An Interview with Student President Kayla Padilla: Mascot, Shuttle, COVID, and more

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In the Spring 2021 semester, a Q+A was conducted with Kayla Padilla shortly after she was elected Student President. Now that the Fall 2021 semester is in full swing, we decided to do a follow-up interview, this time in person. Doing it face-to-face proved to be not only more organic, but more productive, as I was also able to get a sense of her as a person. The following is the official transcript of the interview, which took place on 9/2/2021.

 

Sam: First of all, I just want to say congratulations.

 

Kayla: Thank you, I appreciate it, I really do.

 

S: My pleasure, and um, I guess this will be a part two to [the Q+A] so I’ll just be following up on those questions, see how everything’s going. First off, since starting here, what been your top priority or the main focus of the early stages of your presidency?

 

K: So, that’s an amazing question. So, um, what Student Senate is really working on right now, and I’m fully here for it, is a Student Concern Survey. So, we’re going to be canvassing the students, and I also told Moneshae about that as well, like it’s an Outlook survey, and we’re coming up with a list of concerns for students to rate from most concerned to least concerned. That can range from like personal safety or maybe food safety, the mascot, parking, these things, you know? And we will deduce how, like what is most concerning for students, like what we should really take care of and tackle throughout the academic year. We’re still in the process of working on it and making sure everything that we’ve heard from not only past students but also in these first few weeks of school. We’re making sure that, like, everything is on there and if it’s not, there’s an option to elaborate on something people want to see happen. So, that’s being worked on, and if it’s not gonna be sent out tomorrow, it’ll be sent out hopefully next week. That’ll be through an email, and we’re also gonna make a QR code and put it up on all the bulletin boards, both campuses and have it be in all, or most lounge spaces and just be accessible to as many people as possible. So, that’s one of the first things happening. Something I’m really focusing on, two things: the mascot, and-

 

S: I actually had a little section about that.

 

K: Yeah, that’s something I’m really pushing for and, um, thinking about, and I don’t know if you’ve been on the Manchester campus.

 

S: I have not.

 

K: So, the Manchester campus has very limited parking versus [the Henniker campus], like there’s multiple places here to park, you know, like that huge parking area in front of Lyons Center, there’s also Simon Center, there’s also stuff by, like, the coffee house and the arena. There’s a bunch of parking here, but in Manchester there’s just the French parking lot, which is very limited, and there’s a small little section by Roger Williams, which is another building. And then anywhere else, you have to pay the city, or you have to find, like, possibly free parking on a street, you know? That’s really hard for commuter students to plan and coordinate, so if they already paid for a parking pass and they can’t find parking, like, what’s the use for that pass?

 

S: Yeah, exactly.

 

K: Right, you know? So, that’s something I’m really trying to push for, and, it also will directly benefit all NEC student who choose to have classes on the Manchester campus for whatever their major is. As I said, it’s very limited parking, so I wanna see something be solved for that.

 

S: Yeah, absolutely. So, um, reading back through our first interview, well, Q+A, one of the things you mentioned as one of your big concerns was the shuttle and making it more convenient for student going back and forth.

 

K: Yes, yes, so with the shuttle, I’ve been in contact with Kevin [Covey, Director of Campus Safety on the Manchester Campus], and from what I’m understanding, the hours have been extended and I think Kevin has done that himself, I haven’t had direct influence on that, but I really wanna push forward for a second shuttle. Not just attached to Student Engagement and Senate, but also an additional one because that’s, like, just having one is not enough sometimes. If it’s two running, then it can operate at different times, it’ll be a lot more convenient for people. So, I don’t know if you know, but I’m on the Board of Trustee meetings, so hopefully this is something I can bring up to them and be like, “this is a really big student concern, and I want to see something happen,” and present them a plan. So, I’m gonna be speaking with Kevin and possibly trying to get that solved for students as well.

 

S: Alright, awesome. So, I guess circling back, the first thing you mentioned was the concern survey. Concern has kind of been the general tone of these first few weeks, at least in my experience because we’re trying to get back to normal heading out of a pandemic, and with all that going on it’s been a lot more hectic than in the past. How has the pandemic affected operations?

 

K: Well, in the beginning, we were initially meeting on Zoom every week during the summer because we couldn’t see each other, regardless of COVID. So, that was a little hard, and then I think just coming together in person and, like, talking is helping us grow together as a team, because that’s what we are, you know? We’re this unit that’s here for students, and we’re here to represent you guys as much as possible. I think something that’s a student concern is safety, making sure people are wearing their mask as much as possible. Like, we may seem like we’re in the end of it, but if you’re looking at like studies and stuff like that, it’s still a little scary, you know what I mean?

 

S: Yeah, absolutely.

 

K: So, I personally wear my mask wherever I go unless I’m outside and there’s not a lot of people around me, just because I want to protect the people important to me and myself. So, um, I think we’re just mostly hearing that, well, mostly I just want people to be thinking about their safety and others’ safety as well, you know? Like, the mask isn’t just for yourself but it’s for others you may come into contact with.

 

S: Yeah, for sure. So, let’s circle back to the whole mascot thing because that was something you seemed the most passionate about in our first conversation.

 

K: Yeah, I am very passionate about that.

 

S: So, one of the things you mentioned was at least a placeholder. How is progress going with that?

 

K: So, I am able to meet with President Perkins bi-weekly, and that is an accomplishment. I am so happy and I plan to meet with her as much as I can and bring up these concerns from, like, Senate and students. We were talking about surveying the community about how they feel about the mascot and surveying the greater community of alumni because it not only affects people here but it affects people who have already graduated, too. So, we were talking about that, and this process I really want to see happen, because it is a process. I won’t lie and say, “it’s a one and done deal.” It’s not. It’s a whole process.

 

S: Yeah, it’s never that black and white. It’s always a whole thing.

 

K: Yeah, exactly. So, we were talking about taking some sort of survey to see how people feel and then surveying the alumni community and then going from there and while that’s happening, having open discussions and forums about the mascot, how people feel about it, how we can go about changing it, and then possibly presenting these findings to the Board of Trustees and Senior Administration. So, yeah, I feel very strongly about it because, as you know, NEC merch back, like, almost three years ago or something like that, like, it’s been a little bit of a second but like not that much time if you think about it, and I have felt very strongly about this since my freshman year spring semester. This has been a conversation on the art campus since my freshman year and spring semester. A lot of art students have been fighting for this as much as possible, so I want to represent everybody, you know. I’ve heard this is a conversation that’s been happening for a while on this campus as well.

 

S: Oh, I believe it.

 

K: I personally just don’t feel connected to the mascot, and if people want to come discuss with me like how they feel about the mascot and how it affects them, I’m more than happy to talk to them and have that conversation because I think if we talk more about it and make it not feel like it’s a stigma to talk about, or like we shouldn’t talk about it- we should, we’re students here, this is our institution. This is for us, like, it directly affects everybody, so we should understand where everyone’s coming from. As I said, it’s 2021, and Monashae mentioned that the Redskins have recently rebranded, like, first of all, that’s a slur. That’s a racial slur, and for a long time people didn’t seem to care. I’m just trying to get people to think from the perspective of a person of color, you know? I’m also thinking about it from my Latinx perspective. Like, let’s say it was, like, a black student or someone who comes from an indigenous community. How would I feel about coming here knowing that was my mascot? This is a very diverse population, a very diverse campus on both sides, so I think we should do better to make these students feel comfortable, feel welcome, and feel like their voices are heard.

 

S: Yeah absolutely, and going off of that, from the people you have talked to about it, students and faculty, what have been the kind of responses you’ve been getting? Have you gotten any pushback?

 

K: I’ve gotten a little bit of pushback from some people. I’ve heard from some people that they don’t think it’s that big of an issue versus, like, concerns coming from people of color at this school, and I’m like, “well, why is it not a people of color concern?” Because I’m a person of color, I’m hearing multiple persons of color talk about how this affects them and how they don’t feel connected to it. I don’t see where that’s coming from. I want to see, but I don’t see that. I’m trying to understand it. I’ve had a little bit of pushback, and I’ve decided it’s all about having that uncomfortable conversation and really understanding, like, why do people feel connected to this? Why? I want to understand so we can get to the meat of it. Like, if we’re really patriotic, let’s be Eagles! You know what I mean? Like, people sometimes are just really problematic. Take, for instance, celebrities like Kanye, for example, you know?

 

S: Oh god.

 

K: Like, so many people really like him, but like, he has a problematic history. Some people have got him tattooed, like he’s on their body forever. So, if people feel really strongly about this, I want to open up that conversation and really understand why they feel so strongly. But if we’re a patriotic school, why don’t we be Eagles? And then we can start opening up that discussion of, “Oh, eagles are very important to Native American culture, so how do we maybe start paying respects to this or understanding and educating ourselves and doing these things of, like, active allyship for our POC community?” So, yeah, God I talk a lot I apologize, haha.

 

S: No, you’re good, this is your time to shine. And, uh, going off that, I just have one last thing here, and this is stemming off that the big issue, like I asked directly what you think the major problem is on campus, and you said “performative activism.”

 

K: Yes.

 

S: Has that changed at all? Is that still the biggest issue to you?

 

K: So, I think when I said that, I don’t know if people really resonated with that or if they felt I was talking, like, out of turn, but I do think there is a lot of performative activism just in general, not just on this campus, like, just people, you know? Especially with the Black Lives Matter movement, stuff like that. As I mentioned in my speech and my convocation, I didn’t directly mention them but this past year and a half has brought attention to historically unheard voices in the United States, and we need to continue that momentum. We can’t just let it fizzle out, we can’t just be like, “oh yes, we really care about people of color here, we really care about how they feel.” Okay, like, if you really care, let’s see some action. Let’s see policies being put in place. Why don’t we hire more diverse faculty and adjunct? Why don’t we see our administration possibly bring more people of color on campus and talk and present these talks and guest speakers, you know what I mean? Like, it’s, as much as people talk and have great ideas, it’s the action that’s really important, and that’s what I think of when I think of performative activism. If you just talk all the time but don’t have the action, like, people are gonna be really confused and think, “well, do you really feel this way?”

 

S: Yeah, like actions speak louder than words, that old adage.

 

K: Exactly. So, like, just being like, “I can talk this talk but I can also show you how I care and how my activism affects people and how I’m doing better to be an active ally and not be passive.” To say that you’re not racist is the steppingstone. That’s the foundation.

 

S: It’s the bare minimum.

 

K: That’s literally it. That’s the bare minimum to say you’re not racist. Like, how are you not racist? I need to know, you know? Or, “I don’t hate Latinx people or immigrants or black people,” like, okay. How? You can say that, but like, how are you gonna show me that’s happening? For a long time, so many people said they weren’t these things and did awful things to people, and it’s like, why are you gonna say this when you’re gonna do actions contradicting that?

 

S: Because then it’s like, what do you actually believe?

 

K: Exactly.

 

S: So, when it comes to encouraging that kind of thing among the student body, how would you encourage that? How would you encourage people to become more aware and educated on social issues, especially those that are going on on campus? Because, you are the President, but there’s only so much you can do. You can’t educate every single student individually on it.

 

K: Well, I also wanna do forums of like discussion on race, gender, sexuality, all these things, really important things. I really hope to host a forum about Latinx Heritage Month because I’m Latina and that’s really important to me, and I really want to talk to students about it and understand where people are coming from and see if we can talk to each other and understand, like, that education aspect, like, yeah, I can’t educate everyone to be aware, but opening up that conversation and making people feel like they can have that conversation of like, “I don’t know these things, I want to know these things.” Sometimes if you’re not educated, you just get shot down, like, “oh, how did you not know this? Google is free, libraries are free,” but if you come from an environment where that’s not really talked about, you can’t really blame them. We are just products of our upbringing; we didn’t ask for that. So, if you come from an environment where maybe worker’s rights or immigrant rights or civil rights are not really talked about, I can’t blame them for being like, “I don’t know these things.” Opening up that conversation and having that discussion and not just asking people to educate but saying, “I’m not educated, where do I go from here,” and just sometimes taking that second to be like, “well, I want to have this talk with you,” and then, like, “here’s another starting point,” and just being curious on how you can be, like, a better active ally for everyone.

 

S: Um, I guess we can wrap this up here, are there any final thoughts? Anything I haven’t brought up that you wanna mention?

 

K: I’m here on the Henniker campus. My office hours are here (Tuesday and Thursday, 2 PM – 4 PM), and as I said, I really wanna do my best to represent everybody, not just people like me, just everybody. I just wanna provide an example for everybody, you know? I want people to know that this role, this honor, is attainable if you work really, really hard, and I’m going to work really, really hard to make sure that everybody feels heard, and if anyone has any questions or concerns or just wants directly to talk to me, you can always email me ([email protected]), you can always come into my office hours, I am so willing to have these conversations and get to know what I can do for our community, not only me, but also the rest of Senate. Like, it’s not just me, it’s also Jay, it’s also Lily, it’s also Sophie, it’s also Tyler, we’re here for everybody. It’s not just a one man show, and it’d be awful if it was a one-man show. I can’t be everywhere all the time, so, yeah. I’ve just been trusted with this honor, and I really wanna make sure that I do my best for everybody and representing everybody, and if anyone has any questions or any concerns, they can always come talk to me, and I’m always so willing to have those conversations.

 

S: Thank you. For whatever it’s worth, I think you are making very good steps to accomplish your goals. Thank you very much for giving me your time, for agreeing to do this.

 

K: Thank you for coming in, too. Your time is valuable too.

 

S: My pleasure. I’m glad we got to do this in person.

 

K: Me too, and like I said, I’m just a student who’s been trusted with this honor. Yes, this title was attached to me, but I am also one of you guys. I’m still working through things, I have my own personal life, you know what I mean? Like, outside of this, I am just… I’m just me. I’m just Kayla. I have this honor, I have this title, but I’m also one of you guys. I’m here for everybody, and I’m gonna be that advocate for you guys.

 

S: Awesome, thank you very much.

 

K: Thank you.

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