ll four teams running to be the upcoming Undergraduate Government of Boston College president and executive vice president are promising to make Boston College an inclusive community for every student. The question thus arises of how each team can deliver on this promise. Christian Guma, CSOM ’21, who is running for UGBC president, and Kevork Atinizian, CSOM ’22, who is running for executive vice president, are running with the campaign slogan “Make the Heights home.” Atinizian said he can fully understand how to make students feel included on campus because he himself has dealt with feelings of isolation at BC.
At the election kickoff event, Atinizian spoke publicly for the first time about applying to transfer from BC during his freshman year and not considering the University “home.” Now, he’s found his niche here, and he said he has a unique perspective that will allow him to truly be an advocate for all students.
“I think that [these experiences are] very important for a person who’s going to serve in a role of student government—it obviously can’t be someone who loves Boston College, because if you really, really love Boston College, and think that everything is perfect, there’s going to be no more room for improvement,” Atinizian said.
Atinizian, who is from Belmont, Mass., is a first-generation college student. His family is Armenian, and even though he didn’t have the most positive feelings about BC initially, he said he has always felt that the University’s values parallel the ones he was raised with. He remembered becoming conscious about government from a young age and realizing that it was a way he could give back to others. His great aunt used to squeeze his cheeks and tell him, “One day, you’re going to be the president of the United States.”
“I think as a kid, you don’t understand [that comment], but it instills in you a sense of helping others, and that’s always been one of the fundamentals that I live by—helping others and seeing how you can serve others,” Atinizian said.
Despite being involved in a myriad of BC organizations, Atinizian said he would step down from all of his other extracurriculars to put more time and effort into the executive vice presidency—which he views as a full-time job. Atinizian also has experience working in UGBC, and he served as a senator this past year.
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Guma said he is willing to do the same in regard to his BC activities, though he has no prior UGBC experience. Guma, who is from Washington Township in northern New Jersey, became interested in student activism his freshman year at BC in the wake of the “Silence is Still Violence” March in 2017. Thousands of members of the BC community gathered to protest multiple racist incidents that had occurred the week prior.
Guma and Atinizian hadn’t met until recently. They were brought together shortly before Winter Break by a mutual contact, Bijoy Shah, CSOM ’22. Atinizian ran into Shah at Late Night and jokingly told him he was considering running for either president or executive vice president, and Shah encouraged him to do it. After also speaking to Guma, Shah realized how complementary Guma’s and Atinizian’s campaign platform ideas and larger ideals were. Once Atinizian started seriously considering running, he began reaching out to people who he thought might want to get involved with his campaign. Shortly after, he received a message from Guma.
“[I was] like, ‘Who is this kid?’” Atinizian said. “‘He’s not in UGBC. Honestly, what does he provide?’ … And what ended up happening was, I met with Christian, and somehow, I still don’t know how he did this, he persuaded me to be his vice president. And it was through both of us having a mutual vision for Boston College that extended beyond what I currently saw in UGBC and other students.”
Even though Guma is the only candidate running who has no prior UGBC experience, he said he sees this as a strength that will allow him to bring a new approach to student government, and he has spent the past two weeks attending UGBC meetings to familiarize himself with its procedures. Guma and Atinizian said they align in their overarching vision for their time in office and desire to focus on the heart of BC—its students.
Atinizian cited the Student Experience Survey as evidence that even though students are satisfied with the University overall, there is still room for improvement. In addition to working toward long-term goals such as an LGBTQ+ resource center and increased funding for the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, Guma and Atinizian are promising to work on several smaller initiatives to enhance the quality of everyday life for students on BC’s campus.
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Part of Guma and Atinizian’s platform is to make transportation more accessible for students by partnering with Uber and Lyft to provide discounted rides to students. These partnerships would involve UGBC paying Lyft or Uber a flat fee to receive a certain amount of discounts in return. Guma said he has spoken to a Lyft company representative to discuss the specifics of providing these discounted rides but has been unable to reach Uber.
The pair has also said they want to increase the number of bus stop locations for the Commonwealth Ave. and Newton Campus shuttles, adding stops at places such as the Fish Field House and possibly the Margot Connell Recreation Center. In addition, Guma and Atinizian plan to look into expanding public transportation options for Connell School of Nursing students going to clinicals, as well as Lynch School of Education and Human Development students who travel to practicums. Both of these external learning experiences require transportation to off-campus locations.
The results of the Student Experience Survey showed that students are generally unsatisfied with BC’s dining options, so Guma and Atinizian said they want to consider the possibility of outsourcing dining to increase the options available to students.
Though they said these broader issues will take a long time to implement, Guma and Atinizian plan to have a sit-down meeting with the director of UGBC’s Diversity and Inclusion Programming Board and the director of the GLBTQ+ Leadership Council on their first day in office to draft a “concrete plan of action” for the LGBTQ+ resource center that they can present to the administration and the Board of Trustees. They said they also want to increase opportunity for student input for University projects currently in the works, such as the Schiller Institute, and in the eventual construction of a student center.
Guma and Atinizian’s other student-oriented campaign platforms include collaborating with the Campus Activities Board to bring “more popular artists” to BC and host concerts in Conte Forum.
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One of the defining aspects of Guma and Atinizian’s campaign is that they have both pledged to forgo the stipend typically allocated to the UGBC president and executive vice president. In 2019, UGBC’s total budget was $343,225. Michael Osaghae, the current UGBC president and MCAS ’20, receives a stipend of $4,000, while Tiffany Brooks, the vice president and MCAS ’21, receives a stipend of $3,500. Each division director is given a $2,000 stipend.
“I think that’s really respectable,” Shah said about the team’s decision to forgo the stipend. “Not taking the money when this position is like a job is so unique because of the other candidates who are running, I haven’t heard anything saying that they’re not going to take the money.”
Guma and Atinizian said they plan to use the money that would usually be allocated toward their stipends to provide more resources for students and would encourage other members of UGBC’s executive council to follow suit. They said they would, however, be mindful of students who would be financially reliant on the stipend. Since UGBC’s funding is taken from the student activity fee, which is an annual payment made by undergraduate students, Guma and Atinizian said it would be inappropriate to take the money for themselves, rather than pouring it into benefits for the student body as a whole.
“I think the role of government, especially student government, is to serve the students at all costs,” Guma said. “And while we do understand the reasons why [the stipends] exist, we want to make sure that the students have all the resources possible—that’s our job.”
In this same vein, Guma and Atinizian have promised to ensure that BC remains a need-blind institution. In a student-administrator forum in April of 2019, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management John Mahoney, BC ’79, said that due to the combination of rising tuition and stagnant income, there is no guarantee BC can indefinitely remain a need-blind institution. Guma and Atinizian said they want to increase the number of events and funding channels that are designed to make tuition more affordable to every BC student, such as Pops on the Heights. They said this would be a vital way to keep the University a diverse and inclusive community that is accepting of students from all backgrounds.
“What I want to do coming in from the outside with a different perspective is actually not only listen but actually work towards tangible solutions, and also expand the ability for UGBC to listen,” Guma said. “I think that we get caught up sometimes, in you know, ‘He doesn’t have experience,’ but I don’t think my lack of experience, so to say, [in] writing senate resolutions or in UGBC negatively affects us. I think I’m bringing a fresh, outside perspective.”
Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor