With fresh leadership, SGA sets ambitious goals

Nahal Hashemian, the first Muslim president of DePaul’s Student Government Association (SGA), is seeking to revitalize the organization’s image this school year through connecting with students and promoting diversity on campus.

SGA has three main initiatives to achieve over the next school year: sustainability, elevating resources for mental health and sexual assault and making sure all colleges get open course evaluations.

“SGA advocates on behalf of students primarily,” Hashemian said. “SGA is a part of DePaul’s Joint Council, meaning that the thoughts and wants of students are incredibly important and vital to the governance process of DePaul. DePaul students should pay attention because as with anything else, we can always improve. The university can always improve, and that comes with hearing what students truly care about.”

In terms of the sustainability initiative, SGA has partnered with facility operations and Chartwells to no longer hand out plastic straws on campus with the exception of student requests. On the other hand, SGA has a Sexual Assault and Mental Awareness committee that is working with the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness to strategize plans to get the word out on resources that are offered through that specific office such as the Survivor Support Advocates and University Counseling Services.

Furthermore, Hashemian indicated that it will be important to ensure that all colleges within DePaul have open course evaluations that are available upon registration when the course cart opens each quarter. Not all colleges currently allow open course evaluations; for example, the Driehaus College of Business has open evaluations while the college of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences does not.

“We’re building on things we’ve already started last year and just kind of like spearheading those in terms of like ‘we are here for academics’ and making those better and making it an equitable solution across all colleges,” she said.

SGA is seeking to promote the school’s diversity by feeding off DePaul’s strategic six-year plan. The plan is the first of its kind to address DePaul students of color, students from low- income upbringings and students who have been marginalized.

“Different groups of different students have different ideologies and different ideas and things that they want to bring to campus, and we want to elevate those voices,” Hashemian said.

As a result of DePaul’s strategic plan approved by the Board of Trustees in May, SGA created a new position in the Executive Vice President of Institutional Diversity and Equity. The first SGA member to serve in that role is Gisselle Cervantes.

“That’s a real substantive policy change that we made that really highlights the focus that we’re placing on students,” Cervantes said.

Since assuming the role in the spring, Cervantes has been working with professional staff members in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity to plan events such as the Delores Huerta Prayer Breakfast on Sept. 26 at the Student Center, which is one of DePaul’s 15 events to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month.

With DePaul’s tuition increasing annually, Hashemian mentioned that fighting for stagnant tuition rates is going to be another one of SGA’s goals moving forward. According to College Factual, a website that provides data on university costs nationwide, tuition and fees at the university have risen 3.7 percent in the past five years. During the 2017-18 academic year, tuition and fees for full- time students stood at $39,010 before financial need. Per the website’s forecasts, tuition and fees by 2022 will total an estimated $46,736.

“As a lower-middle class, first generation, Iranian-American woman, I can address first-hand that DePaul is quite expensive,” Hashemian said. “I plan on fighting on behalf of DePaul students and parents who can’t afford an increase in tuition because I understand it.”

SGA’s emphasis on prioritizing the needs of students stems from a somewhat controversial spring election cycle. As previously reported by The DePaulia, in April SGA’s Elections Operations Board (EOB) held a hearing in which the Jack Evans-Katy Bozich presidential campaign accused the Josh Kaufman-Nick Darlington campaign of paying student canvassers. That accusation eventually led to the EOB issuing a warning to the Kaufman-Darlington campaign for lying to the SGA board, causing the Kaufman- Darlington campaign to withdraw from the election less than 24 hours after the polls opened.

Because last year’s election was not a smooth ride, SGA’s executive team seeks to revive its reputation among other DePaul students. SGA created a new position, the Elections and Community Engagement Coordinator, specifically for elections due to previous conflicts.

“I think that any leadership position, any leadership organization, there’s always going to be people who disagree or who want something really really badly. But when we’re able to take a step back and look at it and say ‘you know what, the reason why we’re doing this is for the students,’ that really helps make an organization successful,” Cervantes said. “Moving forward, instead of getting like wrapped up in maybe like the (…) position part of SGA, we are focusing more on what can we do better, what can we do to serve students.”

Katy Bozich, SGA’s public relations coordinator, stated that SGA will try to engage with students on the digital platform as well by creating events on Facebook and other social media outlets.

“I think in big decision making and all these conversations that staff and faculty and the administration are having, students need to be a part of the conversation and there’s no better person to have that conversation than students,” Bozich said.