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DePaul Student Government Q&A: President, VP highlight focus on student voice through interactive dialogue

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SGA President Matthew von Nida and Vice President Cristina Vera (pictured above) discussed their goals and iniatitives for the year while emphasizing the importance of student voice. "We want to be that student voice in any capacity that we can be," von Nida said. (Grant Myatt / The DePaulia)

SGA President Matthew von Nida and Vice President Cristina Vera (pictured above) discussed their goals and iniatitives for the year while
emphasizing the importance of student voice. “We want to be that student voice in any capacity that we can be,” von Nida said. (Grant Myatt / The DePaulia)

At the beginning of every year, The DePaulia sits down with the Student Government Association’s top leaders to discuss their goals and initiatives for the year.

The DePaulia: What three initiatives would you like to highlight?

Matthew von Nida: I would definitely emphasize educational affordability, student voice and DePaul tradition and affinity. I think there’s nothing that you can do at DePaul University that doesn’t consider education affordability in terms of our Vincentian mission, and in terms of the student population that we interact with, and in terms of advocating for students. So we’re really excited to put that into the forefront of all our work, whether it’s advocacy for map, whether it’s getting students to file for FAFSA in January, or it’s working with the new BlueStar advising program to make sure students can graduate on time. If you can graduate on time, you’ll save money. Student voice is always really emphasize with us; we’re that facet to enable that student voice [by] sitting on more than 40 different university committees, boards, tasks forces, we bring a student voice to the table with those that have Ph.Ds in these topics, people that are experts around the nation. And SGA gets to talk about what students are thinking, what the student ideas are, student concerns, and Cristina also had the idea to launch a program this year to have us interact with more student organizations. Do you want to talk about that?

Cristina Vera: The idea was to have students visiting different student organizations. So, having senators visit student organizations with student populations in their constituencies, so it’s really putting that SGA in front of students, raising any issues or concerns students have and can definitely share it with them and really just put a face to SGA.

MVN: And the emphasis of student voice is really that interactive conversation. It’s not just about SGA telling students this or students telling SGA this, but it’s that interactive, several-way conversation between students, SGA and administration. So that everyone is one the same page, everyone gets to know what everyone else is thinking and we can move forward in a productive, efficient way. DePaul affinity and tradition is something we’re really excited about. There are a lot of initiatives that we’ve started over the past couple of years and a lot of things that we’re hoping to pursue. If you go into the student center, you’ll see the second floor, what used to be the recreation lounge has been remolded into the Demon Den. It was an SGA initiative started two years ago. Last year, we surveyed about 2,000 students about what ideas they had for revamping the space, and the space that you see now is kind of the feedback that we’ve gotten. Increasing that campus affinity in terms of when you walk into a space on our campus, you should feel like you’re encompassing the DePaul Blue Demon Identity. So we’re trying to work with facility operations and having that in different spaces, but also putting a name to tradition that exists already, like going to Devil Dawgs and 3 a.m. your freshman year, that so many people do, or taking a picture in front of the Father Egan statue, or taking part in the really exciting Blue Demon Week. There’s traditions that all of us have that graduate from DePaul and we’re like, ‘these are things I did,’ but don’t necessarily associate with saying, ‘we’re Blue Demons.’ So putting a name to that and kind of enhancing that sense of community with all of us across student organizations, across student populations.

DP: Is there anything that you are looking to change or improve upon from last year?

CV: SGA is really excited moving into the year; we have a lot of new and exciting things. Definitely really excited to see our initiatives come into fruition. SGA has always had a great dialogue with students, so always continuing that definitely though social media, print, the 43 university committees, boards and tasks forces we sit on and really just creating an inclusive environment for students so that they feel comfortable voicing their concerns and issues to us, and also so we can let administration and faculty know the issues that students have. DP: What do you anticipate one of the biggest challenges being for the upcoming year?

MVN: I think that we’re in a really complex time in higher education and a large portion of our student population is dealing with those difficult times in higher education. So the reason that our most emphasized initiative this year is education affordability is nationally getting a diploma for your undergraduate degree is extremely expensive and it’s pressing. We have a population of commuter students, we have a population of first generation students, coming from low-income families, we have students who rely on MAP grants to continue their higher education. So, I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be confronting these issues of enabling higher education for a diverse population, not just at DePaul University but considering issues in the city of Chicago and considering those issue throughout the state of Illinois and nationally. It’s not just a DePaul problem, but it’s a problem that we need to confront here at DePaul. So the challenge is how can we best work with students, and best work with legislatures, and best work with necessary parties to increase opportunities for scholarships, for financial aid, for tuition pricing opportunities; increase opportunities of advising, increase opportunities of enabling students be a part of those processes, we have resources available for them to graduate. And we’re in a difficult time to find those things, we don’t just have unlimited resources to make that happen.

DP: Do you still plan on pushing for public course evaluation data for students?

MVN : Student accessible course evaluation data is a huge emphasis for us this year. Cristina and I spent an extensive amount of time preparing for those kinds of conversations ahead. I don’t know if you’re aware, but Driehaus and College of Science and Health both at the end of the school year and beginning of summer passed this initiative, so those colleges are looking to launch this. Some of the beginning conversations we have been in have been working with the colleges: CSH, The Theatre School, The School of New Learning and Driehaus and making sure that the passed accessible course evaluation data will come into fruition by winter registration, we’re very hopeful to see that happen. And it’s also very connected to a mobile app that will soon become available to students to fill out their course evaluations that way. So, those are the beginning conversations where we’ve had success and we’ve championed making course evaluation information accessible to students and making sure that moves forward. As well working with the other colleges that haven’t jumped on board quite yet. So that involves surveying students, making sure that we have extensive student feedback that says this is what students want and need in this college specific to those colleges concerns and needs and we’ll go from there. So it will definitely be something that we talk about every week at SGA.

DP: Are you planning on f o l l o w i n g up with students and administration regarding the vote to divest from the end of last year?

MVN: So, according to the constitution, an affirmative majority referendum passed by students is the binding position of SGA for the following academic year. I know the group that championed the passage of this referendum knows the process of moving forward with this, and we are a resource to students for and against that referendum and other issues throughout the year, so we’re always accessible to talk about it, to talk about what the process is with the Fair Business Practice Committee and be available for those conversations.

DP: Anything else you would like to add?

MVN: I would love to highlight our open door policy – that we’re accessible and available and any moment or time whether it be stopped on the streets or getting phone calls from random numbers or getting emails from everybody. We want to be that student voice in any capacity that we can be. And we want to have collaborative and interactive conversations. We’re not here just to inform, although that is a part of our positions. We’re here to facilitate conversation.

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DePaul Student Government Q&A: President, VP highlight focus on student voice through interactive dialogue