years, and just making sure that we have a climate justice team that is reflective of the people that are most vulnerable, most disproportionately affected by climate change. Even though UConn loves to pride itself as one of the top 10 universities, as a green campus, that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to push it even more to disband fossil fuel contracts.
The amazing, lovely Sarah Hill proposed legislation to not renew contracts with Coke and Pepsi. These are the kinds of collaborations that we need from senators, from students that will help not only guide us, but also just making sure that we are continuously involving the entire student population in this fight. Because it’s not just one of us. It’s not just two of us that will be impacted by climate change. It’s all of us.
We’re about out of time, so are there any last comments you want to make to our readers to pitch your candidacy?
I would say one. A story that I love telling, about where Noel and I came from, is when we first came in as senators; it was on a whim, it was out of fun. Actually, I tried applying to the student development director position at the end of my freshmen year. I had no idea what USG was, I remember just receiving an email. And I was like, it said, anyone and everyone and I was like, “Okay, well, we’ll just shoot for the stars, who knows?” I did not feel prepared to not understand anything, had no idea what kind of budget we were dealing with.
Then sophomore year, I told him we should run as Werth Tour senators, and he was like, “All right, let’s do it.” We’ve always related with our backgrounds, even though we have had very different experiences. I acknowledge the White privilege I’ve had. I’ve also faced a lot of adversity in my life. I’ve gone through about 10 homes with my family. I’ve lived from Norwalk to Bridgeport to Fairfield, Stratford all up and down across Fairfield County and seeing the disparities, seeing the inequities across city lines is very, very shocking. And it provided for a very unique upbringing. So that’s something that we kind of related to.
Being elected and being Werth Tour senators our sophomore year, seeing Priyanka, a woman of color, as President and Manny, a Black gay man, as Vice President was not only empowering but was seriously inspiring. I could never have imagined just seeing the kind of representation as a president and vice president; it not only inspired me to keep going despite my sophomore year where I knew nothing about internal policies. I still didn’t understand all the inner workings, motion to amend, all those that have been done away to make it more accessible.
Despite it all, I kept dreaming big, and I’m just seeing the change that they did, how they really did work to try to make an inclusive environment within us despite all the toxic culture. I would say that’s what we’re really trying to do with this campaign as well. If I can inspire one Latina, if I can inspire one person with this campaign, then I will have done my job, no matter the outcome.