Wieboldt and Leo: Transparency, Collaboration, Fresh Energy The freshmen senators discuss improvements to UGBC budget and campus accessibility and inclusivity.

S

ix months ago, they arrived on the Heights. Five months ago, they were elected to the UGBC Senate. The 2020 Undergraduate Government of Boston College presidential election’s only freshman team, Dennis Wieboldt, MCAS ’23, and Lorenzo Leo, MCAS ’23, are not worried about the age gap between them and the other candidates. In fact, they say that’s what gives them their edge.

The two met at orientation last summer. After discovering their mutual interest in UGBC, they successfully ran as a pair for the UGBC Senate. One semester later, Wieboldt and Leo are vying to become president and vice president, respectively.

As fresh faces in the Senate last fall, the duo quickly discovered that UGBC had organizational inefficiencies, a lack of transparency, and a disconnect with administration. Their age, they say, heightens their commitment to instituting changes and seeing these changes through.

“I feel like perhaps it’s because we’re younger, and we feel like we need to prove ourselves in the Senate, but we’ve just done so much in so little time,” Wieboldt said. “Not all of it has come to fruition at the snap of a finger, but … we’re still energized. … It’s kind of just lucky that we have years left here to really see the changes.” 

Wieboldt grew up in central New Jersey, where he encountered his first experience with advocacy. His high school was unusual for central New Jersey, he said, in that it had multiple freestanding buildings. After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, Wieboldt saw his school’s increased risk of such an event and began working with his local prosecutor’s office to implement clearer procedures for guest check-ins and emergency lockdowns.

Despite graduating from BC High, just a few miles away, Leo’s childhood took him from Livingston, N.J. to New York to Washington D.C. to Cairo to Florence to London. But across all of his homes, being Jesuit-educated remained a constant, which ingrained in him the importance of serving others, he said. 

Coming from a high school so close to BC also alleviated worries about the social transition, Leo said, allowing him to jump into something he’d always wanted to do: student government.

One of Wieboldt and Leo’s main Senate campaign promises was to install drinking water taps in Medeiros, as the residence hall previously had none. Crystal Pu, UGBC’s president pro tempore and Lynch ’20, recalled how after the first Senate meeting of the fall, Wieboldt sent her an email inquiring about how he and Leo could get started on this initiative.

Initially, their request wasn’t taken very seriously in the Senate, they said, but they did eventually succeed in delivering on this promise, which Wieboldt said reflected their belief that seemingly small changes can greatly improve students’ lives.

Wieboldt, who is majoring in political science and history, has shown his political interest through a number of avenues. He is an assistant editor at Colloquium, BC’s political science journal, and an editor at the Bellarmine Pre-Law Review, which publishes law-related pieces. He works weekly at the Massachusetts Judicial Nominating Commission, in addition to working alongside Leo as a research assistant for Lynch School of Education and Human Development professor Gabrielle Oliveira’s study of how the 2020 political landscape impacts immigration issues. 

Leo’s public policy interests have led him to be a philosophy and intended international studies major on the pre-law track. He works as an administrative assistant in the history department, where he said he has found students with similar interests. 

“A lot of other candidates classify different categories or groups, but Lorenzo never sees it that way,” said Yahya Yussuf, president of BC’s International Club and CSOM ’20, who works alongside Leo in the history department. “His broad background has led him to be open-minded, [and] his passion for politics has led him to be very committed to different causes and policies.”

At Wednesday’s Diversity and Inclusion debate, Wieboldt said that he felt as though international students, specifically those from Asia, were often ignored while discussing underrepresented groups on campus. He and Leo recently released a statement for Lunar New Year that outlined their commitment to ensuring a more welcoming environment for Asian students. It urged University Counseling Services and the student body as a whole to provide extra support to students whose family or friends have been personally affected by coronavirus. 

Throughout their initial semester as senators, the duo tackled a range of issues on BC’s campus. After implementing drinking water taps in Medeiros, they worked alongside Information Technology Services (ITS) to plan the installation of printers in the Stuart dining hall and expand the capabilities of eduroam WiFi. They also were co-sponsors of the Cura Personalis initiative, which provides free menstrual products in select restrooms on campus. Other teams have referenced sponsoring this initiative in their campaigns, but most were far less involved in the planning process, Leo said. 

“I feel like perhaps it's because we're younger, and we feel like we need to prove ourselves in the Senate, but we've just done so much in so little time. Not all of it has come to fruition at the snap of a finger, but … we're still energized. … It's kind of just lucky that we have years left here to really see the changes.”
Dennis Wieboldt, MCAS '23

Wieboldt said being realistic while working with administration has been key to implementing their initiatives. Administrators initially denied their request for printers in Stuart Hall due to costs, but the pair persisted and was able to get administration to agree to add one printer, which Wieboldt said was a good starting point.

“We figured [to come] not as a demand but as a request and [say] that this is going to improve our student experience and make our degree more valuable at the end,” Wieboldt said. “If you have happier students, their output is going to be better.”

Wieboldt and Leo said they’ve also taken this approach when working alongside the Office of Disability Services. UGBC’s Council for Students with Disabilities has prioritized the expansion of Eagle Escort services among its current initiatives, but progress has been slow, Wieboldt said. 

The pair has worked to expand lecture-capture systems in classrooms, which Wieboldt said will complement the Eagle Escort improvements, ensuring that if physically disabled students can’t receive transportation for some reason, such as a snowstorm, they can access a recorded lecture. 

The pair drafted a 60-page updated UGBC Constitution and Senate rulebook which they will implement if elected.

In it, they proposed the creation of a new senior academic advisory board within UGBC. Wieboldt’s personal experience with working off-campus has led him to push for BC to expand the academic credits that students completing internships off-campus can receive. He has already met with Akua Sarr, vice provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, and Joseph Du Pont, associate vice president for Career Services. 

“People say, you know, ‘inexperience, inexperience, inexperience,’ and I guarantee you we’ve spent more time outside of class meeting with administrators than anyone else,” Wieboldt said, referring to the common criticism that being freshmen leads them to be unqualified.

But they haven’t achieved their initiatives at the snap of a finger. Both Leo and Wieboldt were initially stunned by the Senate’s inefficiency and lack of cohesion, they said. In their first month as senators, they were co-sponsors of a resolution to make all of the UGBC meeting minutes public to the student bodybut the resolution didn’t pass. 

“For us, I mean, that was a little bit of a slap in the face,” Wieboldt said. “It’s like, ‘[There’s] these two freshmen, and they want us to be transparent all of a sudden, like screw that.’ … That was really how we got introduced to, you know, the dynamics.”

“We figured [to come] not as a demand but as a request and [say] that this is going to improve our student experience and make our degree more valuable at the end. If you have happier students, their output is going to be better.”
Dennis Wieboldt, MCAS '23

Wieboldt and Leo described their platform as centering around increased transparency and a more collaborative, rather than confrontational, approach to administrators. 

While some initiatives, such as advocating for an LGBTQ+ resource center, are common across the platforms of this year’s candidates and have been advocated for for multiple years, Wieboldt pointed out that they still aren’t being implemented.

“At this point … there isn’t enough actionable change in UGBC organizationally to say, ‘If we do something out of the norm and elect someone that’s so young, you know, is the world going to collapse?’” Wieboldt said. “We really don’t see much how many steps backwards we can take because the organization is not a cohesive unit.”

Wieboldt and Leo said their main priority is to increase transparency with regard to the UGBC budget. Both senators said they received no response from the current executive board when they asked for a breakdown of the money UGBC spent during the fall semester. They pointed to UGBC’s fall retreat, which cost nearly $25,000, as an example of UGBC’s misuse of money. 

Their updated constitution would require the UGBC director of finance to release public spending reports as well as a breakdown of attendance at UGBC events every other month.

The pair also emphasized the necessity of better cohesion within UGBC. Their chosen executive board includes members who could work well together, Wieboldt said.  

Their new constitution also outlines Senate roles and responsibilities more explicitly than the old constitution for the purpose of improving efficiency and reducing infighting, they said.

Running with the campaign promise to bring “Fresh Energy to the Heights,” the senators said their work has shown their dedication to delivering on student demands through collaboration, transparency, and hard work.

“I don’t think age or class year affect your ability to lead—your determination, your habits of excellency, and your commitment are more important,” Pu said. “For Lorenzo and Dennis, as sophomores … they will have the time and flexibility to really devote themselves to this work. Leading UGBC isn’t intellectual work. It’s really about the effort, the determination, the commitment.”

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor

print

About Anna Lonnquist