VSG talks first semester platform progress, end-of-year goals

First-year and transfer students listen to Dean Beasley, Chancellor Zeppos, VSG President Jami Cox, and the President of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association on August 20, 2017.

When students returned to campus this semester, they were greeted with Vanderbilt Student Government’s annual Mid-Year Report, which detailed the organization’s major accomplishments for the year. According to VSG President Jami Cox, the main focus has been ensuring that the platform points are addressed and that VSG communicates its progress with students.

“I think one thing that we really tried to do this year is stick to getting the platform done,” Cox said. “In a lot of years past it’s really hard once you get into the cycle of VSG and everyone’s coming up with new ideas and initiatives. It’s really hard to do what you said you were going to do the in the first place, so that was something we actually wanted to keep track of. We made sort of 20 platform promises and we’re at about 14 or 15 of those being done or in progress.”

In their initial platform, Cox and Vice President Ryan Connor emphasized the need for greater student involvement in VSG initiatives. They campaigned on the promise to include more students in meetings with administrators and to host listening sessions to gain perspective from students. During first semester, they hosted listening sessions with the Multicultural Leadership Council and Lambda and brought members of Vanderbilt SPEAR to meetings with administrators regarding the environmental sustainability of new buildings on campus. They hope to continue to host more sessions this semester, while also keeping in mind that organizations already have a lot of their own work to do.

We made sort of 20 platform promises and we’re at about 14 or 15 of those being done or in progress.

Another major initiative for the year is financial inclusivity. During the fall semester, VSG created a Economic Inclusivity ad-hoc committee, which will begin looking into best practices surrounding financial inclusivity during the spring semester.

The Economic Inclusivity Task Force was something that we did immediately after we were elected,” Cox said. “We made an ad-hoc committee focused solely on economic inclusivity, for which Ryan Coyne and Ryan Connor are chairs. Their committee has been working on sort of a two-fold thing, because this is something that faculty and administrators are also caring about, so they’re working on a partnership with faculty for peer institution research for economic inclusivity.”

While VSG says 70 percent of platform points have been addressed thus far, some have had to be discarded. One of the points that is no longer being pursued is the separation of VSG from AcFee, the student led organization that is charged with distributing nearly $1.7 million per year to student organizations. According to Cox and Senate Speaker Molly Gupta, the organizations have grown apart over the years and VSG has largely severed its managerial involvement with AcFee, as old policies that required VSG members to oversee AcFee committees were done away with. Still, the organizations are financially tied together, and this year’s VSG leadership realized that separating the two entirely would be less productive than focusing on reforming the organizations instead.

“If we were to sever that there would be no student organization startup fund,” Gupta said. “So we thought that preserving that startup fund was more important than just taking off that platform AcFee piece.”

One way that VSG is looking to reform AcFee is by making it more accessible to the student organizations. By building relationships with vendors, Cox hopes that they will be able to bring down costs associated with running a student organization, like the price of t-shirts or pizza for events, for which organizations would often use AcFee funding.

In addition to partnering with vendors to alleviate student organization costs, VSG has also focused on building partnerships to increase access to Nashville for students. This year, Cox and Gupta met with Lyft to work on bringing less expensive rides to Vanderbilt students looking to explore the city or get to the airport. VSG was able to provide Lyft discount codes to students getting to the airport during Thanksgiving and Winter break, and has an ongoing partnership that gives students 50 percent off rides when travelling to Passport to Nashville sites.

During the spring semester, Cox hopes to continue expanding rideshare options to students, particularly to students who have to travel off campus for things like external mental health providers or doctor’s appointments.  They are also hoping to work with the university to allow student tailgates for baseball games as a means of increasing game attendance. However, Gupta said that it is hard to know for sure what all will be feasible in the coming semester.

“Jamie and Ryan ran on a set of platform points and when you enter office there are another set of things that you have to deal with besides the things that you anticipate,” Gupta said. “We were aware, but because a lot of things are confidential to you until you are elected you are not informed of the timeline of how things work, so while you’re working on your platform you have to be responsive, and even now, looking forward to this coming semester, I can’t say a full agenda because I know I have half of my goals and then the other 800 percent will be responding.”

In addition to meeting with VSG leaders, The Hustler asked members of the VSG cabinet and senate to talk about their accomplishments during the fall semester and how those decisions affected and will affect the campus community.  

Executive BranchCabinetCommiteesSenate

Jami Cox, VSG President
As President of VSG, I worked with the executive board to provide student input in administrative meetings, support the initiatives of each branch, and strengthen the organization’s relationship with the campus community. As a representative of the students, I serve on various committees including the search committee for the Vice Provost for Equity Diversity and Inclusion and the University Transportation Strategy group. In coordinating VSG’s continued support of FutureVU initiatives, I sought to integrate each branch into implementation strategies. An example of such work is orchestrating the Campus Life committee’s new partnership between the university and Lyft. However, the most rewarding aspect of my role has been interacting with the student body, whether speaking to various student leaders in organizational visits or attending Common’s house events to get to know first years. I look forward to continuing this work with the rest of the executive board this semester.

Ryan Connor, VSG Vice President
Throughout my first-semester as Vice-President, I’ve worked alongside my committee members to lay the foundation for the Economic Inclusivity committee and prepare for our final administrative report. I’ve also worked with the executive board to advocate and empower students’ voices through a myriad of different initiatives. For instance, making a concentrated effort to invite students to our monthly meetings with Chancellor Zeppos has been an initiative that has proven successful and has been a great example of us leveraging VSG resources to empower students. Overseeing the committee branch has been an incredible experience, and witnessing the work of all the committee chairs and committee members has been amazing. The work they do changes campus in so many ways and it has been such a privilege to be their branch head this year.

Olivia Solow-Niederman, Chief of Staff
As a member of Exec and Cabinet, I am especially proud of the organization’s focus on and commitment to making sure that VSG remains transparent, accessible, and connected to campus. In Cabinet, we manage a lot of the behind the scenes logistics of the organization, from mentorship to professional development to volunteering to PR (we are so excited to have officially launched our VSG Instagram account @vanderbiltstudentgov). In addition, we have also been striving to expand our focus outwards through initiatives, partnerships, co-sponsorships, and the external student body email. In particular, two new positions to Cabinet this year— the Director of Active Citizenship and Service and the Director of Campus Outreach— have been working towards this goal by partnering with student organizations and administrative offices to develop campus responses to natural disasters and current events and by spearheading a Cabinet initiative to create an online guidebook to the many student organizations on campus, respectively. I am very motivated by the work that we have done so far as a Cabinet, as an Exec Board, and as an organization this year and I am looking forward to finishing the year even stronger!  

Phyllis Doremus, Deputy Chief of Staff
This past semester I had the opportunity to work on a number of different initiatives, but the one that I am probably the most excited about is making Green Dot Training mandatory for all members of VSG. As student leaders, we are responsible for promoting the safety of students across campus and combating sexual assault. Completion of Green Dot training is critical to equipping students with the skills and confidence to safely and appropriately intervene to reduce, disrupt, and prevent sexual and intimate partner violence. Throughout the semester, I worked heavily with Sara Starr, the Chair of the Vanderbilt Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Committee, and Project Safe to coordinate training times and ensuring that each member was aware of the policy. Although we are still in the process of training all members, I am hopeful that this initiative can help continue to create a norm of mandatory Green Dot Trainings for student leaders across campus.

Julianna Hernandez, Director of Publicity
As the Director of Publicity, I successfully set up a PR Request form for other organizations to use as well as an Instagram page. The PR Request form allows all campus organizations to utilize VSG’s resources to publicize their events, therefore encouraging more attendance and outreach for various organizations. The Instagram page allows the campus community to easily see upcoming VSG events and co-sponsorships, as well as gain insight on the projects VSG does to improve campus life.

Lanier Langdale, Programming Coordinator
This fall semester I continued working on the Vanderbilt Mobile App. We added features that include viewing campus dining menus and nutrition, viewing your order status at the Pub, downloading football tickets, seeing your class schedule, reserving rooms, viewing your laundry status, and so much more. All of these changes work towards the ultimate goal of consolidating all of Vanderbilt’s resources into one mobile app as well as giving students easier access to the resources available to them!

Isabel Futral, Director of Programming
The programming team was able to co-sponsor 23 different events for 20 different student organizations over the course of the fall semester to spotlight everything from gaming conventions to cultural dinners and vibrant dance showcases. Our focus on providing funds to as many organizations as possible allowed us to learn about and support events both monetarily and through volunteership. These funds help student organizations host more events throughout the year by alleviating some of the budgetary constraints large events can have, and our work with the PR team increased awareness across campus of co-sponsored events.

Robert Travis, Director of Technology
My main initiative for the fall semester was increasing the visibility of the Judicial Branch online. This is the first year that they have been featured on the website, so having their biographies and the services they provide has been a huge step in increasing their accessibility. Two ongoing initiative that I will be launching over the weekend are the expansion of the website’s document hub to include Judicial decisions and the publishing  of biographies on all of the Senators. These initiatives seek to expand accessibility to branches that are sometimes underutilized but provide vital resources to both the organization and the student body.

Andrew Brodsky, Director of Active Citizenship and Service
One of the largest initiatives that I tackled throughout the fall semester was Vanderbilt’s disaster response initiatives. Through working with campus partners such as OACS, the BCC, Athletics, and dining, we were able to raise thousands of dollars and donate several truckloads of clothing and supplies to communities impacted by the many natural disasters that affected communities across the country. Through this work, we were able to connect Vanderbilt to the larger U.S. community, while also supporting those members of the Vanderbilt community whose homes were affected by these disasters.

Carter Powers, Director of Human Resources
As Director of Human Resources, my main responsibilities include maintaining the VSG Attendance Policy and developing mentorship events to benefit our first-time members. We are in the process of planning a mentorship event for mid-February, and we hope to feature discussions revolving around how to take one’s VSG experience past VSG to other organizations and vice versa. In the attendance policy, we require our members to be actively engaged in the campus community by participating in our events or our Co-Sponsorships. Members earn 1 point for attending an event and 2 for volunteering. In the first, our members accumulated over 500 points. Through participating in these events, we hope that our members are more actively engaged in the community they serve and bring new perspectives back to VSG to more effectively advocate for students and groups across campus.

Zack Ely, Chief Justice of the Judicial Court
I major in Molecular and Cellular Biology, and this is my second year on the Judicial Court. As Chief Justice, I am responsible for facilitating Judicial Court proceedings and serving as the Court’s representative to the rest of VSG and the student body. In this academic year, we resolved an issue regarding an election for the Blair College Council President, and we revised our bylaws to reflect the current state of VSG and its Constitution. For the spring semester, we plan to update our archive of previous Judicial Court decisions with a concise summary, which should provide a useful reference for both the Court and the student body.

Sam DeFabrizio​, Academic Affairs
The Academic Affairs committee produced a wealth of research regarding registration periods, mentorship programs, sample schedules and more. The work accomplished this semester lead to more thoughtful scheduling, better resources for incoming students, and more equity of opportunities surrounding the classroom.

Christine Lim​, Campus Life
This semester, the VSG Campus Life Committee served as a bridge between students and administrators with the goal of creating better student experiences on campus. The Campus Life Committee collaborated with Lyft, the Rideshare Committee, Parking Services, and the administration on providing monthly discount codes to events. We also worked on rideshare programs that focus on economic inclusivity and safe rides, both on campus and throughout Nashville. We also launched a Vanderbilt mobile app, centralizing various campus services including laundry, tickets, dining, and other services into one location. In collaboration with Campus Dining, we have started to have monthly meetings where we discussed students’ suggestions in order to make better dining experiences for students. Several dining initiatives that we have launched include Chobani and Quest Bars as sides and increased dining options on campus and at events. Looking ahead, we are working on the annual dining survey, which will be sent out to students soon in order to gather feedback. Lastly, Campus Life worked with the Dean of Students on adding outdoor seating outside of Rand.

Brianna Watkins​, Community Building, Outreach, and Diversity (CBOD)
During the fall semester the VSG Community Building, Outreach, and Diversity Committee worked on a number of initiatives. Some of our most successful initiatives so far has been working with the Career Center to increase information regarding post graduate opportunities for international students, collaborating with campus organizations to develop an accessibility checklist for campus events, working with administration to improve transfer students’ process of transitioning to Vanderbilt campus, and establishing a partnership with the MLC.

Nico Gardner​, Executive Steering
Executive Steering has been busy this semester reforming the way we as VSG run candidate elections. We introduced and passed reform that provided more resources to the elections commission in order to ensure that elections are fair and better publicized. We also developed a new reimbursement policy for Senate candidates for their campaign expenses. We also sought to create an electoral system that was accessible and public to everyone, regardless of financial background and I strongly believe we have done that.

Simon Silverberg​, Residential and Environmental Affairs
During the first semester, one of our most successful initiatives involved interviewing and surveying campus residents about gender inclusive housing, and we hope to expand gender inclusive housing options for incoming first-years. We have also pursued an array of environmental initiatives and are especially excited about an upcoming environmental education seminar that we will host alongside SPEAR. Additionally, the VSG Residential and Environmental Affairs committee has played a crucial role in promoting and supporting the Vanderbilt Green Fund and FutureVU initiatives.

Sam Garfield​, Student Health and Wellness
As Chair of the Student Health and Wellness Committee, I do a lot of work with existing health and wellness organizations on campus. During the fall semester my committee created a Mental Health Roundtable to bring together campus leaders focused on mental health to centralize our efforts and discussions. Additionally, we were able to volunteer and work with grassroots campaigns such as #ListenWithMe and Health Guardians. Next semester, we hope to create an Advisory Board for the Recreation and Wellness Center and continue to advocate for more substance use education and awareness, as well as increased satellite services for campus institutions like the Center for Student Wellbeing on Commons.

Sara Starr​, Vanderbilt Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention (VSAP)
In the fall semester, VSAP began our efforts to create a safe community for survivors, which can so far be best seen through the events we have held that seek to provide all survivors with a comfortable space to partake in events with each other. We are working to further establish these opportunities in order to create a community in which survivors can come together and support each other. We also successfully passed a bill that mandates that all of VSG must receive Green Dot training as part of our continuing efforts to create a campus community that is accountable for one another. We are continuing to work on creating ways to serve as a more truly representative committee and helping organizations across campus find their voices on these issues. We also intend to reissue our biannual Student Perspectives report by the end of this semester.

Barton Christmas, West House Senator
My name is Barton Christmas, and I’m a first year student from Paducah, KY studying History and Secondary Education. I currently serve in VSG as the Senator for West House. Over the course of the year, I’ve been meeting with various campus administrators in pursuit of shifting the school from Early Decision to Early Action as the primary admissions plan. I’m also working on legislation requesting the ability to host pets as guests, similar to the current ResEd policy of allowing registered human guests for up to three days. Hoping to make this school a more economically diverse and animal friendly kinda place!

Tam Wheat, Moore College Senator and Health & Wellness Liaison
I’m currently serving as a member of the undergraduate senate and as a committee liaison for VSG’s Student Health and Wellness Committee. In the past two semesters, VSG has hosted two town halls in collaboration with the Chancellor’s Strategic Planning Committee on Student Health and Well-being in order to receive student feedback on how to improve mental health on our campus. Some of the VSG senate’s formal requests for the administration are that off-campus referrals for psychological counselors are continually reduced, on-campus counseling centers become more adequately staffed and trained (particularly in regard to cultural competency) and that faculty continue to work with students to ensure that the classroom environment meets various mental health needs. As the senate representative for Moore College, I have been also been responding to the requests of Moore residents, working alongside committee chairs to install more water bottle filling stations both within Moore and other residence halls and to grant red line Vandy Van access to Kissam. The last initiative on which I am working is a campus beautification project– I would like to see more student-commissioned artwork showcased on campus, so I am collaborating with the Campus Life committee to achieve this goal.

Kate Petosa, East House Senator
I’m a first-year senator for East house and I have really enjoyed representing my dorm and the rest of the student body as a member of Senate. This year I have acted as a liaison on my house’s HAC, ensuring that every stays informed on senate legislation and VSG activities. I also co-sponsored a bill advocating for a better distribution of parking permits between Greek organizations and the student body. In the future I look forward to working with the Speaker of the House to plan a joint session between Student Senate and Faculty Senate to facilitate dialogue.

Chris Marcus, Murray House Senator
Chris Marcus is a First Year majoring in Economics and Political Science from Brookline, Massachusetts. In his free time, he enjoys running, watching sports and traveling.This year, he has been focused on increasing campus sustainability and improving Senate’s communication with constituents. This semester, he is interested in working on the reallocation of Senate seats as well campus dining reform.

Christian Cox, Peabody Senator
This year as the Peabody College Senator, I’ve been working on several initiatives. Together with VSG’s Executive Steering committee, I’ve helped create legislation that changed VSG’s election procedures to make positions more accessible to the student body. I’m also beginning to work on reallocating the Senate as Vanderbilt opens new residential colleges so that all students can be fairly represented.

Keeheon Nam, Blair College Council President
My name is Keeheon and I’m a senior clarinet performance major at the Blair School of Music. I serve in the VSG Senate as the representative of the Blair Student Council, for which I am serving as president. Currently, I am in the Health and Wellness Senate liaison group and we’ve been working with the committee to get their voice heard by writing legislation, as well as feature health and wellness issues and concerns of Blair students.

Lucija Tacer, Deputy Speaker and Highland Quad Senator
I currently serve as the Highland Quad Senator and Deputy Speaker. This past semester, I worked on a resolution responding to a student-led petition to improve music practice rooms on campus. Due to the legislation, the Senate was able to ensure the update of existing practice rooms with better sounds systems and the application of these recommendations to practice rooms in newly built dormitories. On Highland Quad, I worked on improving laundry services. The Highland laundry rooms were often out of order or required long waiting periods, because of the slow and unreliable processing of the swipe machines. After communicating with IT personnel, the cards readers now process significantly faster.

Austin Konkle, A&S Senator
My name is Austin Konkle and I have had the honor to serve as a senator for the College of Arts and Science for the 2017-2018 school year. I’m passionate about service and this year I’ve found that there’s no greater satisfaction than being able to serve our incredible community of students. Pressing onward into the spring semester, I plan on investigating further one of my original senate campaign platforms, heightening campus safety with increased lighting where necessary, as well as assist in restructuring the university’s community creed to more accurately reflect and channel the values of the current student body.

Kevin Zhang, A&S College Council President
Kevin Zhang is a Senior from Naperville, Illinois studying Economics and Political Science. Kevin is actively involved in the undergraduate business scene and has a passion for helping students find career pathways. In VSG, Kevin serves as the President of the College of Arts & Science Council and represents the College of Arts & Science Council in the VSG Senate. Kevin serves on the Committee for Economic Inclusivity and recently launched an initiative aimed at creating a digital version of the org fair so it’s easier for students to find their home on campus.

Patrick Timmins, Towers III & IV Senator
This year, I am working with the Chair of the Executive Steering Committee and members of VSG exec on reforming elections to be more financially inclusive. We aim to eliminate monetary barriers for campaigns, so that all students who wish to run are able. I am also working with the Office of Greek Life, Traffic and Parking, and Greek leaders to increase the number of F spots on Main Campus. My goal is to make parking more equitable by converting excess Greek spots into F/Zone 3 Parking.

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