SGA addresses resources for first-generation, low-income students

By DIVA PAREKH | November 8, 2018

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Courtesy of JHU STUDENT-ATHLETE ADVISORY COMMITTEE Wellness Wednesdays are hosted by different student groups every week.

The Student Government Association (SGA) finalized three central discussion topics for its upcoming dinner with University President Ronald J. Daniels during their weekly meeting on Tuesday. Members also discussed ways to improve the Hopkins experience for students who belong to the First-Generation, Limited-Income (FLI) community.

Associate Dean for the Center for Student Success (CSS) Irene Ferguson gave a presentation about the FLI student community. She asked SGA members to think about what they could do to ease these students’ transition to college and help them make the most of their time at Hopkins.

Sophomore Class Senator Lauren Paulet offered her own perspective as a first-generation college student. 

“Generally, colleges try to provide resources for these students because they don’t have that extra support from their parents,” she said. “They don’t have that kind of person to look up to in their family, and so things like the FLI network are really helpful.”

Ferguson explained that 50 percent of FLI students at colleges like Hopkins feel academically underprepared. She described how FLI students are often at a disadvantage because, though they are capable of doing the work necessary, they may not have been exposed to concepts that other students may already be familiar with.

She emphasized, however, that it is important to look at positive aspects FLI students bring to Hopkins, particularly their drive and determination.

“Even though first-generation or low-income students come with disadvantages, they also come with many strengths,” Ferguson said. “Sometimes, at institutions of higher education, we don’t do enough to celebrate these strengths and look at the assets that these students do bring to our campuses.”

Ferguson added that she wants to better support FLI students at Hopkins, not only through the CSS, but also by collaborating with other offices like the Office of Financial Aid. 

“We’re looking at how we can improve our infrastructure to be institution-ready for students,” she said. “Oftentimes you hear about students not being ready. Well, what we’re finding in the research is that institutions are not ready.”

Next, SGA members discussed which three issues they wanted to bring up to Daniels at their annual dinner with him this November. During their previous meeting on Oct. 25, SGA members identified four key ideas that they wanted to address but did not vote on three specific topics.

Junior Class Senator Miranda Bannister advocated that the atmosphere surrounding sexual assault and the way the University handles sexual assault cases be one of the topics of discussion. She felt that it is unacceptable that the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) lacks the resources necessary to address cases in a timely manner.

Sophomore Class Senator Evan Mays agreed, adding that both sexual assault and public safety — especially the question of a potential private police campus force — are crucial topics that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

“If we don’t change things now, these are the kind of things that you can’t go back and change. People getting ignored by the OIE — you can’t go back and make them un-ignored,” he said. “Once the University has a private police force, that’s going to stay, and there’s nothing we’ll be able to do about that.”

SGA voted in favor of discussing both sexual assault and public safety with Daniels.

Next, SGA members debated including the topics of student mental health and well-being, a potential new student center and shared governance. Through shared governance, Freshman Class Senator Nathan Mudrak explained, the student body would be able to hold the University accountable for their decisions.

Senior Class Senator Ash Panakam explained that Daniels has told SGA that he has been looking for donors and funding for a new student center. She believes that since a new student center is already being considered, SGA should focus on other topics.

Sophomore Class Senator Isaac Lucas, however, felt that the conversation surrounding a new student center this year was different. He encouraged SGA members to try and obtain a confirmation from Daniels that the University is still working toward creating the center.

“We’re making real traction this year that we haven’t really made in the past. It’s been a pipe dream for so long,” Lucas said. “Can we get a tangible sign from him that he’s actually doing what he says he’s doing?”

SGA voted in favor of combining the topics of student mental health and well-being, shared governance, and a new student center into one broader idea to raise at the dinner with Daniels. 

Though members like Sophomore Class Senator Sam Mollin believed that it is essential to hold the University accountable for issues such as climate change and sustainability, other members believed that they could address this topic in better ways than by bringing it up to Daniels.

Junior Class Senator Kiana Boroumand proceeded to introduce the Refugee Rights Resolution bill to SGA. This bill called for SGA, and by extension the Hopkins student body, to declare their support for refugees in the Hopkins community and refugee resettlement in Baltimore. 

“This bill asks for zero resources — just love and support,” she said. “Right now, this is an important first step to say that we see you and we hear you and we support you in our community.”

Next, SGA passed a bill allocating funding to Wellness Wednesdays, an initiative by a coalition of campus groups dedicated to improving student mental health. Every Wednesday, a student group will host a tabling event with activities aimed at allowing students to de-stress. 

The bill, which passed unanimously, allocated $375 for an SGA-sponsored Wellness Wednesday during a week in November that is yet to be determined.

“It’s a fleeting moment for students as they’re walking between classes,” Mudrak said. “It’s not a long thing, but we just want to give students a really quick moment of positivity.”

The first Wellness Wednesday, sponsored by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), took place on Nov. 7. Senior SAAC representative Hannah Miller also brought the Blue Jay Blackout Tailgate funding bill to SGA.

Miller believed that the tailgate, set to take place on Saturday before the football game between Hopkins and McDaniel College, would help students both relieve their stress and engage with athletics.

“This tailgate is a way to get people out there and see their friends, their peers and their classmates do what they love on the field and perform at their best,” she said. “Spectatorship is a major part of the college experience at other universities, and it can be at Hopkins as well.”

The bill passed, with $650 allocated to the tailgate. SGA also passed a bill allocating funding to the Planet Runway fashion show. This event, organized by Students for Environmental Action (SEA) would showcase sustainable fashion created and modeled by students.

To end the meeting, Student Leadership and Involvement Director Kirsten Fricke announced that she would be leaving Hopkins in December.

“I have loved my time here at Hopkins,” Fricke said. “Working with you all has been one of the biggest joys of my time here.”

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