USG Debate 2014: VP of Student Life

Candidates: Representative Jacob Ma and Representative Mary Kate Macedonia

Mary Kate: “I’m currently a sophomore biomedical engineering student. I’ve been on USG for two years now, first as a freshman representative and now an engineering representative. I’ve served on Student life committee for two years now, and it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had at this school. I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it, especially how I’m able to interact with the student body. Over the past two years, I’ve seen a lot of initiatives go by. We do really interact really well personally with the student body because we affect food options, transportation, lots of day to day things. I’d really love to have that be visible, and have some of the bigger issues come to fruition in a way that’s not only affective but also visible. I want to have a better image of our committee and USG in general. Fundamentally, I want our committee to effectively represent our constituency and the student body. As long as the students are happy with what we’re doing, that would be great. That’s really what I want to accomplish.”

Jacob: “I’m a second year biology and chemistry major. I’ve been involved with USG since second semester last year, where I was involved with the ad hoc committee that gave feedback on the UC. Last semester, I served on the student life committee and the cas speaker. I took initiatives on the greenie system and the limited card access, as well as speaking with Bon Appetit about grab it food availability and increasing options there. This past semester, I joined the exec committee as secretary. I feel the representatives should be the strongest members of the org, not just the VPs because they are directly affecting change on campus that the students want to see. i want to be VP of Student Life because it is exactly what the title sounds like. we are students, this is our lives. we are here for our academics and to get an education, but our experience is also defined by what we do on campus.”

USG and RHA have both worked to address the quality of campus food options. Last year, USG published their My Plate breakdown of where students’ money goes, whereas RHA hosts a regular food forum with campus food. Who owns the issue of campus food?
Jacob: “I actually attended the food forum meetings last semester with RHA. what we believe in student life is that it is under RHA’s domain, because they deal with dining services. However, I feel like we can definitely collaborate with them. I feel like I gave a lot of input that was taken into consideration by Bon Appetit from student life. we can definitely work together with RHA.”

(Follow up from a moderator) If a student were to approach you with a food issue, who would you take it to?
Jacob: “I would first reach out to RHA because it’s under their domain. If we’re not seeing the response we’d like to see, then I would take it to Bon Appetit.”

Mary Kate: “Under this issue, I really feel like we have the opportunity to collaborate beyond our own organizations. I feel like collaboration is good between RHA and USG. Certainly RHA deals with food options and food halls, but we also have a responsibility to our representatives constituents and if we have complaints coming in from students who believe that our food options are not as good as they like, we would take strides to remedy that. That being said, it’s not something we would do on our own. We would collaborate with RHA. It’s a collaborative process. It is in both of our domains. When people came forward asking for more food options, we collaborated with RHA. It’s absolutely fabulous to have that support of another organization on your issue, because ultimately we have the same goal to improve student life.”

What about things that need to be fixed immediately?
Mary Kate: “You have to think about where its addressed to and who gets the feedback, at that point. If it’s something that RHA reaches out to their members and realizes it’s an issue that is something they’re going to be going towards. It’s the way that the information travels that ultimately decides where the issues goes.”

Jacob: “I agree that we definitely should try to collaborate as much as possible. For short term issues, as I did last semester with Grab It options, we do communicate first with RHA, especially with the feedback that we get. We make it aware to them but because we were approached first, we can try to relieve some of the issues that they are dealing with by contacting bon appetit. like I did with Grab It, I contacted Bon Appetit directly but kept RHA in the loop as well.”

Mary Kate: “To address the last question that was raised a little bit more clearly, we certainly want to educate each other about what is going on within our organization if it’s pertinent to either one. Whoever receives the information first usually ends up completing the project. Certainly if we contacted RHA and they said they were already working on it, then they would be able to take the project. It’s a case by case scenario.”

Students have expressed to The Observer a perception that RHA exists to support CWRU Office of Housing, Greek Life, and Administration rather than advocating resident’s needs. That said, is there a role for USG in issues of housing on campus?
Mary Kate: “Certainly. Something that I’ve really seen as an issue and that I’ve really tried to bring to light is that students should have a say in the future of what they’re able to do, what the future of housing is, and what their options are. I feel a lot of people think that they’re powerless in that regard. I think that is something that USG has the opportunity to really give that information on what the future of housing can hold. We also know the meetings that are happening, and if you wanted to attend certain things and be more educated about what is going on. I know RHA deals with a lot of the technicalities, but because USG represents a lot of the student body and a lot of different aspects with committee says. We could be a very good liaison for what information they thought was valuable to pass on.”

Do you believe RHA is ineffective in this regard? Advocating for students in any housing related issue?
Mary Kate: “I think on the micro scale, when you’re talking about things regarding maintenance, they’re a bit ineffective with that. I think that in general people are satisfied, although I haven’t looked at polling on that.”

Jacob: “I definitely think USG should play a role in addressing issues with housing. Its part of student life. honestly, we’ve received a lot of diff complaints. My friends always bring up the issue of housing. I think its an opportunity for us to collaborate with RHA. I don’t want to encroach on their territory. If these are the issues they’ve been working on, I don’t want to take over. collaboration is the most important thing. having said that, i feel like as usg we need to reach out to individuals so that they feel compelled to give us reasons why they agree or disagree with certain housing issues. I feel like if we send out a mass survey or mass email they’re less inclined to respond.”

Do you believe RHA is ineffective in this regard? Advocating for students in any housing related issue?
Jacob: “I don’t think they’re effective. I live in Howe on south side, and we’ve had elevator issues multiple times, and it hasn’t really been addressed. I don’t think RHA specifically addresses those issues, mostly resident coordinators. From what I’ve seen, RHA focuses a lot more on programming for first years and second years.”

Mary Kate: “On small issues, I would say that RHA is probably very effective. On larger issues, I’d love to see them educate campus more on what is going on. I sat in on some meetings, and learned a lot that i didn’t necessarily see communicated in general. I understand the limitations on some things like maintenance requests, but in terms of small issues I think that they are effective. I think that the role USG could play is the education part, so that the student body knows how to self advocate.”

Jacob: “I just want to reiterate that its a great opportunity to collaborate with RHA. I think it’s a good opportunity for both organizations to reach out to the student body and deal with some of the issues they have with regards to housing.”

If RHA had an issue that wasn’t going anywhere, should USG step in?
Jacob: “I think we should offer as much support as we can. First, we should talk to them, and figure out why the initiative is taking so long to be completed. there are things going on the background that we don’t see. If they simply just cannot, then we owe it to the students to take it over.”

As VP of Student Life, you meet with administrators a lot. Explain to me what your process would be if an administrator flat out told you they would not be dealing with the issues USG brought up.
Jacob: “I’ve met with multiple administrators in the past. My experience is that they’ve been pretty receptive, and I haven’t had the experience in which admin hasn’t responded well. I think we just need to rethink our approach in addressing how we present our issues. Perhaps the way we’re showing it is not the best. We need to show that it is affecting students, and the data that we’ve collected and make a great presentation so they feel compelled to help us out.”

Mary Kate: “I think with administration its always an interesting situation because with in USG we have our own structure, and outside of USG we have to deal with a different structure. My experience with administration is that although they may be receptive to you in person, sometimes we have problem with expediting that initiative and getting things done. If I’ve been flat out rejected, I’m bringing that issue to administrators because the student body cares about it, I don’t think that is something to just flat out ignore. I don’t think it’s anyone’s position to flat out ignore the needs of the students, because its a university, and the students are important. I’ve really tried to enforce the idea that staff and faculty are here to support students in their degree and their education. To have it be flat out ignored, I would like to be forceful, but diplomatic, with that. Bottom line is that we shouldn’t have administrators just ignoring the needs of students,and thats something as USG we should definitely address.”

Jacob: “I want to also add that I would work with our advisor. I think Colleen is a great resource. I’d also work with past USG members who have had that experience. Figuring out the best way to approach it and trying to understand from the perspective of the administration. Doing so would give us a better idea of how to approach the issue. I definitely don’t want to go around them to a different administrators or behind their backs. I think we need to stay on top of interacting with administration and being very persistent and not giving up.”

Mary Kate: “What I’d tangibly do is that as VP of Student Life I need to know the structures of the different administrators. Understanding that structure is very important in order to know how to resolve an issue. A lot of the times when you end up with a speedbump with administration, it has to do with bureaucracy, where its vital to know who you’re talking to and where they stand within their organization. You need to understand culturally what is going on, and understand their perspective on why they might refuse something like that.”

Do you believe the role of Vice President of Student Life should focus on Macro or Micro campus issues?
Mary Kate: I think that its really great to have initiatives that are small and can be finished. When initiatives spread out for too long, it ends up straining the person who is working on it. Because we’re only here for four years, I think the mindset of people in committee is a little more short term. Also being visible with those is a main point. There are new outlets in Nord that we did, but no one ends up knowing about it. I think in the macro scale, we can work on the image idea. Micro we can work on small, tangible issues.

Jacob: I actually kind of disagree with the way the question is phrased. I don’t think there are issues that are big or small. I think we need to address all issues that are brought up to us. Whether it’s one student or lots of students, it’s our responsibility to address every single issue. I feel very gratified when I talk to someone who has seen the change that we’ve affected on campus. It doesn’t matter how big or small the change was. That’s what drives me to continue to work towards affecting more change, so that students can have better lives here.