A conversation with Student Body President Suchira Sharma on the Budget Priorities Survey

This article was published in the Huntington News by Jasmine Heyward on Monday, November 20th, 2017.

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Northeastern’s Student Government Association, or SGA, sent the annual Budget Priorities Survey to the undergraduate student body Nov. 6. The results of this survey are used by the SGA Cabinet to make recommendations to senior administrative personnel. The Huntington News spoke with Student Body President Suchira Sharma about the creation of the survey and SGA’s goals.

The Huntington News: What’s your goal for the survey this year?

Suchira Sharma: Luckily, it is my second year helping craft the survey and presenting it, so I’ve seen what works and doesn’t. Last year we were able to paint a pretty solid picture of what UHCS looked like at the moment, and unfortunately I think we kind of left it up to interpretation for senior leadership in terms for how they would address those problems. So they hired two new staff members to manage patient flow, and they decided to renovate the space to make it more confidential. Those are great wins and I’m proud to stand by them, but the case that we’re making with this year’s UHCS component of the budget priorities survey is asking specifically for [more] mental health clinicians. For the amount of students on our campus we should have a certain number* and we’re well below that in terms of staffing and clinicians. I don’t have that number off the top of my head, but suddenly I kind of knew that that was going to be the next big goal.

There’s also a section on confidential resources for survivors of sexual assault. I was a freshman when the referenda was first created by members of SARC [Northeastern Sexual Assault Response Coalition] for the establishment of a resource center and I’m so disappointed that after so many talks with administrators a space was given to them and it’s not confidential. I had a meeting with President [Joseph E.] Aoun a week ago and that was the first thing I brought up.

HN: Who does SGA present the results to?

SS: We work pretty closely with the Office of Student Affairs to create an audience that’s intentional with the survey. So I can tell off the top of my head that since we asked questions about dining Maureen [Timmons, director of Dining Services] will probably be there. I believe that we’ll have senior administrators in Student Affairs this year as well as Philomena Mantella, the senior vice president of the university. Provost [James C.] Bean comes to represent the provost’s office and all things academics. Last year, the CFO [chief financial officer] of the university also attended which is important, and I think that’s such a selling point for us in terms of reaching out to students and saying, “We present directly to the CFO.” Otherwise I think it’ll come down to the individuals who manage the budget for campus centers.

HN: Who reads the raw results?

SS: So that kind of goes into why the survey process takes such a long time to build. We do everything on Qualtrics [a research and analysis software], but the university likes using Campus Labs, which is an independent contractor. It’s a little frustrating because [we don’t get] a full data dump. For example, if I want to cross-reference how many fifth-years answered yes to Question 52, I would have to request that, I couldn’t just tabulate it myself. They’re happy to work with us — Student Affairs essentially acts as our liaison between Campus Labs and student government so they’re happy to do that with us. But we absolutely do read everything.

HN: Will the data be available to the student body?

SS: The Office of Student Affairs is not comfortable with releasing data to the entire student body, and that is because this is a process that senior-level administrators have really bought into, so they don’t want a survey that’s partially theirs to then be used [to make overall claims about campus sentiment such as] “57 percent of students are unhappy with mental health care on campus.” There are a lot of surveys out there that say the exact same thing, and that’s why we do so many surveys in SGA to still create those data points. But for a survey that they’re tied into they kind of look down upon that. The agreement I struck up with them [last summer] was that we are allowed to present “asks” and “wins.” Out of everything that we got from the data, this is what we asked for, and this is what was delivered to us. And I think that’s super fair. I think that you can make an ask for almost every single point of data, and that’s another way to kind of tell the student body what their peers thought of the survey.

HN: What policy changes and initiatives have come out of the survey in the past?

SS: I think from two years ago there was a question specifically on what the replacement [for Taco Bell] should be, and that’s kind of what you see here today. Also from that year there were more long-term asks about academic technology in general; classroom renovations and outlet accessibility. The 2015-16 survey was modeled after previous surveys where they asked a little bit about everything. Last year Elliot [Horen, last year’s student body president] and I decided to change that and make it a shorter survey [in which] everyone has to answer every single question. We felt as though that created a more representative sample and we realized that the same questions don’t need to be asked every single year. Last year, the university approved, like I said, hiring more staff and renovating the space for UHCS. And then New York Times access — a pilot was approved. Josh [Driesman, SGA vice president of academic affairs] is actually working on that now.

HN: Is there a way for students to give feedback on the survey?

SS: Absolutely. One of the emails that I got to the SGA inbox was, “Oh you should have had a section at the bottom to critique the survey itself.” I am remiss for not doing that. They can by all means email the SGA inbox, sga@neu.edu and people have already been doing that. Like I said, I read every single email and our director of [information] management obviously will be creating a transition plan for his successor so all of that will be incorporated. If you do have any feedback on that we’d be happy to hear it.

HN: How are you marketing the survey now and was that influenced by your experience with the fall initiative?

SS: We’re doing everything traditional that we usually do — there’s fliers up, we’re doing a social media campaign, we’re doing tabling every Wednesday from 9-5 in Curry Crossroads. I’m super excited that we’ve made the pivot to video. And the final thing that I think really speaks to the faith I have in this survey and the need that I have for everyone to really believe in it as much as I do and take it is that we’re dorm-storming for it.

[While campaigning] I always felt so disingenuous knocking on doors because when push came to shove you would knock on doors to get votes. And I understand the implications of you voting for someone are so beyond that individual person. But one thing I would always say when someone was really tired and they opened the door for me was that, “If elected there’s one thing I can promise you: This won’t be the last time you see me. I will come knock on your door again because I want to hear your voice again.” And I know that’s all rhetoric at the end of the day, but I believe that actions speak louder than words so we’re dorm-storming, our entire cabinet is. We’re a school of 17,000 [undergraduate] students and I’d love to hit 17,000. That’s wildly beyond my imagination, but we have to keep pushing.

 

*Editor’s Note: Sharma sent The News more information after the interview. The International Association of Counseling Services recommends one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. According to UHCS’s website, Northeastern has eight counselors for its undergraduate student body of 17,000.)

SGA passes resolutions to support strike, rename Columbus Day

This story was written by Charlie Wolfson for the Huntington News.
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Student senators passed resolutions to support Northeastern dining hall workers’ efforts toward raising salaries and to change Northeastern’s observance of Columbus day to Indigenous People’s Day at their session Monday.

These resolutions, which the Northeastern Student Government Association (SGA) calls “Senses of the Senate,” do not carry the weight of policy, rather they are official statements that represent the entire student body. The 75 voting senators passed each resolution almost unanimously, with less than six votes in opposition for each.

SGA officially supports dining hall workers

SS-FA-17-101, a Sense of the Senate to support food service workers, garnered support among the senate during debate due to concerns that dining hall workers are not currently being paid a living wage, and a belief that the Northeastern student body should advocate for all members of the Northeastern community instead of just students. The resolution supports food service workers in their efforts to get minimum salaries of $35,000.

“Back when I was still on a meal plan, I remember food workers were always ready and willing to provide us with what we needed,” said Vice President for Student Involvement Brian Hamp, a fourth-year bioengineering major. “It should be on us to support them after they work tirelessly to provide us with something we, quite literally, need to get through the day.”

First-year politics, philosophy and economics major Max Willner-Giwerc reiterated the need for students to advocate alongside members of the Northeastern community who are in need.

“We are all Huskies,” he said. “Whether it’s a student, a professor, a librarian, a custodian, a dining hall worker, we’re all Huskies … on this issue, silence is injustice.”

Fourth-year combined biology and political science major Aubrey Kenderdine and second-year computer science and criminal justice combined major Nafisa Kabir, both student senators, were among the minority who opposed the resolution, citing concerns that such action would move the workers toward striking.

“We really have to think about the freshmen who use the dining halls every day,” Kenderdine said. “If [the workers] don’t get their demands, which are high, they might do what other schools have done which is going on strike. And that really does affect freshman and some others who are on the dining plan.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Nathan Hostert, a second-year political science major, responded to Kenderdine’s comments, saying the workers will go on strike regardless of the

Senate’s decision and that passing this resolution could serve to strengthen their cause thereafter.

The workers voted to strike Wednesday 316 to 2. 

The resolution passed with 53 yae votes and three nay.

Executive Vice President Paulina Ruiz said she thinks that Monday’s vote could have a significant effect on the administration’s action on the issue.

“It’s difficult for the administration to act without student input,” said Ruiz, a third-year psychology major. “Now that we’ve officially declared our support, shown in this overwhelming vote, they know without doubt the feeling of the student body on this issue.

Ruiz said she thinks that this vote alone will not resolve the issue, rather a combination of SGA support and work already being done by student groups, such as Huskies Organizing With Labor.


SGA urges Northeastern to observe “Indigenous People’s Day”, nix Columbus Day

The other resolution on the table Monday (SS-FA-17-102) declared a Sense of the Senate that Northeastern’s observance of Columbus Day be changed to Indigenous People’s Day in order to be more inclusive, respectful and mindful of the people affected by colonization.

Student Body President Suchira Sharma spoke in favor of the resolution, encouraging Northeastern to “match its policy to its practice.”

“The way things have been do not need to be the way things will be,” said Sharma, a fourth-year business administration major.

Third-year business major Peter Teodorescu said the act would actually get rid of diversity.

“I think it’s a great idea to celebrate indigenous people,” he said. “But I don’t like the idea of just replacing Columbus Day with it. That just underlines our values of taking things that we like and eliminating what we don’t want to hear.”

This resolution passed with 48 yae votes and five nay. Both resolutions have been submitted to the faculty Senate for their consideration.

The faculty Senate is not bound to take any action or make any statement, but they are compelled to at least bring up the motions at a meeting.

So long, trays. Campus eateries get more sustainable.

This article was posted by Greg St. Martin in News@Northeastern on September 25th, 2017

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Campus dining halls have undergone a few changes this semester, thanks to student-led efforts to implement two sustainability-focused measures: trayless dining halls and the elimination of single-use plastic bags at Outtakes.

Student organizations have explored these initiatives in recent years and worked closely with Northeastern Dining over the past year to roll out the changes this fall. The Student Government Association and Resident Student Association led the trayless initiative, while the Husky Environmental Action Team pushed for reducing plastic bag use. Trays are still available to students who need them for medical reasons.

“This is a very real and tangible way to have a positive environmental impact on campus,” SGA Executive Vice President Paulina Ruiz said of trayless dining halls, the initiative she led with Jake Grondin, SGA member and former RSA vice president for advocacy. “The data is there, and the student support is there. It’s an initiative by students and for students, all in the name of positive environmental impact.”

The student-led initiatives also align with Northeastern Dining longstanding focus on sustainability.

“We have been engaged in developing our comprehensive Green Plan for over 10 years,” said Maureen Timmons, Northeastern’s director of dining services. “One of our favorite parts of these initiatives is the collaborations with our students on many of our sustainability efforts including local, composting, trayless, and bagless. We look forward to continuing to work with students on our shared commitment to ‘greening’ the Northeastern campus.”

Last fall, SGA and RSA surveyed about 900 people in the dining halls, asking if they’d be in favor of the university going trayless. They found overwhelming support, and in the spring they worked with marketing students in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business to conduct a more in-depth analysis. The marketing students led a small focus group and an online survey, both of which found that the majority of students support the initiative.

The marketing students also reported “overwhelming evidence” suggesting trayless dining halls have a lesser environmental impact than those using trays. They also cited several outside studies on trayless initiatives: a 2012 study that documented a 32 percent reduction in food waste, as well as a 2008 study that found that removing trays reduced per-person food waste by between 25 and 30 percent. Another study in 2008 calculated a savings of 200 gallons of water a day per 1,000 meals served in trayless dining halls.

Trayless dining halls were piloted during this summer’s freshman orientation, and the measure went into full effect at the start of the fall semester. “We have seen mostly positive feedback,” Grondin said. “People have rallied behind it.”

Meanwhile, the Outtakes initiative is expected to save 200,000 single-use plastic bags in one year, according to Northeastern Dining, which handed out several thousand reusable bags at the start of the semester to help spread awareness of the change. Representatives from HEAT also sent student volunteers to Outtakes during lunch and dinner hours early in the semester to speak with students about the initiative and solicit feedback.

Eliminating plastic bags is one of many ways HEAT is focused on campus sustainability, according to Max Wagner, the group’s current vice president and former president. “Our two main goals are to educate students and advocate for sustainability on campus,” he said.

SGA executive cabinet announces Title IX changes, trayless dining

This article was published by Jasmine Heyward of the Huntington News on September 1st, 2017.

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Northeastern’s Student Government Association (SGA) announced fall policy changes including changes to the Title IX hearing process and trayless dining at its summer 2 senate meeting on Aug. 14.

After more than three years of campaigning by student advocates, Title IX complaints will no longer be heard by a panel of five students like other Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR) offenses, Title IX coordinator Mark Jannoni said at the meeting. Instead, an investigator will give a detailed report to a Title IX-specific panel of two professional staff members and one student. This panel has the opportunity to speak to the alleged victim and the accused separately.

“Neither party will be in the room at the same time,” Jannoni said. “Neither party can ask questions of the other party because we don’t want to re-victimize.”

The Office of Gender Equity and Compliance, SGA and the Sexual Assault Response Coalition (SARC) will release a joint statement to further explain the upcoming policy changes, including guidelines on how members of the panel will be selected, Jannoni said.

Opponents of the previous process felt that it often forced survivors to re-live their experience. Some ended up having classes with students who ruled that their experience wasn’t truly a sexual assault, said Martha Neuman, a senior human services and international affairs major and one of SARC’s outgoing e-board members. Others had to be in the same room as their alleged perpetrator for the formal hearing.

“Hopefully [the new policy] will encourage reporting because it will allow more students to feel comfortable coming forward,” Neuman said.

SGA Executive Vice President Paulina Ruiz also announced that Dining Services has removed trays from all dining halls starting the fall 2017 semester. This is one of many sustainability projects started last year under Ruiz’s Student Services committee.

Other SGA cabinet members presented updates on their progress with upcoming events such as Fall Fest and Husky Takeover, which both focus on welcoming students back to campus. Some members also gave updates on projects nearing completion, including a community asset map that will be presented later this month by the student affairs committee under Nathan Hostert, a sophomore political science major. The map will feature nearby businesses and organizations that are interested in interacting more with Northeastern students.

“Summer represents an opportunity for growth, for relaxation and for building community,” said Suchira Sharma, Northeastern’s student body president and a senior finance and business administration student.

SGA holds two summer meetings each year to allow available cabinet members and senators to discuss the projects they are working on and set goals for the fall semester. While this one was small, with fewer than 10 SGA members present in their 333 Curry meeting space, the SGA cabinet finds that these meetings are helpful, Ruiz said.

“This meeting serves as a way to engage with students on campus during the summer, but also report on our progress and show that even though we stop meeting we don’t stop working,” said Ruiz, a junior psychology major.