Q&A: SGA President discusses midyear review
With the last Student Government Association meeting Wednesday, President Winni Zhang said everything she’d hoped would be accomplished halfway through the 54th Administration has been done.
Zhang said the 54th Administration’s accomplishments so far fall under three categories: health services, textbook prices and parking and transportation.
Looking ahead, she said, there needs to be more conversations about sexual assault on campus, and SGA will lobby at the next session of the Texas Legislature in 2019 as a part of the Texas Student Government Coalition.
The Cougar: The last meeting for SGA is Wednesday. What accomplishments has the 54th Administration made in your eyes?
Winni Zhang: I can break this down into three sections, so we can first touch on parking. When I was running, one of my promises was that we want to be able to bring real-time counters and digital-guidance systems, or parking-guidance systems, to the University in every single lot and garage.
And so that is happening at the end of this semester, which means that you’ll have digital counters at every single surface lot as well as guidance systems in all the garages to be able to sync to your phone for students to look at. You can see how many spots are open to make parking much easier on campus.
Colorado State had done this, and the student feedback was pretty positive from it because they have similar parking challenges, so that’s one thing.
The only lots that will not have them will be 20A and 20B, because they’re going to be eventually garages, so we are not going to put the investment in those lots right now.
That’s one portion of parking. Another problem under parking is that we want to work with METRO, because some of the lines into the University aren’t as quick as they can be. A lot of our international students that live in the Holly Hall area actually rely on that, because it’s hard for them to get a driver’s license or hard for them to get to school without a car, so they rely on the METRO.
It takes them an hour to get to school from Holly Hall, and it’s about 5 to 7 miles away. So we worked with METRO and right now currently in the process of drafting up a plan that we have for a 25-minute route to campus.
The second thing would be health services. So obviously mental health is a very big passion and focus of mine this year. A couple of things that came from that was that we got (Counseling and Psychological Services) on every single syllabi, so now mandated sections similar to the (Center for Diversity and Inclusion) portion for all of our syllabi, which brought a lot of awareness.
We obviously put on the End the Stigma, which was very big as well. And then we also recently just passed a bill declaring the University in a mental-health crisis. And a couple of things are following from that bill, but one of the most important things is that after (UH) President (Renu) Khator saw the bill, she decided to centrally fund nonstudent-fee-based, four new full-time employees for CAPS, which brings our ratio up a lot. So I’m very, very excited for that.
Textbook prices — we are planning to send out a survey pretty soon to the student body. That’s actually being finalized and sent out probably within the next eight to 10 days. And that survey is going to jump-start some of our textbook conversations. The pilot program is technically starting in spring, but will be implemented in fall for students.
The Cougar: So can you give me a wrapup of all the bills that have been passed this year?
Zhang: The first one is the climate change bill, UB 54001. That bill also came from my office, and it basically asks the University to sign the Second Nature climate commitment agreement, which means that we will commit to being carbon neutral by a certain day.
Doesn’t matter what date it is, we create our own climate-action plan. But we are going to commit to that. So, President Khator has seen the bill, the office has been doing research already, and we’re looking into how that can be our next step.
UB 54002 is the mental- health crisis bill. SGAR 54001 — that’s a resolution supporting DACA students at our University, and most of the things on that bill have been done.
The Cougar: At the last SGA meeting, you said that “students don’t want to come here,” and there is “too much focus on SGA matters.” Why do you think there has been so much focus on SGA matters?
Zhang: To be completely honest, I think that’s more the Senate’s objective.
Each year has become more and more internal. Like fixing some of the bylaws and constitution, because I think that’s really tangible. It’s very easy to fix matters within your own organization, because that’s as simple as passing a bill and then it’s fixed.
But I think what’s less tangible is moving past that, like fixing things on a University level, and I think our senators are starting to get back on track. My goal is to bring SGA Senate back to working on big-picture ideas across the University.
So that was kind of just me speaking at a meeting and letting them know that we should stop working on internal things that students aren’t going to care about. I mean you can do it, but make sure you’re also doing things outside.
The Cougar: So is there anything that you wished was accomplished or felt didn’t get enough attention so far this year?
Zhang: No. I mean, we’ve accomplished quite some stuff this year. We still have a lot more to go.
We were just picked and elected as the new director for the Texas Student Government Coalition. That’s a coalition that spans currently 25 student government across Texas and represents 660,000 students.
It’s kind of an advocacy group, so we compile a unanimous vote. So, we have to unanimously vote on an agenda and compile those three to five items and take those as to what we’re going to prioritize for the legislative session in Texas.
The bills that we’ve chosen this year very closely aligned with what SGA wants in terms of advocacy efforts at UH anyways, which would be mental health, sexual assault, open educational resources and then the Good Samaritan law. Literally, all of these are our top priorities.
So we’re hoping that the advocacy efforts there are going to be really, really strong and good, so that we can get some legal mandates passed in terms of all these initiatives working on. That’s the next big picture idea.
The Cougar: Any other big picture initiatives for next semester?
Zhang: So I think that that’s like the lobbying portion. We still have our secondary initiatives that we have to go through. Some of that is the diversity and inclusion efforts will be a focus. Sexual assault will be a really big focus since most of our main initiatives are done.
We started a task force this year. Executive Order 1 was a sexual assault task force, and a lot of students had really enjoyed going to those meetings that brings different parts of the University together to talk about how we can improve in terms of reporting, in terms of transparency with sexual assault survivors, in terms of training for police officers. We talk about everything that’s related to sexual assault awareness and prevention.
That’s one of my big goals before I leave office: to address the low reporting on our campus and see what we can do to bring light to an issue that’s not talked about enough on campus.