The Undergraduate Student Government spring 2021 election will take place from noon on Tuesday March 2 to noon Thursday March 4, giving University of Connecticut students the opportunity to elect their president and vice president, chief diversity officer, comptroller and senators.
In the running for the presidential and vice presidential seats respectively are juniors Christine Jorquera and Noel Mitchell, sophomore Mason Holland and junior Ethan Werstler and sophomores Niko Xenophontos and Abby Moran. Sophomore Chris Bergen is running uncontested for comptroller.
Running uncontested for chief diversity officer is junior Brittany Diaz, who plans to lead the student body through necessary, impactful change in order to create a safe and inclusive campus community, according to the Instagram account @bdiazforcdo.
Holland and Werstler said they believe that their reputations of creating change on campus will allow them to serve the student body well. Holland said actions speak louder than words, and the actions that he and Werstler have already taken against food insecurity, public safety and mental health demonstrate what they’re capable of — like Werstler’s work on the Husky Market initiative.
“One thing that I hope people will understand is that this is not something that we do just because we’re at UConn, this is literally our lives’ work,” Holland said. “Food insecurity work, understanding disparities in education and equity between Black and Latino individuals and other groups of people, this is what we do on a daily basis, on a weekly basis.”
Although Xenophontos and Moran are new to the USG scene, they said they believe that a new, outside perspective is necessary to push past the boundaries that come with having a stake in the organization as a whole.
“I think anyone could see the disconnect on the side of, students don’t know enough or care enough about what’s going on in USG, so we’re definitely trying to stir that up,” Moran said. “We want to get our hands dirty, we want to fix that culture in USG and make the students care and make USG care about the students that they’re representing.”
Since they’re not current members of USG, Xenophontos said they don’t owe anything to the organization — just to the student body — and they are ready and willing to actively listen and learn from students.
The culture problem that the candidates addressed is no shock to Jorquera and Mitchell who both said they have been personally impacted by this. Mitchell admitted to needing to take a step back from his involvement with USG at one point, citing a “toxic culture” that left him feeling marginalized.
Through a message of elevating the hearts and minds of students, Jorquera hopes that she can empower students to work toward a more diverse and inclusive campus.
“Seeing all the frustrations, seeing all the tiredness, the feelings of hurt that have come out of USG and UConn as a whole that students are facing right now, not only impacts me on an individual level with the work that I do as Student Development Director but just as a student.” she said. “I think that USG can do a lot better in all that it does.”
One of these larger frustrations that the UConn community has addressed in the last year is the role that the UConn Police Department should play on campus. Mitchell said in a debate last Tuesday that he doesn’t support an “outright defunding,” but in a separate interview stated that the ultimate goal is to completely dismantle UCPD.
“I think we need to delegate and reconfigure our resources toward institutions that are supporting students, not necessarily those that are helping the police,” he said.
Holland said that he and Werstler support the defunding of UCPD’s budget in whatever possible capacity.
“We’ve had multiple reports of students saying they don’t feel comfortable when the police are in their space,” he said. “When people have mental health episodes, they don’t feel comfortable with police being the first interaction. So we stand on that position because we feel strongly that if you say that you care about students and you care about police, defunding is the way to go.”
Xenophontos said UConn needs to be more transparent about problems such as these and the hate-fueled transgressions that have occurred on campus in recent months.
“There’s been an issue in terms of the response from the admins, so like faculty and the head offices, in regards to addressing these issues,” he said. “Responses are important but that doesn’t matter as much as finding out why students are doing this and educating people.”
Voting can be accessed at vote.uconn.edu.