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UGBC Candidates Tackle Issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in First Debate

It’s election season on The Heights and throughout the next week, the presidential and vice presidential candidates will be vying for the votes of the student body. Running this year are Jordan Nakash and Yosan Tewelde, hoping to use their various roles on campus and experiences as AHANA+ students to “Unite the Heights,” and Jonah Kotzen and Meghan Heckelman, using their current UGBC leadership positions to promote their platform of “Eagles for Others.” 

In her introduction, Nakash, a junior from Kingston, Jamaica and self-described “over-committer,” discussed how being “involved in several clubs and organizations'' on campus, from Student Admissions Program to PATU, has given her the opportunity to meet with a variety of students and hear different perspectives on campus during her time at BC, and has inspired her to run for President. Tewelde, a junior involved in AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC), UGBC Senate, and the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association, stood with Nakash as her vice presidential candidate. 

On the other side of the room was Kotzen, a junior in MCAS, who mentioned his involvement in Residence Hall Association (RHA), Hillel, Global Medical Brigades, and UGBC, where he sits as the policymaker for the Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) as well as the Intersectionality Committee Chairperson. Kotzen also noted his position as a DEI representative with the Boston Collegiate Government. Running as his vice presidential candidate was Heckelman, a sophomore in the Lynch School, who discussed meeting Kotzen through UGBC, where she sits as the Director of Student Initiatives.

During the beginning of the debate, in regards to places in which the BC administration often falls short in addressing DEI, presidential candidate Kotzen honed in on his personal relation to DEI, referencing his brother who has Fragile X Syndrome, a developmental and intellectual disability. Kotzen talked about the obstacles that inaccessibility, stigma, and discrimination have created for his family, and how this has helped “fuel [his] advocacy” within our own university. The candidate emphasized his hope to “put DEI at the front stage of our administration.”

For Nakash, she highlighted how DEI to her is about “tackling every identity of the person,” citing a common Jesuit slogan, Cura Personalis, or “care for the whole person,” to show how this has driven her push for establishing a campus that best accepts and appreciates students.

Tewelde also added that “a lack of accountability” regarding “bias-related incidents and hate crimes [that] students of color have experienced on campus” definitely heightens the administration's shortcomings when it comes to DEI.

Nakash introduced a proposal to expand the Fr. Rutilio Grande Intercultural Experience (GIE) Living Learning Community (LLC) as a way to allow “AHANA+ students to find spaces where they can truly express themselves and not feel like they are being judged,” especially given the fact that we are at a predominantly white institution.

Kotzen addressed the issue that many AHANA+ students face when it comes to “feeling safe and feeling heard.” In regard to bias-related incidents on campus, Kotzen indicated his hope to “redefine the relationship between the administration and the student body” to ensure “more transparency in how exactly specific incidents are followed up upon.”

Heckelman advanced this statement by emphasizing BC’s need for increased collaboration amongst the various units on campus focused on marginalized students, such as culture clubs, ALC, BAIC, and AHANA+ caucus, and to “encourage students who are not from the AHANA+ community to participate and engage” in these events as well.

On the other side, Nakash brought up her work as a Social Fellow with the Office of University Communications to put forward her desire for “more spotlights of AHANA+ students” on Boston College social media pages. Nakash mentioned that if the presence of AHANA+ students and events on campus is normalized, it will allow prospective BC families the chance to see current BC students “who look like them, who share similar experiences.” 

Amongst both teams’ responses was a spotlight on BC’s lack of a queer resource center, which has been a topic of controversy for many years. Both Heckelman and Nakash mentioned the need for a space where queer students can feel comfortable and express their identity, similar to how other marginalized communities, such as AHANA+ students, have resource centers on campus.

On this topic, Heckelman combated the common retort from University leaders, who declare that our “Jesuit values are what’s in the way” of LGBTQ+ recognition, citing how “we are very far behind” on equality compared to other Jesuit institutions. Both sides mentioned a need for normalizing gender-neutral bathrooms across campus. Further, Nakash voiced the need for people who are “gender non-conforming, nonbinary, transgender, to be able to have their preferred name on their Eagle ID and on their Agora portal.”

In regard to spreading DEI across campus, both teams acknowledged the need for more presence at events surrounding these issues. Heckelman highlighted events that UGBC has been able to put on this past year, such as inviting Terrence Floyd to campus to speak on racial injustice. In tandem, Kotzen bolstered that “what we can do as allies is be there,” stating the necessity of presence at these events, regardless of your background or connection to the topic at hand. Tewelde noted that collaboration across different organizations on campus would spread awareness regarding DEI and intersectionality.

Both teams also touched on the lack of accessibility on campus, mentioning the recently rejected Upper Campus pavilion proposal that was intended to aid those who are physically unable to use the steps to access Upper. Nakash discussed the isolation of students with disabilities on campus and proposed the idea of an accessible bus stop located on Upper Campus. Kotzen, on the other side, addressed the lack of disability training among faculty and staff.

Rounding out the debate, Nakash said that she feels limits to DEI are “holding us back” from reaching true equity campus wide. She further highlighted her desire to ensure equality across all identities and communities, from diversity in religion through more multi-faith prayer rooms to the need to tackle the obstacles First-Generation and Montserrat students face on campus. “We want to ‘Unite the Heights’ to take away the limits as best as possible,” Nakash said, “to make everybody feel at home on the Heights."

To close, Kotzen addressed his campaign slogan, “Eagles for Others,” to bring forward his push for addressing intersectionality and maximizing resources for DEI communities on campus. He cited his hope to work with various councils on campus to ensure the needs of DEI communities are addressed.

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