“The best compliment that I’ve ever received was from one of my high school musical directors,” Jaden Pena said. “He told me that what he loved most about me was my ability to bridge different communities. And I think that was really an awakening moment for me.”
Indeed, Pena’s time at Tufts has been marked by his commitment to bridging differences and promoting understanding across different communities. As a varsity football player and a tenor for the Beelzebubs, an all-male a cappella group on campus, Pena knows all too well how our identities and interests can be singled out and used to label us.
For Pena, though, it is critical to pursue true interests and passions in the most authentic and truthful way.
“I’d say most people have multiple, different talents that they could be providing for the world that might just be hidden by someone’s inability to push their comfort levels,” Pena said. “When you look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, only you know if you’re doing everything that you want to be doing. … Nobody else can extract it from you.”
Academically, he discovered that his two majors, political science and music, sound, and culture, are highly complementary and have deepened his empathy for others.
“In theater classes, people share different stories and share different experiences,” Pena said. “Through that exploration and through those classes, I’ve gained various other perspectives that I never would have [otherwise]. … I think that [it] definitely shaped who I am as a person and how I look at the world, which then definitely affects how I look at politics in general.”
With this understanding in mind, Pena ran on a platform that centered around diversity, equity and inclusion for the Tufts Community Union Senate presidential election last spring. Relatedly, a centerpiece of his campaign was his promise of advocacy for and representation of the student body to the university administration, Pena recounted.
“When I was running, I didn’t just run on a platform of ‘I want to do this. And I wish I could do this. And this is a dream that I’m going to sell you,’” he said. “I really ran on a platform that was like, ‘I am going to do everything that I can do to advocate for the needs and wants of this community.’”
True to his promise, Pena was guided by the mission to bridge the gap between the student body and the university administration throughout this school year.
“Going to meetings with administrators, I knew that if I were advocating for something that would enhance student life, I knew that I had the support of thousands of undergraduates behind me, which was more empowering than pressurizing,” he said.
In this respect, Pena added that his understanding of equity has underlied his projects and initiatives, including various town halls to foster greater understanding across the university’s communities.
“Equity, to me, is [about] ensuring that the resources that Tufts is providing are accessible to all communities on our campus,” Pena said.
To this end, he spearheaded and helped organize many efforts as the TCU president, such as combating food insecurity issues. As a TCU senator last school year, Pena also chaired the committee on community diversity and inclusion, and he served as the diversity officer on the executive board of the senate.
Reflecting on this school year, Pena explained and cited the TCU senate’s communal efforts and many accomplishments.
“I don’t want to take the credit of others, but I get to, being the president, be involved in every single project in one way or another,” Pena said. “Our outreach committee did town halls that had different community senators have little roundtable discussions. … There was a Black faculty meet-and-greet that was hosted by two senators [and] that was unbelievably successful.”
In light of his involvement with the student government, Pena further elaborated on his understanding of good leadership.
“Good leadership, to me, is taking the passion and inspiration — or taking the passion and devotion of others — and letting that inspire you,” he said. “I never tried to be [a] leader, that’s like, ‘we’re doing this no matter what,’ or ‘this is how this is going to work.’ I always take a collaborative approach to things and listen to the ideas of others.”
In this respect, Pena thanked and credited his football coach, Jay Civetti, who has shaped his understanding of leadership over the years.
“Coach Civetti, he capitalizes [the word] team every single time he types it out. I remember, in my freshman year, [asking] him, ‘Coach, why do you do that?’ And he was like, ‘You will know by the end of your time here,’” Pena said. “And surely, every single day was a reminder of why we capitalize ‘TEAM,’ whenever we type it out.”
Among his many passions and interests, Pena also emphasized that the football community is where he feels most at home at Tufts. This season, he cited, is his 16th football season.
As a first-generation student, Pena added how football has opened up many opportunities for him, including his education at Tufts.
“Football really was a blessing in my life, because it got me to … a college like Tufts University,” he said. “How I first heard about Tufts was through football. My high school football coach told me about Tufts and told me about the NESCAC. … I think it was like a match made in heaven.”
Overall, while it has not always been easy to balance his two majors, extracurricular commitments and various leadership positions, Pena shared that the people at Tufts continued to motivate him, through the ups and downs.
“Making the world a better place and my passion for my communities is definitely what I believe gets me out of bed every single day,” he said. “It’s easy to get out of bed, early morning on a Sunday after a late Saturday night, to go meet with an administrator to advocate for something that will improve or better someone else’s life. It’s easy to get out of bed and go to a 6 a.m. football lift when you are willing to do whatever it takes to win for your brothers on the team.”
Reflecting back on his four years at Tufts, Pena concluded that he can now see how his college journey has been animated by his desire to make this world a better place. Moving forward, he ultimately aims to extend and build on his endeavors at Tufts through a career in politics.
From this perspective, Pena elaborated on his understanding of what a better world might look like, consonant with his commitment to equity and leadership experiences.
“I think a better world looks like a world where people can be themselves unapologetically and live their life exactly how they want to live their life, without any fear or with the utmost freedom, which each individual in our world deserves,” he said.