The Students’ Association Government at UR, commonly referred to as SA, wears many hats to accomplish goals on behalf of the student body. SA is continuing to make changes based on students’ experiences thus far as well as embarking on new, unique opportunities. In a recent interview with junior Sabeet Kazmi, the SA President reflected on the school year so far, current initiatives, and plans for the future.
SA on the status of MERT
Kazmi listed SA’s current priorities and long-term goals, which include getting MERT (the Medical Emergency Response Team) up and running: “The number one priority, I think, is MERT. So we’ve been putting a lot of work into [researching], benchmarking, and seeing what other schools have been doing. We’ve proposed the idea to President Mangelsdorf that the University give medical coverage to MERT, and she’s thinking about it. We’re reaching out to a bunch of other people within the University’s [Office of] Counsel, trying to see what legal aspect we can move around, so we can make MERT at least something that can work right now. AMR, [which] we were planning to use around this time, told us that they can’t do anything until the middle of 2022. They’re overburdened with the pandemic, people getting COVID[-19], etc.”
UR’s Future with Aramark
Dining’s setbacks and shortages are another issue on a lot of students’ minds. Kazmi introduced some of SA’s long-term goals. By the end of June 2022, when UR’s contract expires with Harvest Table Culinary Group, Kazmi hopes SA will be able to push UR to a more ethical, reliable outsourcer. Harvest Table Culinary Group is a division of Aramark, and if you were previously unaware about this, that is by design; the group tries to keep these roots under the radar. Aramark, the American food service company, has a long, unethical history, notably selling products rejected for commercial consumption to prisoners. For more on that, I would recommend watching the documentary “13th” on Netflix. There is also the possibility that UR builds its own operation team to manage dining so that the school does not have to rely on a third party. To fix the more immediate dining issues, SA is also working on reducing wait times in dining and ensuring that students with dietary restrictions have the resources they need.
Future of Hirst Lounge
Kazmi gave a lengthy, much-needed update on the infamous flag display removal from Hirst Lounge: “We’ve been pushing President Mangelsdorf to release a statement about the [flag display]. But unfortunately she seems very committed to not sending out a statement.
When [junior and SA Vice President] Rusama [Haque] and I met with her the day of the protests, she told us that she’d send out a statement and an apology explaining to students what happened, why her decision was what it was, how the flag [display] can be replaced by something else to celebrate diversity on campus. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten much progress in that regard. […] she is still in the middle of figuring out the two people to head a task force for this. One of the things that [senior and SA Campus Life Chair] Lillian Hutton is working on right now is reaching out to cultural groups to see what it means to them to be represented on campus so that we have information before the task force is initiated, so that we don’t have to wait for the bureaucracy to come into play.”
Changing UR’s Code of Conduct
Another top priority concern is UR’s Code of Conduct. SA intends to make changes so that hate speech is penalized, which it currently is not. It is loosely referenced in several policies, including the 2021-2022 Standards of Student Conduct which states that “those whose behavior violates our University Meliora Values and our Student Code of Conduct will be subject to discipline as set forth in the Student Code of Conduct. We recognize that not all behavior that violates our University Meliora Values will also violate our Student Code of Conduct because in many cases, such behavior may otherwise be protected speech or conduct deserving a response that is not disciplinary. In those cases, we will support those who are harmed and educate those who cause that harm.” Kazmi said that SA is working on ensuring SA-funded organizations in particular are explicitly banned from hate speech. “If there’s an SA-funded organization that continues to partake in things that we don’t believe in as a community, there [should be] some consequences for that.” he said.
Changing the academic advising system
On an academic note, Kazmi is aware of numerous first-years’ issues with the College Center for Advising Services, namely how first-years feel that their advisors know little more than students do about majors and departments. SA is aware of this and is currently figuring out the best course of action on how to improve the advising model. Kazmi also added, “In our first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council, which was last [week], we heard that a lot of first-years and sophomores were frustrated in the way that a lot of STEM courses are uploaded to the Registrar’s website.” Students studying Science Technology Engineering or Mathematics often have a strict structure to what classes they take each semester. [STEM students] don’t get those full lists in time to be able to make a schedule for themselves. […] so we’re trying to see if we can speed up that process. We reached out to the Registrar and it seems like something that we can work on.”
Lastly, Kazmi reflected on SA’s accomplishments so far. Among them are generating discounted meal plans, incorporating declining currency into Grubhub, and advocating for students to use the CARE Network and food pantry. Kazmi also wishes for there to ultimately be an ambulance on campus for MERT, which would be a pretty large financial commitment for UR. Off of the tails of the mass resignation last year, Kazmi said he is proud of SA’s dynamic this year as a group, believing that although that is not a direct accomplishment, it is something that will help create a successful year for all. If you would like to share your thoughts and feelings with SA, here is a form to contact them.