North Texas Daily

State of Student Body Address focuses on student participation, well-being

State of Student Body Address focuses on student participation, well-being

State of Student Body Address focuses on student participation, well-being
February 02
15:17 2020

President Neal Smatresk, the Vice President of Student Affairs and executives from the Student Government Association and Graduate Student Council gave speeches at the annual State of the Student Body Address on Wednesday detailing their efforts to improve upon students’ experiences.

Many of this year’s speeches focused on the importance of community and cooperation between students, organizations and faculty to address student concerns.

Smatresk began his speech by noting his concern over the size of the audience at the address and said the participation of students in discussions is crucial in the administration’s ability to serve the student body.

“I just wish more people felt like being involved,” Smatresk said. “We invite and embrace your ideas. We want to hear from you. If you don’t work with us and tell us where you think we can do better, we don’t know and I can’t fix it.”

Smatresk also mentioned the university’s strategic plan for 2020-2025, which includes goals such as transforming and empowering students’ educational experience, attracting and retaining exemplary staff and faulty, and expanding the university’s culture and innovation through various initiatives.

“I hope that we can be effective as a team moving this institution ahead,” Smatresk said. “I will tell you, I’ve been to many institutions where there’s no team, no effort to embrace what students need, no genuine feedback. I hope the next time we meet, there’s a room full of people interested in helping.”

At the end of his speech, Smatresk invited students with feedback to bring it to him directly via email or in person at his office to further facilitate conversation with students.

Elizabeth With, the Vice President of Student Affairs, gave a speech containing additional details about the university’s strategic plans and what actions they will take to bring their goals to fruition.

Some of these actions include diversity training for staff, teaching faculty about implicit bias and expanding their hiring internationally, improving their attention on internships by offering more opportunities and tracking internship data, and facilitating better communication through newsletters and updated websites.

The Department of Student Affairs also wants to ensure that students and faculty are supported by the university in order to retain their enrollment or employment and ensure each new student is aware of available mentors such as advisers, career counselors, and residence assistants, With said.

“We need feedback from you because we utilize the data that we collect,” With said. “When you fill out a survey and you’re providing feedback in any of the programs and services we offer, we analyze that information. All of that is truly important and we’re going to utilize all of that to make sure we’re maximizing our services and programs to help you not only be retained and make good grades but graduate as well.”

In her speech, GSC President Tiffany Miller said she believes graduate students are in need of better representation, resources and support.

“You’re in this weird position when you’re a graduate student where you’re half in the pot of being a staff member— you’re teaching, conducting research or working directly with administration— and you’re half in the pot of being a student,” Miller said. “There are so many issues that for everyone you hear about, there’s five that you haven’t. GSC is a collaboration of a bunch of students who care a lot and want things to change. But we don’t always have the power to make those things happen.”

Miller said one of her biggest concerns when it comes to supporting graduate students is a lack of attention to their mental health problems.

“Every semester of every year since 2013 when I was here, I have had one person per semester confess to being suicidal,” Miller said. “One per semester is too many. We have to do something to correct this crisis. If you’re not experiencing mental health problems yourself, I’m glad. But understand that many of your peers are.”

While GSC is seeking representation, resources and support through administration, Miller said GSC also wants students to get involved by joining the council and participating more in elections.

“I would argue that student government is in the best position to fight for you from a community standpoint and for your student government to be able to do that, it needs to be filled with students that care,” Miller said. “Part of that comes from elections. The highest involvement we’ve seen in the SGA and GSC combination election was 11% for the 2017-2018 year. I think we can do better than that.”

Deana Ayers, who was approved as SGA Vice President about 30 minutes prior to the address, gave a speech in which they described some of the ways in which SGA has been trying to meet the needs of students since last semester.

Two of the initiatives Ayers highlighted were SGA’s legislation calling for a gender-inclusive language syllabi that exclude pronouns and their legislation calling for harm reduction policies to drug violations, which recommends the university not impose additional penalties outside of the criminal justice system for first-time drug offenses by students.

“These two resolutions are reflective of the changes both large and small that we want to see on campus,” Ayers said. “We should be incredibly proud of the work that the senators and students put into making their voices heard and pushing on campus climate in the direction of inclusivity and equity.”

Ayers also said that during their time as vice president, they want to strengthen the relationship between SGA and students by encouraging more student participation in writing legislation.

“We have a campus event in the works that focuses on teaching non-SGA students about the legislative process and any UNT is welcome to write a resolution, as long as you have a senator willing to sponsor it.” Ayers said. “In the fall, we only had 3% of resolutions come from non-SGA affiliated students. That’s something I want to improve.”

Media arts junior Phoenix Roberts attended the address and said she found the address very informative and felt like the administration and organizations cared about the experience of students.

“I could tell each member was very genuinely sincere about the students,” Roberts said. “Even though looking at the turnout, they were obviously upset, the people there seem very supportive and want to know more about the students’ well-being.”

Featured Image: Addressing the audience of students and faculty, UNT President Neal Smatresk begins the State of the Student Body Address. Image by Grace Davis

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Brooke Colombo

Brooke Colombo

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