he Boston College retreat 48Hours is described by BC’s website as a weekend experience for first-year students to hear stories from upperclassmen about how they acclimated to the school. John Gehman, MCAS ’21, and Leonardo Escobar, MCAS ’22, met each other during one of these retreats. Now, they will be embarking on a new journey together as candidates for Undergraduate Government of Boston College president and vice president, respectively—running on a platform that highlights universality, intersectionality, and boldness.
Though he was raised in northwest Pennsylvania, Gehman was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Growing up in an adoptive white family, Gehman said he found it difficult not having a person of color as a mentor. As he grew up attending predominantly white institutions, he sought out anyone who could serve as that mentor.
About a 20-minute drive away from BC, Escobar grew up in Cambridge, Mass., attending private schools until high school. He said he was able to attend this school because his mom was a Spanish teacher there—something that got his foot in the door, he explains. He said the dichotomy between his school and his lower income neighborhood always interested him. Like Gehman, Escobar leaned on mentors who helped him get to where he is now.
Gehman and Escobar spent their childhoods cultivating a group of leaders that they looked up to—now, they have the opportunity to become leaders for others at BC. Gehman, a political science and philosophy double major, identifies as a queer student. He came to BC to further explore how this part of his identity intertwines with his Catholic identity.
“I just kind of felt like there was a dichotomy, like a false dichotomy, that I had to choose between and ultimately, the spirituality part was one thing that I really missed. But it just hurt to ever go back to it,” Gehman said in reference to being queer-identifying student in high school. “So I really wanted to come to BC—knowing it was Catholic institution—to be able to engage in that conversation with myself.”
As AHANA+ students on BC’s campus, Gehman and Escobar said they want to represent the AHANA+ student populations who often don’t have their voices heard as much as white students do. But they also emphasized that their platform applies to every student on campus and will positively impact the student body as a whole.
“I think just universality to me also means not restricting ourselves to just one method to the madness,” Escobar said. “There really is a lot of ways to go about benefiting your community and listening to the needs of it and changing your plan constantly.”
Escobar, formerly an active member of his high school’s student government, was ready to hit the ground running when he got to BC. He recalled moving into Cheverus and immediately starting to plan where he was going to hang his campaign posters. Escobar went door to door getting signatures in order to run for a seat on UGBC’s Senate. Having grown up in a family of a lower socioeconomic status than a lot of students at BC, Escobar echoed Gehman’s wants to represent the desires of those at BC who may not always feel adequately represented.
Escobar and Gehman created their slogan, “Envisioning a BC Worth Fighting For,” on account of the slow path they said BC seems to be on when it comes to fulfilling many of the wishes of the student body. Their goals are ambitious—they recognize that. With more than 70 policies, the running mates acknowledged the roadblocks they could face in implementing a lot of them. One thing that sets them apart from the rest of the candidates and will help them leap over many of those hurdles, they said, is their Intersectional Social Progress Pledge.
Consisting of 17 core policies, the Pledge is a collection of strategies that the pair said BC students before them have been fighting for. They have promised to ensure that when working with the University to implement new resolutions, they abide by the plede’s policies as closely as possible.
“The Intersectional Social Progress pledge is something that we want to be a core document for every single interaction we have—so we want that to be a fundamental basis for those relations." John Gehman, MCAS '21
Before college, Escobar contemplated pursuing a career in medicine. Though he’s switched gears now, he remembered attending a program at Harvard Medical School that his high school provided, hoping to expose lower income students to less accessible fields of study. He noted that his school allocating funds in this way was an incredible help—and is the kind of support BC should be giving its students.
“The School of Nursing does not provide funding for students to take the T to their clinicals at 5 in the morning,” Escobar said. “If I were in that position, if I were in my clinicals, I would absolutely hope that the University could help me do that, especially with the incredibly rigorous process it is to learn how to be a nurse.”
Other aspects of Gehman and Escobar’s platform include pushing BC to expand University Counseling Services, divest from fossil fuel companies, and open an LGBTQ+ resource center. Though they acknowledged that there is overlap among all four candidates’ platforms, Gehman and Escobar said they are hopeful that their broader approach will set them apart from the rest of the pack.
In order to achieve concrete results, the two have said they want to not only engage the student body, faculty, and alumni, but also other undergraduate student governments in the Boston area. They said that being in communication with other student governments will give them more leverage when addressing issues at BC.
Gehman said that the key to achieving success is good communication. He and Escobar also promised to revamp UGBC’s Division of Communications, creating three different departments: inreach, outreach, and design. Inreach, he explained, will be responsible for engaging with the student body and conducting surveys and advocacy in that respect. Outreach will be responsible for connecting with outside organizations such as the NAACP, ACLU, and other student governments. Design will handle UGBC’s website and advertising strategies. Gehman said he hopes that through this collaborative model, his team will be able to see changes at BC.
“This increased attention and demonstration that students are willing to invest in their own mental health should pressure the administration … why are you not doing the same?" John Gehman, MCAS '21
Gehman and Escobar said they plan to prioritize the Intersectional Social Progress Pledge when they connect with outside organizations in the future.
“The Intersectional Social Progress Pledge is something that we want to be a core document for every single interaction we have—so we want that to be a fundamental basis for those relations,” Gehman said. “Whether we’re creating the new coalition of student governments or working with the Jesuit Student Government Alliance, we want to make sure that we’re all on the same fundamental page.”
The pair’s desire to encourage BC to open an LGBTQ+ center is especially important for Gehman on account of his identity as a queer student on campus, he explained. He recently attended BC’s Spectrum retreat, which is geared toward any student who is exploring their sexuality. It was on this trip, he said, that he had the profound experience of others affirming his sexuality and engaging in dialogue surrounding it. After growing up in a rigid family structure, Gehman said the retreat was a defining experience for him, and it made him want to provide a similar experience for other queer students on campus.
“We need to have more of these resources on campus because ultimately we are failing at that commitment to being a university and not a church,” he said.
Gehman and Escobar’s platform also includes advocating for increased accessibility to University Counseling Services. Currently, BC has 14 available psychiatrists and counselors. Gehman and Escobar said that the University has to do better. The two plan to host fundraisers focusing on the intersection of physical and mental health, and they have two goals in mind: In the short term, they have said they will use the money from these fundraisers to subsidize transportation for students who see therapists off campus. In the long term, they have promised the money they make can be applied to increasing the amount of counselors on campus. More importantly, Gehman said, they want the fundraisers to push the University to allocate more money for mental health resources.
“This increased attention and demonstration that students are willing to invest in their own mental health should pressure the administration … why are you not doing the same?” he said.
Gehman and Escobar said that their great campaign team has supported their desire to pressure BC on such issues. Their team has faith in them to cause concrete change at BC because of their combined unique backgrounds.
“[John and Leo] are really interested in advocating for people who are less seen,” said Abigail White, the campaign’s co-strategist and MCAS ’22 “They’re both students of color, John is gay, Leo comes from a low-income background, and they both have so many stories that are so different from other people in the race.”
As for Gehman and Escobar, they have found that the friendship that started during their 48Hours retreat has smoothly transitioned into a working environment.
“Mine and John’s relationship goes back far enough where we have a good communication about how we’re going to carry out our ideas … how we’re going to change our plans, when [they need] to be changed, and how we’re going to gauge the desires and needs of students on this campus,” Escobar said.
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor