Interviews with candidates for student body president and vice president

Pictured are Mason Holland and Peter Spinelli. Their goal when running for Student Body President and Vice President is to make funding more accessible and establish programs that reinvest student fees back to the students that are paying. Photo Credit to Mason Holland and Peter Spinelli

The University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government elections take place this week, with voting opening at noon on Tuesday, Mar. 1, and closing at noon on Thursday, March 3. This year there are four tickets running for student body president and vice president, including Mason Holland and Peter Spinelli, Ryan Westervelt and Charlotte Chen, Dibran Trepca and Christopher Bergen and Diederik Schiet and Matthew Bernstein. 

The Daily Campus collected responses to six questions from each of the tickets via email. The following abbreviations represent their respective tickets. 

H&S: Mason Holland and Peter Spinelli 

W&C: Ryan Westervelt and Charlotte Chen 

T&B: Dibran Trepca and Christopher Bergen 

S&B: Diederik Schiet and Matthew Bernstein 

Q: USG is known to have low election turnout and a lack of public presence on campus. How will you increase democracy within USG and work alongside student organizations to ensure USG’s goals are aligned with those of the student body? 

H&S: We plan to continue the work of our current administration in making funding policies more accessible to student groups while also establishing tangible programs that allow us to reinvest student activity fees back into the students that pay them. 

W&C: Increasing democracy begins with giving all students the opportunity to voice their opinions, and helping them to feel safe and comfortable doing so. Readily accessible and reliable communication from USG to the student body is something that is currently lacking, along with communication from the student population to USG members; more lanes of direct communication are necessary, and creating platforms for students to voice their opinions and suggestions is instrumental to adequately representing student wants and needs. 

T&B: Students are disinterested in elections when the same wannabe student politicians filter through year over year. You’ll definitely see more participation this spring with us on the ballot—we have actual connections on campus and treat people like people, not networking opportunities. 

S&B: The problem with USG is that nobody knows about it because it’s rarely advertised. We want to make USG publicly known and let the students know how it can benefit them. We want to accomplish it through handing out flyers, putting up signs and scheduling meetings to let students know what USG can do and how they can let their voice be heard if needed. That way the people will recognize that USG exists and that will surely result in a larger election turnout. 

Pictured are Ryan Westervelt and Charlotte Chen. Their goal when running for Student Body President and Vice President is to increase democracy by giving the student body more opportunities to raise their opinions through direct and reliable lines of communication. Photo Credit to Ryan Westervelt and Charlotte Chen

Q: In light of recent protests against mishandling of sexual assault cases and in support of survivors on campus, what can be done to hold the administration accountable for the safety of their students? 

H&S: Through our current administration’s Student Working Group for Combatting Sexual Violence, we will continue to meet with student groups and organizations that work on addressing issues of sexual assault so as to better inform the President’s Task Force on revisions to Title IX Policy. Our relations with UCPD will prove beneficial in implementing a Survivor Advocate position within the Public Safety Framework. 

W&C: The administration’s mishandling of the sexual assault cases on campus is something that deeply disappoints us. I believe that the task force that has been put together is a great way to combat mishandling of future cases, but it needs to be held accountable and maintained.  Additionally, if we are elected into office, we will work with administration to better inform survivors of what options are available to them for mental health through the university, something that multiple people who have gone through the system have complained about.  

T&B: Unfortunately Sexual Assault has occurred on campus far too often, and has affected far too many of our friends and loved ones. Every few months USG calls on the administration to make changes, but our leaders have not identified what changes need to be implemented. Performative activists in the organization feel accomplished by saying the university must do more, but stop there. Our ticket has experience following through until problems are solved, and understanding advocacy doesn’t stop with posting a few Instagram stories. 

S&B: We want to let the administration know that the current situation is absolutely unacceptable. We propose solutions where the administration acknowledges the sexual violence cases that are occurring on campus and works together with the police to resolve the issues. Another solution we propose is targeting the frat houses that have too many sexual assault charges against them and put its members on academic probation. These are just a bunch of the many propositions to end sexual violence on this campus. 

Pictured are Dibran Trepca and Christopher Bergen. Their goal when running for Student Body President and Vice President is to participate more and treat the students as people, not just “networking opportunities.”

Q: USG has, in the past, been criticized for its performative activism. How will you ensure that the work done by USG is not performative and instead institutes real, positive advocacy for students? 

H&S: We understand that real change takes time and that’s why although we may start with a statement of position, it is just that…a start…a first step in the right direction towards more tangible change. We have seen great improvement this past year in terms of establishing and expanding programs like Husky Market that can more tangibly advocate for students at this university. 

W&C: USG’s performative activism often comes from positive statements being made without any actual action being taken. The best way to counteract this would be to increase funding to the cultural centers around campus and host events with or through them that allow students to interact with one another and spark actual change. While it seems like a simple change, hosting events instead of just releasing statements promotes interaction with the student body and in turn real change. 

T&B: This ticket did not respond to this question by time of publication. 

S&B: We want to look for solutions that are real and require effort to perform. We’re also looking for solutions that will work and have perhaps worked in the past on other college campuses. We advocate open communication with any student who reaches out to us and we will listen to them and answer them. We won’t ignore anybody or give false promises that might not be feasible.  

Q: There are many impactful positions for student leaders on campus both within USG and outside of it. Why have you chosen to run for president/vice president over other positions? 

H&S: Our work within USG is not finished and we understand that real, tangible change takes time. We are hoping to build upon our momentum from this past year in the year to come as your next president and vice president. 

W&C: The reason we decided to run for president and vice president over other positions is simple: we’re not experts in any field, but we’re passionate about all of them. Unlike other positions, the president/vice president roles allow for deep involvement with all aspects of USG while allowing for those who are directly affected to decide what works for them. There are students more qualified than us for many of the advocacy committees and individual USG tasks, but by running for president and vice president, we put ourselves in a position to get involved with everything and make sure everything that needs to get done gets done.  

Pictured are Diederik Schiet and Matthew Bernstein. Their goal when running for Student Body President and Vice President is to make UConn Student Government widely known and letting students know how much it could benefit them. Photo Credit to Diederik Schiet and Matthew Bernstein.

T&B: We decided to run after seeing the utter disconnect between USG wannabe politicians and normal students on campus. We need leadership that knows how to work with friends and peers, not speak down to them. 

S&B: We have chosen to run for president and vice president, because we believe that in this position we can be the most impactful and we especially believe that the current president is not able to accomplish the wishes of the students that we can fulfill. We want UConn to work for every student and let every student know that they are being heard. With the current positions we’re running for, we believe we can accomplish that. 

Q: In the past year, UConn has unfortunately continued to struggle with hate speech, bias incidents and unsafe environments for women, students of color, and other marginalized groups. How can USG fight hate and ensure all parts of our community are safe and respected? 

H&S: As an organization, USG strives to mirror the student body the best we can. Within the current administration, we have accomplished this by intentionally hiring individuals that can better speak to the experiences and amplify the voices of a diverse student body. Even more tangibly, an Anti-Black Racism course will soon become required of all first-year Huskies. 

W&C: USG needs to start with actively listening to the voices and engaging in meaningful conversation with all of our community members to institute policies and change that most directly represent the wants and needs of the student body, not just those that are a part of USG. Fighting hate and creating an environment of safety and respect begins with education and open conversation between students; creating opportunities for this discourse to occur and providing easily accessible educational resources and materials can help to improve this environment, though more is also necessary. There must be systems in place to document and take action on hate speech and bias incidents when they happen so that it is made clear that this behavior is not tolerated and all those that engage in hateful or discriminatory actions will be held accountable. 

T&B: This ticket did not respond to this question by time of publication.  

S&B:  Incidents of hate are a very hard thing to resolve and will unfortunately always be present, but we believe that with clear action we can minimize them from occurring. We want to collect data on where and when these incidents occur and see what we can offer in terms of tangible solutions, like installing cameras. We will look at the frequency of certain locations and times and pay extra close attention to the occurrence of actions of hate, in order to mitigate it. 

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