Peyton Gillespie and Lia Bergen elected to lead Student Union
The first-years discussed their goals for the upcoming year and what they bring to the table as president and vice president.
Peyton Gillespie ’25 did not initially intend on running for Student Union president. But, when he found it difficult to find someone to run on a ticket with him running for vice president, he decided to step up and take on the challenge. He asked the Executive Board to help find a vice president, and someone suggested Lia Bergen ’25, who Gillespie knew from his time serving on the senate last semester. He immediately reached out to Bergen, and within ten minutes they were at Massell Pond deciding to run on a ticket together.
The two first-years are not new to student government. Both participated in high school and have been involved since they arrived on campus in the fall. Gillespie has chaired the Senate Sustainability Committee and has been a member of the Facilities Housing Transportation Committee for both semesters. This past year he has served as the Massell Quad Senator, and he is also the co-chair of the Greater Brandeis Sustainability Committee, which has close ties to the Student Union. Bergen is the Senator for the class of 2025 and was a member of the Dining Committee and the Services and Outreach Committee last semester. This semester, she has been the chair of the Dining Committee.
The first item on their agenda is establishing an Executive Board. Having a diverse and qualified board that represents different backgrounds, values, and perspectives is “particularly integral to having an administration that raises the voices of [people] across campus and represents everyone [so that] everyone feels like they have a voice,” Gillespie said in an April 8 interview with the Justice.
They also intend on changing the structure of the Executive Board, replacing current positions with new ones. Two new positions include one who will be “raising awareness about sexual violence on campus, and the other is raising awareness and working with the Disabled Students Network and Student Accessibility Services to improve accessibility on campus,” Gillespie said.
Additional goals include improving transportation on campus, specifically fixing the roads on the route that the Branvan takes, according to Bergen, a Branvan driver herself. Improving the Brandeis Counseling Center and Brandeis Health Center are also of the utmost importance to the pair, specifically in increasing the diversity of counselors to more people who are LGBTQIA+ and more people of color. “People like to talk to people they relate to, and I think that people would feel more comfortable talking to someone that they can see has empathy towards their situation,” Bergen said.
Their agenda is highly influenced by student feedback. For instance, in talking to students from the Disabled Students Network, “we were appalled at how inaccessible so much of our campus is in terms of physical disability or not,” Bergen said. This realization has prompted interest in making campus more accessible to all. Further, in talking with organizations such as the Brandeis Latinx Student Organization, they realized that many students feel that the Intercultural Center is not supported enough, which influenced another priority: “We want to make sure that we're supporting the ICC and making sure that they're getting everything, because that is a safe haven for a ton of students on campus,” Bergen said.
Gillespie, who is also a member of Period Activists at Deis, is very passionate about making menstrual products free and accessible to all menstruators throughout campus, not just in high traffic areas. Additionally, he sees the benefits in joining the Boston Intercollegiate Government, which “is an organization that facilitates collaboration across different student governments in Boston,” he explained. They would be able to work with the student leaders of schools such as Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University “to share ideas or share methods for working with administrators, or effective communication between student government and the student body,” Gillespie said.
Bergen and Gillespie have also been talking about hosting a monthly town hall meeting, which would help facilitate conversations between students and the Student Union. They hope to increase communication and transparency about the initiatives they are pursuing. “We want our work to be really accessible to the student body and we want everyone to feel like their voice is heard and that they can have a chance to connect with us and say what they want to say,” Gillespie said.
These are only some of their goals and issues that Gillespie and Bergen hope to address, which poses some difficulty when it comes to prioritizing. “There is a never-ending list of things that we want to change to make it better for students on campus … realistically, we won't even be able to get to half of it, but we want to do all that we can,” Bergen said.
While their goals may be seen as somewhat ambitious, Gillespie emphasized his and Bergen’s drive and passion to fulfill these goals and how they plan on executing them. “I'm not afraid to be in ‘the room where it happens’ with administrators or with the Board of Trustees, or have these difficult conversations, or have these negotiations to ensure that student voices are heard and that we get done what we set out to get done,” he said.
Another strategy to having a successful term is communication, one of Gillespie’s “most important personal values.” He used the analogy of how it is crucial to have good communication skills with one’s roommate to stress the importance of being able to communicate with the rest of the Union, administrators, and the University as a whole. “It's all about communication. It's about setting expectations, and it's about following up, and I think I see that in Lia and in myself, and I'm confident that we are going to do the best of our ability and do a great job as student leaders for this campus,” he said.
They both also urged students to reach out and communicate their needs and ideas with them. “We want to know what students want so that we can focus on seeing the important things,” Bergen said. This is what fueled the idea for the monthly town hall — creating a setting where students and organizations have the opportunity to communicate with the Union and “making people feel confident that they can have those conversations with us and they can trust us with those conversations and with their needs or their wants,” Gillespie said.
The relationship between the Student Union and the administration is strong, and they are mostly receptive to feedback, according to Bergen and Gillespie. However, to bridge the gap between students and the administration, Gillespie hopes to create “spaces on campus where students and administrators can have empathic conversations surrounding issues across the board and empower students to have agency and student voice in these conversations.” In fact, one of the reasons why Gillespie wanted to run for president was to be able to be in a position where he could have access to and hold the administration accountable, he said.
As Gillespie and Bergen settle into their new positions as President and Vice President, they hope that students remember that “ultimately, at the end of the day, Lia and I, we're students. I mean we’re the same as everyone else. We're all in the same playing field. It's like a community. It's our family,” Gillespie said.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Justice.