Student government members launched the new year by discussing goals with campus leaders on Tuesday at the annual Campus Partners’ Dinner, emphasizing cooperation and sustainability as the administration enters its first year of leadership.
The event seated representatives from Undergraduate Student Government, Graduate Student Government and other student organizations next to various heavy-hitters of the USC staff and faculty to facilitate discussion about plans for the school season. Those in attendance included new hires such as USC President Carol Folt, Vice President for Student Affairs Winston Crisp and Chief Communications Officer Glenn Osaki.
At the core of USG’s concerns going into the evening were cooperation with university leadership - faculty and student-led alike.
“This event in itself is a testament towards what we’re trying to prioritize, which is shared governance across all the main governing bodies of campus,” said USG Vice President Mahin Tahsin. “That’s something that the students have been asking for quite a while, in terms of having that space at the table to have a voice for our concerns.”
Harley Garland, a USG Senator whose work focuses on sexual assault and mental health awareness, expressed the same concern.
“It’s been students doing one thing and the administration doing another,” she said. “Dr. Carol Folt said before that she’s always been one to advocate on behalf of the students, so I hope to see that.”
USG President Trenton Stone expanded on this in his speech by addressing three key items as top priorities: environmental sustainability, the well-being of students and relationship building.
He noted, however, that communication issues have stymied students’ previous push for progress.
“Something we can all relate to...is a common complaint about the siloing effect of a large university like USC,” he said. “Simple needs can sometimes lead you to being referred to many different offices, email chains that grow with numerous CC’ing individuals and sometimes even just not being able to figure out where to go for a certain issue.”
Stone highlighted the benefits of collaboration by noting USG’s work with the student health center to provide free HIV testing and wellness vending machines.
“Working together across campus has and will continue to yield positive results,” he said.
GSG President Skye Parral also highlighted the work of her administration while emphasizing the necessity of working with campus leaders. She noted that plans such as improving resources for USC’s Health Sciences Campus - a call that was applauded by the audience - will never be met without collaborative support.
“Each of these groups have a vision for how we can build the USC of tomorrow for our predecessors,” she said. “GSG’s also has a few larger scale goals for the year that will need multiple campus partners to ensure success.”
“We should challenge ourselves to think beyond the constituents we represent,” she said.
President Folt delivered the final speech of the night, emphasizing her experience as a new member of the USC community and shared commitment to sustainability and mental health.
When asked about how USG members can turn to her for help, however, she pointed out the likely time it will take for her new administrative to be responsive in these earlier months.
“I really haven’t even been here two months yet, but you’ve probably already noticed that many people who used to work here don’t work here anymore,” she said. “We’re going to be helpful in trying to direct it, but we’re going to take a little time before we become as helpful as we’d like to be because we’re really, in some ways, trying to figure ourselves out.”
Folt drew upon her past work with the Three Zeros Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she previously was Chancellor, to demonstrate her commitment to sustainability. The plan was a push for University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to eliminate waste and carbon emissions.
While a similar plan would be ideal for USC, Folt noted, she first has to get a feel for the campus’ administrative system.
“The bureaucracy makes it very difficult to work across,” she said. “Is this the time for carbon neutrality? I’m not ready in any of those cases to understand what that means here, but I think I know what the questions are.”
“My goal would be within five years, we don’t even recognize ourselves with respect to the amount of progress we’ve made,” she said.
Nonetheless, Folt’s address echoed the students call for greater collaboration as USC aims to turn a new leaf and face the challenges ahead.
“You can’t stop crises, you really can’t,” she said. “But what you can be is better at handling them, anticipating them and getting things in place in some ways so that people can bring them to your attention faster.”
“All of us have to keep a strong look to the future while also taking care of business in the right way,” she said.