By Ed Brennen
There’s no telling how the coronavirus pandemic will affect national, state and local elections this November. But at the student government level at UMass Lowell, it’s business as usual.
Voting in Student Government Association (SGA) elections has been held exclusively online for several years, so students were used to casting their ballots electronically. But with the campus all but closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual in-person campaigning was impossible. The SGA had to decide whether to postpone the election until the fall.
Student leaders decided the vote must go on.
“Having the election provides a little sense of normalcy for students,” says SGA President David Morton, who will graduate this spring with dual degrees in business administration and political science. “We think it’s really important to hold the election that a lot of students are waiting for.”
The SGA did postpone the election by two weeks, to April 16-17, to give candidates more time to file their required application packets, which were accepted online for the first time.
Voting is held for the president/vice president ticket, student trustee and senators (six from each college and 12 at-large), who all serve one-year terms. Voters can also nominate faculty members for the SGA’s Teacher of the Year and Exceeding Excellence in Teaching awards.
Despite the upheaval, 32 students were on the ballot this spring — about half of them for the first time.
“That’s a great number for the spring,” says Director of Student Activities and Leadership Sarah Rine, who co-advises the SGA with Dean of Student Activities Brenda Evans.
Current SGA Vice President Hannah Casey, a junior political science major from Marblehead, ran unopposed for president. Her vice president is David Blumsack, a junior chemistry major from Amesbury
The only contested seat was for student trustee, who represents the university on the UMass system’s board of trustees. Connor Redding, a junior double-majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, was challenging incumbent Ryan Callahan, a junior political science major.
While not every senate seat will be filled in this spring’s election, Rine says that is actually a good thing, as it allows freshmen and transfer students an opportunity to run for them in the fall election. There will also be six new senate seats open for the College of Education in the fall.
Although this is an election season like no other — without the familiar campaign posters plastered on walls across campus and minus the annual SGA debate at University Crossing — Rine is happy that students are still making the commitment to serve and represent their peers.
“They’ve seen the work that student government’s been doing, and now they want to be involved in the process,” says Rine, who reads all the candidates’ written statements on why they’re running. “They’re all really positive and forward-looking. ‘I want to have an impact on campus when we return’ and ‘I really enjoy being at UMass Lowell and want to have an impact on things like campus life and academic affairs.’”
Yordanos Tesfaye, a junior civil and environmental engineering major from Cambridge, ran for re-election as a senator representing the Francis College of Engineering.
“The election is a reminder that we are still part of a community, no matter how far we are from each other right now,” says Tesfaye, who serves as chair of the Governance Committee. “I look forward to being back on campus and around my peers once again.”
“The election is a reminder that we are still part of a community, no matter how far we are from each other right now.”
-SGA Senator Yordanos Tesfaye
The SGA has been operating as usual — only remotely over Zoom video conferencing — since courses resumed online on March 18. The five standing committees (Governance, Finance, Academic Affairs, Campus Life and Environment and Public Relations and Events) are still meeting and approving new clubs and budgets. And the SGA executive cabinet is still meeting monthly with Chancellor Jacquie Moloney and her executive team to share concerns that they hear from students.
Morton and Casey have also met virtually with student government leaders from the other schools in the UMass system to see how they are handling the situation.
“It’s different on all campuses,” says Morton, who learned that some schools postponed their elections until the fall. “It’s interesting to get their insight and understand what they’re doing.”
Jess Miceli, a first-year graduate fellow in the Office of Student Activities and Leadership, worked with the SGA to move the candidate application process online. She has also helped Public Relations and Events Chair Brett Pugh, a senior exercise physiology
major from Tyngsboro, promote the elections on social media.
“Students are focusing on all of the transitions happening and, of course, their health and safety,” Miceli says. “But we are trying to create avenues where students can still feel involved in their organizations.”