In a culmination of the past week’s events organized by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College Elections Committee, this year’s two UGBC presidential candidate teams faced off on Sunday night in a final debate on their respective platform points and specific ideas for the future of the organization.
The debate, which was moderated by the Elections Committee, engaged the voices of Taraun Frontis, CSOM ‘19, and Aneeb Sheikh, MCAS ‘20, as well as Reed Piercey, MCAS ‘19, and Ignacio Fletcher, MCAS ‘20. Questions were directed to one team at a time, followed by a response from the opposing team, and then a remaining 30 seconds allowed for rebuttal.
Kicking off with a conversation on student advocacy and alcohol enforcement reform, both teams stated their commitments to holding the BC administration accountable and working to expand the availability of existing UGBC resources, with Piercey arguing that Learning Intervention Techniques programming should be made available to all students.
Frontis echoed this, adding that he would work to increase funding for food vouchers that help low income students who are unable to have registered parties because they lack the right amount of food proportional to alcohol. Sheikh pushed to bring back Conduct for Dummies, a past UGBC initiative clearly outlining BC’s conduct policy and what sanctions will be given for different behaviors.
The moderator went on to ask the teams about student activism on campus, particularly how it should be acknowledged and addressed by UGBC. Frontis emphasized one of the team’s platform points, which proposes that BC should have a “red square” modeled after the one at Georgetown University as a physical space on campus “where students have the freedom of speech, [for] whatever issues they want to talk about, that’s actually accessible to all students,” pushing the idea of UGBC as a student advocacy board.
Sheikh echoed this sentiment, noting that the pair sees themselves as activists and “as a part of the mechanism of student activism at BC.”
“We definitely want to encourage [student activism], through the red square policy and through UGBC continuing to be on the forefront of student activism in collaboration and coordination with other clubs at BC, such as exactly what UGBC did with the march," continued Sheikh.
Piercey added that an important part of the work UGBC does is not only in challenging the administration, but also in challenging the student body in promoting top-down as well as bottom-up change on campus. He also responded by pointing out that he and Fletcher chose to remove the red square idea from their own platform, citing concerns with student accountability and the possibility of ushering in hate speech.
“We don’t want fear to be present on campus,” said Fletcher. “We want to empower students to talk and express their ideas.”
The candidates were then asked to outline specific measures they would take to ensure that all students felt welcomed on campus, without alienating a particular side of the political spectrum. While Piercey and Fletcher emphasized the importance of utilizing social media to increase accessibility and visibility of existing senators, Frontis and Sheikh proposed the implementation of a senate ambassadors program to incorporate voices from outside organizations that do not currently feel represented by UGBC, including Montserrat students and members of the College Democrats and College Republicans.
The teams went on to discuss sustainability, with both sides denouncing BC’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels, as well as advocating for existing programs and efforts on the part of ResLife, BC Dining, and Climate Justice at Boston College, to name a few.
“UGBC does not have a monopoly on expertise or passion or advocacy,” said Piercey. “It’s how we leverage that from the student body that really matters.”
When asked what diversity program they would propose to better integrate the student body, both sides acknowledged that there are already resources in place that must be built upon. Frontis emphasized the importance of working with organizations like the Bowman Advocates, FACES, and the Women’s Center. Piercey followed by discussing his team’s intention to expand the existing Multicultural Learning Experience Living and Learning Community as well as implementing a discussion series called Difficult Dialogues.
The conversation turned to the issue of immigration on BC’s campus, as the teams were asked how they would work to foster inclusion and diversity within the context of the U.S. presidential administration’s hardline policies regarding immigrants on college campuses.
Piercey began by stating that UGBC should continue to advocate for BC to remain a sanctuary campus, citing such a goal as an important piece of BC’s Jesuit mission and a way to ensure that all students feel welcome on campus. Fletcher emphasized the crucial role UGBC must play in supporting affected students, stating that “UGBC should also be that support, that safe haven for them—in any case that any attack goes to them, we will be there, have their back, and we will be there to support them.”
Sheikh objected to Piercey’s position, pointing out that BC’s status as a sanctuary campus threatens the University’s federal funding, which assists low-income students who attend the university. Sheikh instead proposed that “BC should work towards all the initiatives [and] all the actions that it takes to be a sanctuary campus without actually being a sanctuary campus.”
The two teams were then asked what specific policies they would implement to ensure that first-generation and low-income students remain on a level playing field, given a recent New York Times study that shows that 16% of BC students come from households with an income of about $600k or more.
Frontis spoke from his personal experience as a low-income and first-generation student, stressing a need for increased resources within departments like Learning to Learn and the Montserrat Coalition. Frontis and Sheikh pointed to their policy goals of creating a Montserrat department within each school at BC and obtaining T passes for CSON and LSOE students.
Piercey addressed concerns made by Montserrat students who felt that UGBC lacked necessary outreach efforts. He expressed his intention to create seats within UGBC for representatives of the Montserrat E-Board and First Generation Club, which would give a platform to these students.
In the last question of the night, the candidates were asked what challenges they expect to face transitioning into office, and how they would work to overcome them. Piercey, admitting that it would be difficult to know where to start, discussed how he and Fletcher would plan to work with the current UGBC President and VP to ensure continuity between the two administrations.
Sheikh acknowledged that it would be challenging to prioritize the initiatives in his team’s 13-page platform. He and Frontis plan to work with UGBC’s Student Assembly to prioritize the issues students care about most.
As the debate came to a close, both teams were given the opportunity to make closing remarks. Frontis and Sheikh used their time to emphasize why their experience qualifies them for the positions.
“The reason why we should be your next president and [executive] vice president of UGBC is because we have the experience and the relationships to enact tangible change," said Sheikh. He and Frontis specifically cited their connections with Student Affairs VP Barb Jones and Provost David Quigley, and pointed out that their extensive platform served as an effort to account for and represent all students on campus.
Piercey and Fletcher returned to the core of their mission and presented their team's overarching vision. Fletcher pointed to a brighter future for UGBC, emphasizing that the organization's main goal is to represent everyone.
“We’re running to be that bridge, we’re running to widen that circle, we’re running to take on events that concern and benefit everyone so that we can draw more people into our mission of advocacy," said Piercey.
Voting will take place on Feb. 15 from 12 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students both on-campus and abroad can vote on MyBC or through their BC emails.
Editors Meg Loughman and Jill Cusick contributed to this report.