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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Exodus of student leadership points to systemic problems

A+group+of+students+gathered+in+the+student+center.+Photo+by+Saichand+Chowdary+%28He%2FHim%29+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff.

A group of students gathered in the student center. Photo by Saichand Chowdary (He/Him) / Mass Media Staff.

After a fall semester that saw the resignation of the president and vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government, UMass Boston is suffering the resignation of multiple Student Center leaders. Coordinators from the Asian Student Center, the Queer Student Center and the Women’s Center—as well as the leaders of some clubs—have all left their positions within the past two semesters.
Former USG President Dhruv Naik and Former Vice President Anjani Naidu kicked off the recent exodus of student leadership after the USG was embroiled in a months-long feud between members last semester. Accusations of misconduct and lack of decorum were filed against Naik and Naidu, as well as a petition to remove them from their positions [1].
A highly contentious judicial review, which Naik and Naidu felt was conducted unfairly, concluded that the two executives would be required to issue apologies. Additionally, Naidu was put under “probation,” which she said included “weekly checkups” from fellow students.
Naidu was not happy about the fact that her peers would be monitoring her. “I believe that if it was done by the administration, I would’ve happily agreed to it,” she said in an interview. Naik believed it was unjust for him to be required to take the burden of apology entirely upon himself. Shortly after this, they both resigned their positions.
Beyond the internal conflict, both Naik and Naidu spoke about a lack of support from faculty. Naidu appealed the judicial decision, but apparently was told by the judges that since USG is “a self-governing body […] run by students,” they wouldn’t get the administration involved.
“The only question I have is, can [students] be given the authority to take such decisions on the vice-president of the student government,” she asked during an interview, “and who gives the authority?”
In an interview, Naik also spoke about the issue of authority, explaining, “…the administration should have put a stop to it, saying […] ‘that’s enough guys […] just stop it.’” He also said the administration refused to dissolve the USG upon their request, citing the fact that USG is “shared governance” as a reason to not intervene.
Naik thinks the internal conflict was just an unfortunately typical consequence of political operation, and the real issue was a lack of training in conflict resolution. He said after reaching out to the Department of Conflict Resolution for help, the General Assembly “laughed” at the proposal.
Generally, a lack of training and a lack of support from faculty and administration was a common point for both Naik and Naidu. They spoke about how the USG did not have direct, experienced advisors and most people were not properly trained in their positions. “We are never provided any training—at least I didn’t get any training,” Naidu explained.
This focus on a lack of training and support also shows up in the issues surrounding the exodus of Student Center leadership this semester. In an interview, Stephanie Mastinggal, who recently left her role as coordinator of the Asian Student Center, spoke about what she saw as a lack of understanding on the part of faculty.
“I definitely had a lot on my plate and I just didn’t feel supported enough as […] a full-time student and a part-time worker for the school,” she said. “…this concept of being a student first is not really […] heard by Student Multicultural Affairs.”
Mastinggal went on to explain that coordinators are “overworked and underpaid” and says that the actual workload of “event planning, going to events, networking outside of the university, trying to find organizations to work with” and more translated to about 40 hours per week—yet coordinators only get paid for 15 hours per week. This was corroborated by other sources as well.
Mastinggal highlighted the Multicultural Centers at other universities which she feels they are often compared to, explaining that they have more direct advising and likely live on campus—whereas they do not have a lot of direct support, and do not live on-campus.
Everyone interviewed for this story said that more support from faculty or administration and more direct training would help to solve at least some of the current issues within Student Activities.
These developments also come on the heels of a near-total redesign of the Student Activities areas on the third floor of Campus Center, including The Mass Media offices, which has caused some consternation among club and Student Center members [2]. Beyond just the physical redesign, new rules have also been imposed on the Student Centers and clubs.
Multiple sources say the new rules were not communicated to students when they were instituted, and are only recently being distributed through “pamphlets.” This has evidently led to issues with event planning.
As an example, Mastinggal explained that she tried to get an event catered by a local business in an effort to bring in culturally appropriate food—which she had done before—but was told that all catering must now be done through Sodexo. Sodexo is the company that operates the UMass Boston Dining Commons. The issue of culturally appropriate food was something Mastinggal felt was very important to the Student Centers.
Mastinggal also said that increased restrictions were causing coordinators and members to search for “loopholes” that were never necessary before while scheduling events. “With the restrictions that the University and the bureaucracy put on Student Centers—and just […] Student Affairs in general—It’s really hard to do what we want for the students we’re supposed to serve,” she explained.
When asked about their time in their leadership positions, most people interviewed expressed pride in what they were able to accomplish during their leadership. Yet Naik felt that resigning was an act of self-care—he listed mental health as one reason for leaving his position—and Mastinggal felt similarly.
“[I have] all these passions of supporting Asian immigrant students here on campus,” Mastinggal said. “…at first I had that drive to […] initiate events that represented different Asian cultures […] also do social justice stuff […] but being a coordinator really ruined that passion—that drive.” She went on to say, “it’s not a position I would recommend to anyone, honestly.”
[1]http://www.umassmedia.com/news/undergraduate-student-government-in-turmoil-president-and-vice-president-resign/article_f0a4900a-77d2-11ed-afdd-870881189c7c.html
[2]http://www.umassmedia.com/opinions/revisiting-the-student-center-redesign/article_ab02b9e2-ae68-11ed-a551-a75a3cf863cd.html

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor