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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Op-ed: Pena for president


If you want a TCU president who will be a voice for all students, advocate for campus mental health at the highest levels, stand against sexual assault on campus, consistently support the new Indigenous Center and call for equitable academic policies, then Jaden Pena is the candidate for you.

Our first encounter with Jaden was through a Zoom screen, during the internal Senate elections in the spring of 2021. Having not met nor spoken to Jaden prior, we were both immediately drawn in by the enthusiasm, confidence, thoughtfulness and passion that he exuded when speaking about the diversity officer position that he would soon undertake. Jaden was clear about his desire to represent the communities he was part of — first-generation, low-income, multiracial, Black — and also bridge the gap between students in performance groups, athletics and other aspects of campus life. In our role as committee chairs (Claire chairs the Education Committee, Arielle chairs the Services Committee and Jaden chairs the Community & Diversity Committee), we collaborated with Jaden on projects, supported each other when roadblocks arose and got to know him as a senator and close friend. Jaden worked with us as we pursued projects, such as the Student Resources Fair and the Class of 2024 Prom, and consistently reached out to both of us to ask how he could offer assistance. He helped us address the needs of marginalized communities in our work by connecting the identity centers to the Student Resources Fair and offering solutions to overcome barriers that traditional proms pose to FGLI students. We know he’ll do the same as president.

Graphic courtesy Jaden Pena

Jaden has consistently advocated for what he knows to be right, even when it is unpopular on Senate or among members of the white student body. His vote in favor of United for Immigrant Justice’s request for funding to send undocumented students on a study abroad alternative trip exemplifies his commitment to acting on his beliefs. Following the vote, he engaged in productive and meaningful conversations with members of UIJ that he will build upon in his platform. The TCU president regularly meets with the Office of the President, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, the dean of the School of Engineering and other top administrators at Tufts. Jaden’s training and experience as diversity officer have given him the tools to advocate for students of all backgrounds and identities while elevating and inspiring the rest of the university and the rest of the Senate to do the same.

One project Jaden worked on this year was the establishment of a Wellness Center — a space open to all students that would provide wellness programming, mental health resources and spaces to rest and recharge. Jaden was constantly pushing the administration, up to the highest levels, to find a location for the center and to begin hiring staff. It is rare that a senator has weekly updates on a project this ambitious and bureaucratic, but Jaden had a new progress report every meeting without fail. Even before deciding to run for president, Jaden made it clear to us that campus mental health would be a top priority of his while in the Senate next year. Along with the Wellness Center, Jaden wants to continue to support campus mental health by calling on the university administration to provide training to professors to navigate traumatic events such as the loss of a student, creating specific mental health services for the intense engineering curricula and implementing wellness days each semester where no classes or major assignments occur. We have seen Jaden’s passion for elevating mental health services at Tufts and his commitment to achieving this goal firsthand.

We also wholeheartedly support and embrace Jaden’s goal to address sexual assault on campus by mandating Green Dot or Action for Sexual Assault Prevention trainings for all large, TCU-recognized organizations. This is a requirement that already exists for varsity sports, and it is long overdue for larger clubs that have many of the same social situations. Jaden is a current Green Dot representative for the Tufts football team, where he works with both groups to build a culture of consent. He will expand on this work in the Senate by collaborating with the Treasury to ensure each large organization undergoes the training to be eligible for their 2023–24 budget. We are optimistic this program will result in a safer campus by facilitating safer social environments and simultaneously training hundreds of students who can keep other parts of life at Tufts safe. Jaden’s innovation and dedication to this policy stand out to us as a key example of how he will use Senate procedures to improve student life.

In the past year, Jaden worked closely with the directors of the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion centers in his role as diversity officer and established a strong and collaborative rapport. As a part of the Senate, he has consistently advocated for historically marginalized students and supported the community senators by successfully advocating for a stipend for the position, assisting their projects, and connecting the Senate body behind initiatives to support their communities. We have seen and heard his desire to elevate and inspire underrepresented communities at Tufts, most notably through the creation of the Indigenous Center community senator seat. When the Indigenous Center was announced, Jaden worked closely with the students and administrators behind the initiative. He navigated the tedious constitutional channels to write resolutions and gather signatures to create the seat, and he proposed the referendum you will see on the ballot to make the position permanent. We know he will keep this work at the front of his mind as he enacts his presidential agenda.

As a first-generation, low-income student, Jaden understands the financial barriers Tufts poses and how academic policies such as the residency requirement burden other FGLI students. Why should a student who has finished their foundational, distributional and major requirements a semester early be denied their diploma and told to enroll in another semester at Tufts to be eligible to graduate? Why can’t a student working a full-time job their senior year be a part-time student? This requirement was waived during the COVID-19 pandemic for all students enrolled in the fall 2020 semester, but Jaden wants to push for it to be eradicated altogether. He is committed to ending this requirement to make Tufts more accessible, equitable and flexible so that students can decide the academic timeline that works best for their lives, career and finances.

When casting your vote for TCU president, we implore you to support the candidate that has a proven track record of achieving goals, not just one who talks about them. Time and time again, Jaden has demonstrated his willingness and ability to take the ideas and demands brought to his attention by peers and act upon them to make an impact. Whether it be his work to establish an Indigenous Center community senator seat or advocate for the creation of a Wellness Center, Jaden has shown that he will put in all the effort necessary to get the job done.