Mason Holland, the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government president-elect, never had a dream school.
Instead, the Lyndhurst, New Jersey native looked for a college that could offer two things: No. 1, the ability to save money for graduate school, and No. 2, the ability to experience something other than the Jersey cities and suburbs he’d known for most of his life. Holland got both when he chose UConn.
Holland left the Garden State for rural Storrs, a town with even more gardens.
“It is kind of about getting out of where you’re from because I think sometimes to grow you’ve gotta be in a new place, you’ve gotta see different scenery, you’ve gotta see new people,” Holland said.
UConn promised a community, and he found one in ScHOLA²RS House, a Learning Community designed to support the scholastic efforts of male students who identify as African American/Black through academic, social and emotional support.
Holland has lived in this learning community for both of his years at UConn now, and he says they have been particularly helpful in putting him in a position to succeed. Whether it was helping Holland meet with alumni, or go to the congressional black caucus, the ScHOLA²RS House helped set him up for success.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Holland said. “It’s made me feel safe, but it’s also been a place where I can grow.”
And if anything can attest to Holland’s growth, it has been this past Friday in the USG presidential election, as he and his running mate Ethan Werstler brought home over half the student body vote.
It’s been anything but quiet in the election’s wake. Since Friday, Holland has been vocal about a number of issues concerning student involvement, diversity and representation that he feels need to be addressed.
The first thing that Holland said he’d like to focus on during his presidency is the equal representation of all identities both inside and outside of USG.
“The main reason I joined USG was to address equity issues at the university,” Holland said.
Representation is necessary, Holland continued, because there are still groups on campus who do not have people to advocate for them within student government. The solution, Holland said, is in cultivating an environment of accessibility and outreach to students.
“We need to have accessibility to the point where everybody of every identity exists within USG to then advocate for people who have those same identities that exist outside the institution,” Holland said.
Another issue Holland addressed was the lack of connection between USG and student groups. Having representation isn’t enough, he said, if USG is not going out and talking to these groups that USG is claiming to represent.
Holland paused, pondering the topic, before he finally said, “I’m Black and Puerto Rican. I’m also Muslim. If I’m not reaching out to the groups that I come from, my representation means absolutely nothing.”
Holland also seeks to increase transparency in USG moving forward, in the hope that students can get a better idea about what is going on within the organization. Transparency within the organization has been noticeably lacking.
The organization, Holland said, should not exist to be unclear in its practices. Transparency should extend to any legislation that’s passed, anything within the organization that students need to know about, and things that happen at the university.
“We have students that sit at university senate, that sit on the board of trustees, that sit on places where real decisions are being made that will affect students,” Holland said. “The onus should be on us to let students know what’s being talked about, right? What’s going to affect their lives and how it’s going to affect their lives.”
Holland then provided three words which he wants to embody the relationship between USG and the student body: “Advocate, friend and ally.”
It’s a “holy trinity” of sorts, representing the roles Holland wants USG to play over the course of his presidency. Holland’s hope is that by working alongside other student groups with a diverse range of campus identities, they will have the strength to rival inequity and injustice on UConn’s campus.
And as for Holland’s future as a politician, we may just have to wait and see. He’s not quite sure yet what field he wants to go into, and that will be up to him to decide in his remaining years at the university.
No matter what, Holland said he wants to be involved in changing policy.
“Maybe it is actually in the political field, working in the legislative space, or maybe it’s at a nonprofit. Or maybe it’s as a lawyer working at a firm,” Holland said. “I definitely know that this is a space that creates change and creates institutional change that exists far longer than any of us will be here for, or exists longer than any culture, creatively.”
Perhaps this will usher in a new era for UConn’s student government. “The university should be a place, and it can be a place, Holland said, where everyone is represented.” That’s the idea that Holland will strive for in the coming months.
“I want people, if anything, when they think of me, to think of things that existed when I’m long gone,” Holland said. “When I’m in grad school, when I’m out of grad school, when I’m 30 years old, I want things that I created that we all created, here, to still exist.”