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An Interview with Student Union President Peyton Gillespie

What changes do you plan to make to Brandeis this year? 


There are quite a few that we are looking at implementing on campus. One of our primary initiatives is the free menstrual product initiative [with Period Activists at ’Deis/PAD]. Our ultimate goal is to incorporate free menstrual products into both high traffic areas on campus and residence halls. 


We also want to have transparent and open communication with the student body. That entails organizing town halls where all students and faculty are invited to listen to us talk and ask us questions. That’s something that we feel is really important. 


In addition to those things we’re taking into account that this is the Year of Climate Action. Our Director of Climate Justice and Sustainability, Ana [Mejia Cerdas ’25], is working very closely with the Office of Sustainability and the Brandeis Sustainability Ambassadors to ensure a smooth Year of Climate Action and to push some of our administration’s sustainability goals. One of those [goals] is providing a compost stockpile for clubs to have access to free of charge so that they’re more sustainable in their on-campus events. 


We’ve also begun working closely with the ICC [Intercultural Center] and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to ensure that the ICC, religious clubs and LGBTQ+ clubs have the support that they need from the Student Union …. We had a meeting with the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion to outline some goals and expectations. One of those would be that we’re hoping to unite the ICC Coalition this year, which is something that struggled last year, but we think that we can push through this year. The goal of that is just to unite ICC clubs under a broader umbrella to strengthen their relationships with one another. Another one of those goals is to make the A-board [Allocations Board] process and the Marathon process more clear, and answer questions that ICC clubs have for A-board. It was brought to our attention that there were some miscommunications and struggles last year between ICC clubs and A-board and we want to iron that out as much as possible.


How are communication channels chosen for union communications?


In terms of choice, Instagram, of course, is under our control. We don’t have to go to anybody higher up to ask permission to post information about different events or about what we’re doing. Email is a different story. Originally—this was years ago—everybody on the union had the ability to send an email to the entire student body. Then it was narrowed down to just the secretary, president and vice president. Then it was narrowed down to just the president, and now we cannot do it at all by ourselves, really. We have to run it by the administration, and by administration I mean several people up the ladder [have] to look at it, review it, propose edits, and then send it out. That was one of the issues we had with elections, … to be frank, this cycle was communicating effectively with the administration and setting expectations for when the email would be sent out that contained all of the election information. Of course, as students are aware, it wasn’t sent out until days after elections, so we had to push elections back a few days …. One of our goals is working with the administration to streamline that [process] so that it’’s only one person that we need to go to review [the email] ….


The other thing that was a concern that we have talked to the administration about was the amount of emails that come from the Student Union. There were talks about, you know, students potentially paying less attention to Student Union emails the more we send out. We’re still working on discussing what is appropriate in terms of the volume of emails that are sent out to the student body, what they contain and how they contain it. At least for now, something that will remain consistent and has been consistent is what’s called InBriefs. They’re sent out by the union and contain information related to events and policies; it’s not just Student Union-related, it’s also club-related. [Those] contain a lot of information and we highly, highly, highly encourage students to open those and read through them because there’s a lot of important information.


What do you make of the political parties in the Student Union?


I think ultimately it’s unnecessary, but it does excite me to see that people are ready to get involved in student government and that they are passionate about student government and that they want to make change, though. We are going to be discussing the implications of political parties and whether or not this is something we want to allow going forward. The goal of the Student Union is not to form coalitions as to faction the union and develop different pockets or different cliques that work against one another. The goal of the Student Union is to work together in harmony. My initial thoughts, with these political parties, is that one, they’re unnecessary, and two, they have the potential to create factions within the union. At the moment, it’s not something that is technically forbidden but it is something that we, as a larger e-board, having seen the developments of the new political parties, will be discussing in the future.


What steps have you taken since your term began?


There were several things we did during the summer, one of which was joining Boston Intercollegiate Government, which was a long term goal of ours. [Boston Intercollegiate Government] is a coalition of between 13 and 20 colleges in Boston, representing over 240,000 undergraduate students. It was founded by the city of Boston in the ’90s, and the goal is to promote collaboration between colleges’ student governments to push wider initiatives. They hosted a mayoral debate last year and they pushed a menstrual product initiative, which is something that we are working with them on.


What problems have arisen during your time in office?


One of the very first issues was of course, as a new administration, the operations of the Student Union are not something that we are privy to coming into the role. But that’s the purpose of the constitution: to provide a guide to the operations of the Student Union and the official capacities through which things work. In consulting the constitution …, it’s come to our attention that it is not very clear in a lot of places …. A term that I abhor is “this is how we’ve always done it.” Unfortunately, there was a lot of that because there are certain ambiguities in the constitution. One of our goals is to streamline that and potentially do a constitutional review or make certain edits to make it more clear for the next administration.


Why Brandeis?


I’ve known that I wanted to go to Brandeis since I was late into my sophomore year in high school. My family is Jewish, but I didn’t grow up Jewish because I grew up on the west coast of the United States in certain states that are not particularly accepting of Jews. There were not communities of Jews where I felt very welcomed, so by the time I moved to Hawai’i and had my bar mitzvah, I felt like I could be open about who I am and about my religion. I found Brandeis and thought, “this is a school that embodies the values of not only social justice, but of community and acceptance of people from all backgrounds, all races, religions, sexual identities, et cetera.” It was a place that I knew that I would feel accepted [at] and that I would meet like-minded people [at], but also people who are not like-minded, who I would learn from. 


One of my goals was to go to a university that was liberal arts. Another was to go to a university that was small, that would more resemble a community and not one of these massive state schools where I’d be lost in a crowd. I wanted to be able to make a large amount of friends and learn from them. I strongly believe that 50% of the things you learn in college are from classes and the other 50% is from the people you surround yourself with. So those are some of the reasons I came to Brandeis. 


Interestingly, my Hebrew name is “Emet,” which is what the Brandeis logo [has inscribed on it].


What do you have to say to students interested in joining the Union?


I’m a little biased when it comes to working in student government, but I do want to emphasize that the Student Union is not just for politics majors or pre-law [students]. It is for students of all academic backgrounds and of all varieties of interest. If you are even remotely passionate about advocacy, or if there is something on campus that frustrates you that you would like to see changed, I highly encourage you to join the Student Union because it is a body of collaborative students who all share the same goal of making positive change around campus. Student Union is a great opportunity to learn not only about the advocacy process and the process of developing policies to implement change, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to be able to work with students who have all different kinds of ideas and who come from all different kinds of backgrounds to develop collaboration skills and to be able to work in a team much better.


Why did you choose to run for president so early in your college career?


I did a lot of different student government roles in high school, including being the vice president of the Maui District Student Council Organization …, so I had experience coming in. I knew I wanted to run for Student Union and I did so in running for the [Massell Quad] Senate Seat. I did a lot of work partnering with clubs and developing different initiatives; I was chair of the Senate Sustainability Committee, I was co-chair of the Brandeis Sustainability Committee. At the end of the year, one of my friends proposed to me that we run for president and vice president, and I agreed to be vice president because I thought “that is an appropriate step up from Senator,” and something that I was interested in doing. I was interested in having the opportunity to work more closely with the administration and leading the union in terms of developing policy.


I think it was three days before [the deadline] to declare what you were running for when this person and I had a very frank conversation and they said that being president would be too much on their plate, which was a very fair thing because it is a lot of work …. So I began searching for somebody to run for president [with me as their vice president] and I talked to people who had been with the union for a long time and who had a lot of experience. I had somebody kind of mentoring me through that process who had a lot of union experience, and he was going to be graduating. We could not find anyone because being president is such a big commitment. Through conversations with [my mentor] and other people on the executive board, [I was] encouraged to run for president … so I said, “okay, I will run for president.” My mentor and I began the search for a vice president and then a lot of people began saying “yes, I’d like to be vice president,” because it’s a little bit less of a time commitment. 


So we began talking to different people and exploring our options. Lia [Bergen ’25, current Student Union Vice President] was a senator at the time and I had worked with [her] on initiatives before. I sent her a text and I said “Hey, I hear you’re interested in potentially being on the ticket with me, let me know when you’re available to meet.” She immediately responded, “I’ll meet you at Massell Pond in 10 minutes.” So I ran down to Massell Pond, Leah and I had a conversation for maybe 30 minutes and we had the same goals in terms of continuing to promote positive change and interacting with the student body and representing the students properly. Right then and there we [decided that] we were going to declare that night to run on a ticket together ….


I’m excited to see who is elected in the Union this year. Let’s strive for greatness and see what we can accomplish!

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