After achieving all of its campaign goals by the end of the summer, the Student Government Association went on to pass multiple pieces of legislation this semester, including the Homeless Student Relief Act and the Transgender Inclusion Act, and participated in various events, such as Weeks of Welcome and End the Stigma.
The Cougar sat down with SGA President Cameron Barrett to ask about how the 55th Administration has continued to fulfill its campaign promises, the impact of the legislation they’ve passed and what is in store for Spring 2019.
The Cougar: Your three campaign initiatives were to grow involvement, provide affordable textbooks to students and to create a safer campus. How have you achieved these three goals over the course of this semester?
Barrett: In terms of our platform, we accomplished that in the spring, which was trying to get CSI (Center for Student Involvement) to be marginally more efficient. Affordable textbooks we were able to get done over the summer.
Safety is probably, in terms of our platform, we’ve focused on the most this semester. They were able to get the Cougar Pack going, which was a way for students to ride on a golf cart away from the library.
TC: At the end of the summer, you said that you had already achieved all of your campaign goals and that you would be shifting focus to reducing wage disparities for students working on campus. You mentioned previously that you were going to be working with Administration and Finance to upgrade their pay scale. What became of this effort? What have you done to address this disparity this semester?
Barrett: One of the things we were trying to do for months was to get HR (Human Resources) to release wage data. We were able to work with Administration and Finance to compile a report that detailed what we were asking, how realistic it was, how much it cost. What I really asked for was if the student minimum could be $9 an hour.
I’m only in office for a year, so I don’t think it’s reasonable to say, in one year, I’d like you to double student wages. I do think it’s reasonable to say, transition to $9 by the next fiscal year and then the following fiscal year, transition to $10. This is still in the pipeline (in progress).
TC: What would you say are some of your greatest accomplishments this semester?
Barrett: One thing is the new constitution that we posted on the website. It’s very difficult to get a constitutional amendment and it’s the first time SGA has gotten a new constitution, in my memory. The biggest thing that we put in the new constitution was that we implemented a recall system.
We implemented a recall system, which is a way for students to directly hold elected leaders accountable, through a special election. End the Stigma. Most collaborative End the Stigma we’ve ever had. It was in collaboration with Fresh Check day, Counseling and Psychological Services, SPB also did a mental health event.
The whole campus engaged in a hugely collaborative mental health awareness day.
The haunted house we hosted. Kim, the Student Life chair, noticed that there was a lack of Halloween-themed programming this year. We orchestrated an entire haunted house, it was very collaborative, we got donations from people, we worked with our Emerging Leaders.
Infrastructure. One cool thing we did was we got UH facilities to create a design and plan on repaving the University Drive sidewalks, the sidewalks in front of the Student Center.
I remember coming here as a junior, but it was kind of disconcerting where we got off the bus to see the new Student Center, I think it had only been open for one year at that point, we get off and there’s this cracked sidewalk with metal plates.
TC: Back in August, the senate discussed creating a mandatory transit fee for students to fund University shuttles instead of using funds raised from the sale of parking permits. What has become of this discussion? Are there plans for this to appear before the senate in the future?
Barrett: So far this year, nothing has happened. If anything were to happen next year, it would be for the following fiscal year. The soonest a student at UH could potentially pay a transit fee would be September of 2020. The idea of a transit fee is a more fair way to fund the transit service and it’s cost-neutral. It doesn’t actually cost students more money.
TC: You mentioned in your list of accomplishments for this semester the things you’ve done for student relief, one of which is the Homeless Student relief act. It was passed in the senate, but still needs to gain the approval of the Board of Regents. What would happen to the act if it does not gain the approval of the Board of Regents?
Barrett: If it doesn’t get approved by the Board, I would be pretty disappointed in our Board. I don’t think it will get disapproved, though. Once a plan has gone through the rigorous process of even getting to their table, generally they don’t veto it.
This wouldn’t be presented to them if it wasn’t financially feasible for auxiliary services to do or if it wasn’t logistically feasible for financial aid to do. If it didn’t work out, I would just continue to advocate for it.
The only reason this needs to be approved by the Board is because technically, this is a special meal plan we’re offering. This is a meal plan with special benefits at a different cost. If one of those things wasn’t true, it wouldn’t have to be presented to the Board.
TC: One of the initiatives SGA implemented this semester was the Cougar Pack program. How has this act made a positive difference to campus safety so far and how will it ensure the safety of students studying until late during finals season?
Barrett: Some of the information that I saw was that in terms of measuring the impact, there’s the absolute number of students that have been escorted and then there’s the relief we’ve given to UHPD.
If you look at the number of escorts requested at the same times on the same days as last year, the equivalent last year Tuesday through Thursday, we notice a structural drop in the number of requests for escorts because a lot of the requests for escorts from UHPD are from the library.
TC: SGA worked to bus students to polls this year, in conjunction with the Graduate College of Social Work. How did SGA help this effort?
Barrett: We have a really good working relationship with auxiliary services and one thing as a residual effect of our great working relationship is that I asked if it would be possible for UH to get a bus for the first day of early voting and it was no problem. Where the precarious proposal came in was, we got so many students bused to vote, can we do this for another day?
TC: How has the Transgender Inclusion Act made a difference to the LGBT community at UH since it was passed in October?
Barrett: That’s just why we wanted to get that policy renewed, because it’s just a matter of comfort. We had heard from trans students who would get called out on the role sheet by the wrong name.
That can be uncomfortable because, especially when attendance is a grade, you’re forcing a student to answer to a name that they don’t consider their name because they need to for a grade, but then they have to come out to you and say, my name isn’t this. That is definitely an awkward situation that still exists under the old policy. That’s why, to us, it was important to advocate for that.
TC: What is the status of the food pantry that was proposed as part of the Student Hunger Act?
Barrett: I had a meeting today with the Food Insecurity Group. They’re still compiling survey results. I don’t know, honestly. I know that the Food Insecurity Group, they’re definitely looking at it.
Food Insecurity Group approves it. We’re not in that stage yet. All i can say is that the space is there and it would be unfortunate if it wasn’t a food pantry come spring. If we don’t have a food pantry come spring of 2019, I’m not sure if there’s any good reason for that.
TC: Going into the spring semester, what will your administration be focusing on?
Barrett: One is going to be the Graduate Bill of Rights. I’m fairly confident we can get a working final before the semester ends, which for us is the twenty-first of December. I’m hoping we’ll be able to present it early spring and get it ratified by the SGA.
Obviously, still going to be working on student wages, something I hope to present before I leave office. And the election commission, big goal. I even put this in our first day party platform was getting more students to vote. My goal isn’t to get seventy percent, but I think 5,000 is pretty reasonable.