What do the Kosher Corner, Hillside receipts, the Gold Line and the course registration website all have in common? All of them were the subjects of recent petitions submitted on the UR Students’ Association’s (SA)new website, “IMPACT,” an online platform for UR students to submit petitions and help improve campus.
The website was devised in part to create a space for students to voice their concerns. “While [junior]David [Stark] and I were thinking about our platform we focused a lot on ways to connect with the student body and let them connect with each other over thoughts and ideas,” SA President and [senior] Antoinette Esce said. “How could we create a better solution than the ‘Overheard at Rochester’ page?”
The result is a delightfully easy-to-use page. To access the site, all students need to do is log in with their NetID. From there, they can create their own petition, browse and comment on other petitions and sign petitions that they agree with. So far, over 80 petitions have been submitted by students ranging in subject from dining to residential life to student life and wellness. Most petitions stem from student frustrations with current problems in the aforementioned categories.
“I was looking at the housing and meal plan forms that we got a couple of weeks ago and was frustrated to find that, living in Brooks Crossing, I would still be required to pay roughly a thousand dollars for a declining plan that I did not intend on using,” junior Thomas Lindstrom-Vautrin said. “To me, this seems like the University taking advantage of the fact that as students we don’t have a lot of leverage for negotiations about what we pay for and how much we pay.” Lindstrom-Vautrin’s petition, “Remove the Minimum Dining Requirement: Stop forcing students to pay for a service they may not use,” acquired over 300 signatures in 20 days and is denoted as “In progress.”
The “In progress” status is a marker to bring particularly popular petitions to the attention of the SA. Once a petition gains over 250 signatures, it is marked as “In progress,” which means Esce or another SA Government member will post updates and address the problem. Not all petitions that are submitted and receive the allotted amount of signatures will actually be brought to action, though. “Some things are just not feasible,” Esce said, noting bringing declining to College Town is a petition that, despite being popular, is impossible due to the fact that declining is untaxed.
“A number of things are currently in the works, but since we’re currently in the beta launch of the site, and since the semester is winding down, a lot of stuff will happen over the summer,” Esce said. “Internally, next year’s leadership is working with me to create the best work flow to ensure not only that nothing falls through the cracks, but to ensure we’re communicating our progress to the student body.”
As part of this process, incoming SA Vice President Melissa Holloway recently polled students on their thoughts about the current on campus smoking policy: smoking must take place at least 30 feet from the nearest building. Anyone who has used the doors at the front of Rush Rhees knows that many people do not abide by this rule. Freshman Jacob Niebloom took to IMPACT to voice his concerns in a petition titled, “Enforce the ‘No Smoking’ policy at entrances to buildings,” which now has almost 300 signatures. Many students commented, voicing their support for better policing or banning it from campus altogether. “It should not be necessary for people to tell smokers to please go somewhere else to smoke,” junior Emily Lewis commented. “They should be considerate enough to follow the rules.”
Other students have gotten more involved in the implementation of their petitions. Freshman Zoe James submitted the petition “Waste Less, Douglass,” asking Douglass to compost the food waste produced in the dining hall on a daily basis. “If no change is made… I will gladly take it on as a project next semester as a newly elected senator on SA Government,” said James. “I won’t give up until this is implemented.”
Overall, the site has seen a lot of great submissions and will only continue to improve with the help of student feedback, both in the form of petitions and beta feedback. “We greatly appreciate it when people submit feedback to us through the Beta Feedback page,” Ryan Puffer, one of IMPACT’s co-creators, said. “The feedback goes straight to the IMPACT team, helping us prioritize which features we’re going to introduce next… We’re always looking for ways to make the site even more useful to the student body.”
If you haven’t yet checked out IMPACT, consider this an open invitation. Skim through the current petitions, share your thoughts and, if you’re feeling especially bold, submit your own petition. Who knows–perhaps your idea will inspire the next big change on campus.
Arre is a member of the class of 2015.