USG holds debates for upcoming spring election

President Maric moves to the podium to answer students’ questions during a USG meeting on March 22, 2022. Questions ranged from Historical preservation, The Ukraine Invasion, and Iran/Palestine conflicts and what would be done to support students. Photo by Jayden Colon/Daily Campus.

The UConn Undergraduate Student Government hosted debates for the upcoming spring election Wednesday night. The open positions debated include president/vice president, chief diversity officer, comptroller and an undergraduate position on the board of trustees. 

In the presidential/vice presidential debate, Ramon Peters (for president) and Christopher Lema (for vice president) debated against Jon Heiden (for president) and Peter Spinelli (for vice president). 

Peters and Lema are not currently directly involved with USG. Peters currently serves as president of the UConn Business Connections Learning Community. 

Both Heiden and Spinelli are currently involved in USG, with Heiden serving as external affairs director and Spinelli serving as vice president. 

In their opening statements and in many questions, Peters and Lema critiqued USG on their communications efforts.  

“It is unfortunate that USG did not promote this debate until the day of, as many students were unaware of this. It is a shame that USG posted the student body role only two days before the intent to run form was due. I have heard several times that the information is available, but how hard do we have to search?” Lema said. 

Peters further emphasized this issue of students not being kept in the loop and went further in saying that USG members are not always accessible. 

“The role of USG is to advocate for students… We are supposed to ask the tough questions that we need answers to. We are not supposed to be out here hiding in our offices, not being able to be reached. We have to be here for you. Our role is to serve you… and that is always going to be our role,” Peters said. 

Heiden and Spinelli both refuted this criticism stating that USG is full of hard-working, proactive students. 

“I think I will not go out on a limb to say that USG isn’t hiding in their office… I look across the room at senators who sit through four hours of senate, who go through each and every person’s thing that they are working on… people who spend too much time working for students. I have never entered a space at USG who has ever been unaccepting of any opinion,” Heiden said. “I do agree that we need to market to more students, but I think that it is not a problem of inaction. It is a problem of not letting students know.” 

Heiden went on to say that USG communications is not at fault; rather, students need to come together to communicate better. 

Heiden and Spinelli stated that they believe that the main role of USG is to fill in where the administration falls short. They highlighted many of the current USG initiatives aimed at providing students with essential services, which they are a part of. 

“For Jon and I, the main role of USG and the role it has been in our time in the organization already has been to fill in those gaps where the administration falls short… and that is in action providing those services and resources that students absolutely need day to day to really help them get through being a student here on campus. Things like providing free Plan B for our students, to expanding and making our Tier 2 funding system more accessible… things like Husky Market and transitioning now to Husky Harvest, an on campus food pantry for students in need… to expanding our Period Box and Tampon Time services,” Spinelli said. 

Board Members helped President Maric address questions as at the time she was Inter President. USG’s special guest’s session does not have minutes listed online for this session to declare which questions they addressed. Photo by Jayden Colon/Daily Campus

Some initiatives Heiden and Spinelli plan on continuing if elected are expanding services for food insecurity on campus, connecting students with alumni and putting out a policy agenda in conjunction with state legislators. They also want to push the administration for more long-term funding for short-term initiatives and possibly secure external funding from alumni. 

Peters and Lema agreed with some initiatives such as connecting students with alumni but emphasized other initiatives such as more direct communication and “elevating” UConn’s satellite campuses.  

“My vision for USG is one where students are empowered and they are in the know of what is going on and what is not going on. There shouldn’t be things that are hidden from us, we shouldn’t have to search for information, we shouldn’t have to look for information….. Furthermore, my vision is one of the students. I want to talk to each and every one of you and want to know what you want… it doesn’t matter what I want, because I am here to serve you,” Peters said. 

Peters and Lema also came out in support of the #SaveUConn protests. 

“Furthermore, I love the Save UConn protests. I have some criticisms, but I love that that happened and I want to do more things like that. We should have more protests when we have problems,” Ramon said. 

For the role of chief diversity officer, Interim Chief Diversity Officer Tae’Niajha Pullen and Angelo Montes debated.  

Montes stated his goal if elected is to communicate more with the student body. 

“I plan on communicating [more] to the student body. I think it is extremely important that we advocate and understand what each role is. A problem that we face a lot is that students don’t know what the role is. They think it is for diverse students in UConn itself, rather than to be working within USG… I want to push for more communication for the student body,” Montes said. 

Montes also stated his intent of making USG and UConn more inclusive for neurodivergent students. 

Pullen, who currently serves as interim chief diversity officer, believes in pursuing a deeper relationship with the cultural centers. 

“Definitely most urgently is repairing and cultivating a deeper relationship with the cultural centers here on campus. The cultural centers affect groups of students, marginalized students, first-handedly… this is where students go, this is their safe space,” Pullen said. 

Pullen also focused on her current initiatives such as a Women’s History Month banquet and her push for more gender-neutral housing.  

In the debate for comptroller, current USG Comptroller Ben Keilty debated Charisma Farrington. 

Keilty described the comptroller role as more of a support role. 

“The comptroller role is not primarily an advocacy-focused role. It is more like a support role… so there is a lot of financial policy, a lot of financial procedure, a whole lot of deadlines and a whole lot of reading the law. Making sure that we can get those checks out on time… make sure everyone gets the funding they need,” Keilty said. 

Keilty emphasized his current initiatives as comptroller. He described his efforts of streamlining Tier 2 club funding and his work towards a more transparent UConn and USG budget. He also acknowledged that while USG is not perfect, he wants to continue to work on initiatives that matter to the student body if re-elected. 

“I just want to address that USG and I are not perfect. We are never going to be. There is always still work to do. That is why this coming year I want to work with UConn purchasing to further decrease deadlines so we can get more stuff out to clubs faster… to create a funding advisory board made up of student organization treasurers so that they can then recommend changes to policy and procedures and to create more transparency in the USG budget,” Keilty said. 

Farrington made it clear that her role as comptroller would be more of an advisory role if elected, especially for marginalized groups and clubs on campus. 

“My goal if elected as comptroller is to be a voice for students in regards to money that USG has. I understand that Ben says that it is not really an advocacy thing, but I strongly disagree with that because if elected I will be the voice of what our funding goes to,” Farrington said. 

Farrington emphasized the need for change, especially in today’s times.  

“Our comptroller this year does a phenomenal job, but there is always room for change… especially when the times we are in now are calling for change,” Farrington stated. 

In light of “inflation,” neither candidate outright opposed a request for a fee increase for USG but both stated that they would only consider it if the student body supported it. 

In the debate for undergraduate student trustee, four undergraduate students debated.  

Eric Meade opened the debate by stating that he will fight hard against tuition hikes. 

“As your undergrad trustee, I will fight as hard as I can against unfair and unneeded tuition hikes… there is no reason UConn should be threatening to charge an extra $3,000 per year without first looking more into what they can do to stop students from paying more,” Meade said. 

USG debates presented by UCTV. Livestream by UCTV

Leo Gold acknowledged in his opening statement that he believes there needs to be more of a fight on the administration side and that he will put more pressure on funding that matters for students. 

“As student trustee, my goal is to focus on real issues that students have identified to be the most pressing for them. Such as student safety everywhere, spending smarter and streamlining club funding. Then work to develop a pathway for progress into the future…” Gold said.  

Anya Mehta emphasized in her opening statement a push for more undergraduate representation on the board of trustees. 

“First I have a question for you all. Can you raise your hand if you can name three members of the board of trustees?… Can anyone tell me what the board of trustees does?… They have total control to make decisions with our money, without our input. Having one graduate and one undergraduate on a board of 21 members is unacceptable,” Mehta said. 

John Durham focused his opening statement on bringing more transparency to the board and on uniting the student body.  

“My promise to you as your trustee is that I will represent all of the voices from all corners of UConn… Whether you are at Storrs or one of the regional campuses, whether you play soccer or lacrosse, whether you sing or work in a lab. And now it is more important than ever for us to work together as one community to leave UConn better than we found it. As your trustee I will be there for you, I will fight for you, and I will make UConn to be the best that it can be,” Durham said. 

USG spring elections are slated to take place digitally from noon on Feb. 28, 2023 to noon on March 2, 2023.  

While USG has yet to release a full candidate information list, most candidate positions can be found on Instagram. The full USG spring election debates can also be watched on the UCTV Youtube account


Leave a Reply