The Student Association’s top leader is starting the year with a sweeping agenda to improve the student experience during her term.
SA President Ashley Le introduced a new agenda Thursday that focuses on seven facets of student life on campus: the first-year experience, diversity and inclusion, graduate students, food insecurity, affordability, the Colonial Health Center and student satisfaction on the Mount Vernon Campus.
Le said some of the priorities, like affordability and food insecurity, are continuations of discussions that began during last year’s SA administration. But other priorities, like a first-year experience course, are based on her own discussions with student leaders and officials who agreed that projects to improve these areas could be implemented by the end of the academic year, she said.
“I think having a set of priorities focusing on that for the University would really help given the timeline that we have for SA leaders, within one year, to accomplish,” she said.
First-year experience class
Le said that by the end of the academic year, she wants to create a mandatory first-year experience course for freshmen to help students transition to college with training in seven elements of student life, like diversity and civic engagement. The course was included in her platform for SA president last spring.
She said during conversations in the spring about mandatory diversity training prompted by a racist Snapchat incident in February, the idea for a first-year course “clicked” because topics like diversity, Title IX and mental health could be combined into one course.
“When I was a first-year student I didn’t have that and my experience would have been drastically different,” she said.
Diversity and inclusion
Le said she included diversity and inclusion as an initiative this academic year because student leaders have “never really put it in writing” in past years. She said that in addition to the SA’s newly established diversity and inclusion assembly, Le wants to relaunch task force examining building names to determine if they are named after individuals with discriminatory views.
She said students involved with the task force will use research from the original group, which dissolved last academic year, and will add officials, staff and faculty to continue researching names to replace the Marvin Center, which is named after former University President Cloyd Heck Marvin.
Shelby Singleton, the SA’s vice president for diversity and inclusion, will head the new task force. She said the task force will draft a proposal for officials to change the name of the Marvin Center.
“It feels weird to have undergraduate diversity trainings and sexual assault trainings in this center when this man has had such a horrific legacy to a lot of communities on campus,” Singleton said.
Graduate student experience
Le said she wants to establish an emergency assistance fund for graduate students to request money for “sudden financial needs.” Currently, the Ronald W. Howard Student Assistance Fund offers emergency financial assistance to undergraduates, but Le said she wants the fund to expand for graduate students.
“We talk a lot about the undergrad student experience with the traditional college experience, but I think a big part of our community is also those who come to GW to pursue a higher degree,” Le said.
About 14,000 graduate students are currently enrolled at GW, according to institutional data.
Colonial Health Center
Le said she wants to “formalize” the student health advisory council, a group that launched in September 2017 as an outlet for students to voice concerns about health insurance or quality of care at the CHC. The formalized group will include student leaders from student organizations like Students Against Sexual Assault and GW Listens, an anonymous reporting service, Le said.
She said the group wasn’t able to fully function again this year after a tumultuous year of leadership changes in the CHC. Once an administrator steps in to officially oversee the CHC, Le said the group will start meeting and will accept applications from student leaders.
“We want to invite groups whose mission is to advocate for student’s health, whether it’s physical health, mental health or just well-being in general,” she said.
After former SA leaders released a report last spring finding that GW is the most expensive of all its peer institutions for everyday costs, like printing and food, Le said she wants to zero in on reducing the cost of laundry and campus space rentals.
She said she leafed through student organizations’ monetary requests from last spring and found that student leaders primarily requested money to rent spaces for events, like Lisner Auditorium or Marvin Center. Le said SA leaders will create another affordability report to present to officials at Events and Venues outlining rental costs at other urban schools, like Boston and New York universities, to advocate for cheaper rental spaces.
Rose Collins, the SA’s vice president for undergraduate policy, said she will research the cost of laundry at GW’s peer schools and talk with officials about freeing the cost of a set number of loads, with the end goal of making the cost of laundry free.
Currently, students pay a $3.50 charge to wash and dry a load of laundry, about double the amount at its peer schools, according to the spring SA affordability report.
“Our laundry comes from our GWorld, and that money also goes toward food,” Collins said. “Some students may have to sacrifice eating breakfast one morning to do their laundry.”
Le said she wants to create a task force for students and officials to study the “food climate” on campus and create recommendations to help curb food insecurity. SA leaders are also working to create a food cooperative, a sustainable student-led food market.
Though officials overhauled the dining plan in February and increased the amount of dining dollars on students’ GWorld cards, Le said the changes were “a temporary bandage to a bigger wound.” She said the food co-op and task force will provide officials with a “long-term solution” to continue re-evaluating the dining plan.
“It helps students to learn about what food insecurity means, it helps administrators to be able to help out students in the community and put it in a lens of social justice when we talk about food insecurity,” Le said.
Mount Vernon Campus
Le said she wants to increase resources and programming for students living on the Vern, including the addition of an urgent care clinic and free lockers on the Foggy Bottom Campus.
She said that during a town hall with Vern residents in the spring, students voiced concerns about a lack of free spaces to hold their belongings if they aren’t returning to the Vern until the end of the day. Currently, lockers in the Marvin Center cost $60 and Gelman Library charges $20 to rent a locker for one semester.
She added that she will begin discussions with officials about integrating an urgent care clinic on the Vern to avoid waits, especially during rush hour, on the Vern Express to receive care at the CHC, which is located in the Marvin Center.
“Part of being student leaders is to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, outside of the Foggy Bottom community, and if we were to push ourselves outside of that Foggy bubble, the next place that we should be is on the Vern where the other part of our community is,” she said.
Lizzie Mintz, Lindsay Paulen and Kelly Hooper contributed reporting.