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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Q&A: TCU Presidential candidates talk experience, Senate vision

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A sign encouraging students to vote in the upcoming TCU election is pictured in the Mayer Campus Center on April 24.

Elections for the 2022–23 Tufts Community Union president will take place from April 26 to 27. The three candidates are Max Morningstar, Jaden Pena and Enrique Rodriguez. All three are rising seniors. They spoke with the Daily about their experience, qualifications and campaign platforms.

Editor’s note: These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Morningstar and Pena responded in interviews, and Rodriguez responded via email. 

The Tufts Daily (TD): Why should people vote for you? Tell me about your platform.

Max Morningstar (MM): Actually, I think that one of the big pillars of my platform is reforming the Senate. Specifically, looking over the bylaws, looking over the [Treasury Procedures Manual]. There [are] a lot of very undemocratic elements of Senate right now. Specifically, the way resolutions are handled and the way Senate statements are handled. At this point, Senate [executive board] is allowed to make statements without the wider approval of Senate, which, just at face value, should never be allowed to happen. … We get a scenario where, if something takes place, for instance, the cannon was just re-vandalized, Senate [executive board] is going to make a statement, or maybe they won’t, but the point is that it'll be them talking, but it will be the assumption of the student body that they are speaking for the whole Senate when they might not be. So by removing that power, and by forcing any statement released by Senate to undergo a popular vote, we know that, when Senate speaks, it will be with the voice of the entire student body. In that same vein, resolutions currently are [a] simple majority, in terms of getting them passed, … with abstentions being counted as part of the ‘no’ vote. If we were to just take that as it is, then it’s tyranny by [a] majority and we’ve already seen that go badly for us. Last year, we had a mental health resolution that ended up passing along racial lines, basically — all the white senators in favor, all of the POC senators voting against. They had some concerns about language in the resolution, making mental health services accessible to people of color, [who are] traditionally underserved by mental health [services]. And the white senators just passed it anyway, sort of over their objections, right, and that should never happen. So, if we shift resolution voting to a consensus style where you’re either voting ‘yes’ or abstaining, then again, you can have the confidence, as a student, of knowing that when you see something from Senate, it’s all of Senate speaking, not just a couple [of] people. In that same vein, the TPM, the Treasury Procedures Manual, has a lot of issues in it. There [are] a lot of really just annoying things that clubs have to deal with. … You’re not allowed to use Venmo, for instance; they don’t consider that something that you can get reimbursed for, even though [for] a lot of club events … that’s the primary way of exchanging money. You’re not able to have a reliable way of reimbursing for recurring expenses. If I have a website and I have to pay out $30 every month, every single month, I have to go in with that same request. So there [are] just little things that make our clubs’ lives harder that we can be doing to help them more. So, to sum up: Driving on those things is one of the reasons why I want to be president, and you don’t have to be president to push for that kind of reform. But if you look at the experience I have on Senate, having served in my freshman and sophomore year, you look at the leadership experience I have inside the community and my history of action on Senate, … not just that I’ve served, but that in serving, I have a lot of projects that I've completed: turkey shuttle, late-night study, the reusable bags. ... I’m a person that gets it done. And so you know that when I say we’re going to reform these things, you know that I’m going to get it done.

Jaden Pena (JP):I think people should vote for me because I believe I have a good track record on Senate. I served as the diversity officer this year and my one goal is to uplift marginalized, underrepresented voices. And I believe I did a lot of good work to fulfill that goal of mine … So,  a little bit about my platform: I highlight five main areas that I want to acknowledge and address and that’s Administrative; Campus Life; Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice; Educational; and Internal Senate Affairs … So, for campus life, my biggest goal is mental health and the revitalization of campus life post-COVID. We’ve been limited for two years now. I’m trying to empower and encourage student groups and organizations and clubs to get back to pre-COVID functionality and be able to have the student engagement and the participation that they had a few years ago. For diversity, equity and inclusion … this focuses on continuing my work from this year. I wrote abstracts for two resolutions addressing the “Tufts as an Anti-Racist Institution” initiative. Basically, Tufts pledged $25 million over five years in funds and resources to become an anti-racist institution. Those funds didn’t include identity centers … the five workstreams that were being addressed in that initiative were not adequate, in my opinion. So, something that I really want to work on if I were to be elected is re-evaluating the allocation of the $25 million so that it includes our identity centers, and so that it includes the health services department, and the CMHS department, and the School of Engineering and the athletic department so that they can hire more BIPOC and LGBTQ+ staff and faculty.

Enrique Rodriguez (ER):People should vote for me because I am going to be the one that says what needs to be said when it needs to be said. My platform contains 5 pillars which I called the 5 E’s which are: Equity, Equality, Education, Experience, and Engagement. With these pillars it will be very clear that I have action items and have spoken directly with people in the community to make changes that people want to see on campus.

TD: Why do you want to be president? Tell me why you’re inspired to run.

MM: I think one of the things that really inspired me [is] this last semester I was in Washington, D.C. … as part of my political science studies. … American University is the first all carbon-neutral urban college campus in the United States. And they’re of comparable size to Tufts. Carbon neutrality seems like this huge, insurmountable sort of thing. But then … talking to people in their student government, talking to people in their administration, they’re sort of nonchalant about it. And so that was really a big wake-up call for me because it showed me that, when you’re driven to get something done, it is not that hard to make it happen. And so, being the president puts you in a unique position because you set the tone for how Senate is going to act and you have the opportunity to be a leader. And so, if we have someone who is … not as committed or somebody who is more interested in the role as opposed to the actual job, then stuff doesn’t get done. … Senate follows that lead. If we have somebody who is driving constantly to improve the lives of students, then that means that Senate will be fundamentally working at its best, because that’s when Senate is working at its best: when our statements, our programs and our actions are directly benefiting the lives of students. … I can push for constitutional reform [and] bylaw reform even if I’m not president, and I intend to. But as president, you have the option to really create the culture of Senate, which is why the position is so important and why I’m running for Senate, because I believe that we have sort of fallen off in the last year or two, and we have a responsibility to be doing more.

JP: I kind of fell in love with the work that I did this year. I see myself as someone that [would] not … typically be on the Senate … and I think that provides a sense of comfortability within the student body, where they see someone that is a student-athlete and in a performing group and in cultural clubs. Just someone that lives another everyday life, just like a Tufts student, in a position of power. That sense of descriptive representation provides comfortability and trust within the student body. I also am running because I believe there [are] a lot of things internally that the Senate can do, and that’s why I’m not running for re-election for diversity officer, and rather for president, because I believe this would provide opportunities to restructure how Senate works. Our constitution and our bylaws were written years ago, probably by privileged white men that were not inclusive of [first-geneneration], low-income and undocumented students or women or people of color, generally speaking. So there [are] a lot of things I want to address in that sense and how we function as a Senate entirely.

ER:I want to be president because I want to represent the voices of Tufts that aren’t always represented, and I want to do it from a position where people will be listening to me. I am doing this because I felt “who better to lead the campus than a voice who is always engaging with the student body and is ready to continue to do so while also being relentless when advocating for equity at all components of campus life?”

TD: What do you consider to be TCU Senate’s role on Tufts’ campus? What about the role of the TCU president?

MM: The role of TCU Senate on campus is — fundamentally — it’s to improve the lives of students. Every action we are taking should be making life better for students. To that end, the role of the president is to make sure that Senate is accomplishing that role. … We need a president who’s going to ensure not just [that]  Senate as a whole is doing its job, but every part of Senate is doing its job. We have a lot of different committees on Senate, many of which I know from experience, do very little day to day. For instance, chronically, everybody says, “I don’t know what Senate does,” when I’m saying I’m running for president. We have an Outreach Committee. It’s mandated in our constitution. It is unacceptable that people do not know what the Senate does. So for that reason, I think we have a lot of these tools that can make it so that Senate accomplishes that goal of helping students, but we need a president who is savvy enough to use those tools and maximize the impact that Senate’s able to have. So I think that’s the importance of the role and the importance of the body in general.

JP: I think the TCU Senate is here to support clubs and organizations to their fullest extent. I think that our jobs as senators should be to empower and uplift students, the student body and especially student clubs and organizations, whether that be financially, or just empowerment and supporting events that they have. The role as the president, I think, is to be that rock in the heart of the Senate, where senators feel comfortable coming to you and talking about anything that they need to address. As well as being that person that is accessible to the rest of the student body, where any other student on campus feels comfortable coming to the president and saying, “Hey, this is what I think needs to be addressed on the TCU Senate.”

ER:TCU Senate’s role on campus is to represent the voices of the students on campus on issues that matter to the student body. Senate has a responsibility to advocate for students in ways that they can’t do with just their own voice. The TCU President is the main representative of the student body on campus, they are meant to fight for the underrepresented students and the entire body as well. They have to be level-headed and someone who is tough, in order to handle the strenuous nature of the position and the number of doubts people are going to have about their authority. The TCU president’s role is to be a megaphone about issues that are being overlooked by administrators on campus.

TD: What do you think the TCU Senate does well? How could the organization improve?

MM: I think especially recently, Senate has had a number of programs that have been pretty successful. It’s easy to point to a lot of Senate’s failings. Recently the funding debacle that we had. … If you scroll my platform, I come up with a couple of times that Senate has dropped the ball in the past. But fundamentally, Senate has done a pretty good job of trying to create a campus that people feel safe at. We’ve made statements on important issues before in the past, albeit sometimes a little misguided. We have programs that help people and — for the most part — Senate has wielded its soft power rather effectively. That being said, we also have some huge shortcomings and some pretty glaring mistakes that we’ve made. Earlier this year, we had multiple antisemitic incidents [on campus] and Senate said nothing. Which, if you don’t believe that's the role of Senate, that’s fine. But earlier in the year, the cannon was vandalized, and within two days, Senate had put out a statement. Which means, that by not speaking out on antisemitism, Senate made a choice and they said that this is not important to us. And that message [was] broadcast to the whole community. And so, looking at that as a student … you think, “Okay, if the Senate is the voice of Tufts University, then what am I supposed to think when that voice remains silent on something as heinous as multiple acts against a not insignificant portion of our community?” So I think that’s one of Senate’s biggest shortcomings is just the inconsistency that we’ve seen over the past year or two years.

JP: What I think we do well is we support each other … Our Services Committee, for example: we support projects like the Turkey Shuttle or the prom or the menstrual product drive. But what we can do better is being more accessible to the student body and being more organized in our functions ... I feel like as an official student government that allocates $2.6-plus million dollars every single year, we should be functioning at an extremely high level and [be] very efficient, very precise and accurate and professional with everything we do because … it is almost a profession. We manage a lot of money. We deal with a lot of tall tasks, and I think that’s something that we can work on.

ER:I believe that the TCU organization functions well on a week-to-week basis at getting the routine things done to allow for campus to function properly. I think the weakness of TCU Senate right now is that there is not enough outreach and connection between senators and the people they are meant to represent. With me as president, I would change that. We need to have more interaction with students, and we need to make them more aware of senate procedures and how we can be a resource to them and their passions.

TD: What do you hope to accomplish as president? How do you plan to achieve these goals? 

MM: I mentioned this before, but overhaul the bylaws, overhaul the Treasury Procedures Manual. Those two are the easy ones, … and those will require working with my parliamentarian and my treasurer. Now, already, we’ve seen Senate elected. We have an excellent group of senators this year, a lot of them have experience. And a lot of the ones that don’t are very driven and have very clear platforms about what they’d like to get accomplished. So right now, we are in a perfect state to make this kind of change happen. Beyond that, [I hope to accomplish] utilizing everything that Senate has to offer. Outreach Committee, make us more transparent. Services [Committee], do projects that help students now, not in the future. And then to that end, [we should be] looking at the state of the issues that really concern the student body and then seeing what Senate can do to push them further. Environmental reform — for instance — we have a lot of mechanisms on campus that are actually surprisingly effective at mitigating environmental waste. The Tufts Dining Food Reuse Program is one of the foremost in the nation. We can take that idea and that dedication and expand that. … Tufts University loves to follow. … When we were going home, we didn’t go home until Harvard did. … We divested from tar sands immediately after Harvard did, which suggests that we have the capability to be a leader. We just have been … taking higher education’s lead on a lot of this stuff. So, I think that what I want to accomplish is changing the narrative of Senate as this opaque body that nobody really knows what it does to something that people can know consistently. They’re aware of our actions, and they can feel confident that our actions are helping students and the Tufts community.

JP: I’d say I have three, maybe four main projects that I want to work on. I’ve been the co-chair of the Wellness Center Committee for about a year now and Tufts administration has given a lot of pushback on the creation of a wellness center. That is something that I will advocate to my fullest extent, working with administrators as president. Another thing that I think is crucial to our campus is our identity centers and uplifting them to their fullest potential. Whether that be with renovations or supporting them financially through the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion — like Bolles House[’s] needing renovations or the Asian American Center’s basement being revitalized and revamped so that it’s an accessible space for students. I’d say the third [project is] the Constitutional and Treasury Procedures Manual amendments that I want to make. I believe that there are a lot of outdated clauses and clauses that are not representative of the student body today, in 2022, … I want to create amendments that reflect the values and the goals and the mission of the Tufts student body today.

ER:As president, I hope to bridge the gap between Senate and the people they are representing and make the changes that the student body wants. I plan to do this through many components of my platform, but I think the most relevant section is increasing the amount of town halls Senate hosts per semester and making them very intentional. First by starting to have town halls related to different identities, for example an LGBTQ+ town hall with queer members of Senate leading it, to ensure comfort of students with these identities when sharing their concerns about their experience on campus.  Then in order to ensure that the town halls aren’t just rant sessions, I plan to establish a system where a Senator can be paired with a student or a group in order to directly address a project or concern brought up at a town hall. This way students can truly use Senate as a resource for their needs instead of Senate having to make executive decisions the whole time. The whole time, students will be involved the whole time on issues that they care about.

TD: What experiences do you think make you a good candidate? 

MM: Like I said before, [my] time on Senate, and specifically what I did with my time on Senate. Serving with the Services Committee, for two years, really helped give me experience [in] navigating the hierarchy of the Tufts [administration]. I got to work with … Tufts Dining, for instance, I got to meet with several of the deans over different points. And so I have the chops of actually getting stuff done. Reusable bags … went from, “Hey, this would be a good idea,” to us ordering and distributing over 4,000 reusable bags that people still have in use today. We don’t have the exact statistics on how many paper bags were saved because of that, but Tufts Dining sort of told us that it’s in the tens of thousands, effectively, which is a huge achievement and a huge example of how our actions as Senate can have a dramatic impact on campus. So, I have [a] productive history on Senate. I have leadership experience, both within the community and outside of it. I was a ranking member of the Tufts ballroom [executive board]. Off campus, I was a mentor for a girls’ robotics team. So I know how to be a leader and I have the experience of … leading a group of people to success. Between the valuable experience I have, the leadership experience I have and my desire for action shaped by my experiences in D.C., I believe that I am the best person for Tufts University, the best person to be president of the TCU.

JP: I think serving as diversity officer and having the [Executive] Board experience is really beneficial to bring to this role. I think that since all of my work was mostly centered around diversity, equity and inclusion as the diversity officer, I think that provides a really good bridge to the president role because a lot of the issues and problems that need to be addressed by the Senate within our communities relate to diversity, equity and inclusion. Then, the other [problems] that don’t necessarily relate to that can also be addressed; I don’t have blinders on… my [executive] board experience and my passion for what we do as a Senate creates a really good bridge from the diversity officer role to the presidential role.

ER:My experiences as a mentor and educator set me apart because they will allow me to really listen to and understand the student body and respond in thoughtful and compassionate ways. I also think that my childhood background as a FGLI afro Latinx queer person will bring me closer to these communities and allow me to represent them better than people who don’t have lived experiences with these communities. Lastly, I believe that as a biomedical engineer, I will bring a unique way of thinking and problem solving to the forefront of leadership, coupled with my resilience in the face of adversity there is no stopping me.

TD: Of your accomplishments in the Senate thus far, which are you most proud of?

MM: Pointing to the reusable bags is an easy one, but what I’m actually most proud of is, in March of 2020 when we were sent home for COVID-19, the Senate Services Committee was in a Services meeting when we got the email that we would be going home in a week. And so from that meeting, we immediately emailed Joe Golia, director of [the Office for] Campus Life and we said, “How can Senate help?” And so ultimately what we managed to do is arrange, among other things, ... cheap, low-cost transportation for students to South Station and to Logan Airport to assist in getting home. Because as we all know, traveling … you can either buy an Uber for 40 plus dollars or try and lug all your stuff through the T. It’s ridiculous. So that, for me, is the perfect story of what Senate is supposed to be, where we sprung into action immediately. And we helped students immediately. So, looking back, I would say that that is the best thing I did in my time on Senate.

JP: I’d say I am most proud of working with Indigenous students, and especially ISOT, to create the Indigenous Community Senator seat. That is something that was brought to me as soon as I was elected as diversity officer last spring, and we finally created that position. Now, we’re going to vote on it in a referendum on the presidential ballot as well … But also getting our community senators paid through stipends is something that I’m super proud of. They do a lot of work that is very draining and very taxing — mentally and emotionally. They do a lot of work very similar to Center interns and they weren’t recognized or supported or compensated for all their hard work. I think, as little as the amount was, it was still a step in the right direction and an accomplishment that I was super proud of to get done this year … I also don’t want to undermine the work that was done by Indigenous students that came before me and diversity officers that came before me in the creation of the Indigenous Peoples Community Senator seat … I don’t want to take full credit or anything for this. I am just super proud that we were able to accomplish that as a committee on diversity and inclusion.

ER:I believe that my greatest accomplishment on Senate thus far was my work on Allocations Board, Especially in my ability to time manage my jobs, six courses, and the budgeting of the programming and engineering council. I am super proud of myself for staying true to my morals and kindness through the high stress situation that was budgeting season this semester.