Student Government executives hold town hall in Doherty

The Carnegie Mellon Student Government held its first town hall of the year in Doherty Hall last Thursday. Though the event was advertised on Facebook as “Not Your Mother’s Town Hall,” the turn-out was much lower than expected.

Students (not including members of the president’s cabinet, vice president, and president) only managed to fill out a sparse, single-digit number of seats in the 2210 lecture hall. Regardless, those who did show up managed to have a robust dialogue with Student Government members about improving the campus experience for the whole student body.

The student government holds regular monthly meetings with administrators, and within those meetings tries to represent the voices of all thirteen-thousand graduate and undergraduate students. “We have direct contact with Dining Services, Housing Services, Suresh, and others,” Student Representation Chairman and sophomore business administration major Thomas Preite said. “If we want to get something done, they will do everything in their power to get that done.”

Along with Student Body President and senior policy & management and Chinese studies double major J.R. Marshall and Student Body Vice President and senior information systems major Jibby Ayo-Ani, cabinet members in attendance included: Head of Student-Faculty Relations and senior psychology and French double major Siriana Abboud; Chief of Staff and sophomore biology major Apeksha Atal; Chief Design Officer and fourth-year architecture major Aileena Gray; Chief Marketing Officers, junior information systems major and junior history major respectively, Jen Han and Gwen Luvara; Head of Events & Logistics and sophomore psychology major Kevin Wainczak; and finally, Preite himself.

After various members fumbled around with the PowerPoint projector and house lights, Preite kicked off the town hall by stating the Student Government’s platform: Reorient, empower, serve.

Members of Student Government want to direct students from Carnegie Mellon’s growing stress culture to resources that could help them maintain their mental and physical health. Another issue central to “reorienting” the student body is educating people on sexual assault and relationship violence and how to prevent it.

Student Government members brought out a large sheet of paper scribbled with suggestions from students and faculty, written during a “tabling” session on the Cut. These suggestions included implementing a plus/minus system for grades, having a longer fall break, and solving the troubling segregation between the undergraduate colleges.

Food was another pressing issue brought to StuGov at tabling — in particular, working on making Dinex more useful for students. “I don’t even know what [off-campus locations] accept it; but not enough,” Preite said.

In addition to food, many students had brought up expanding the shuttle service, and offering Carnegie Mellon students access to different neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh’s such a great city, and a lot of people don’t get to know that,” Preite said. Senior psychology student Tyler Novet concurred. He mentioned that until earlier this year, he had “no clue” how the shuttle system worked. Even so, Novet admitted that the service was often not available at a convenient time.

The most robust dialogue of the evening, however, surrounded the topic of bringing back a student mentorship program. The program allowed upperclassmen to guide incoming first years within each college, according to Abboud, who also stated that Dietrich College is making an effort to have such a program this year. Currently, mentorship programs exist for international students as well as students within the architecture program, and a voluntary sign-up for the Mellon College of Science, according to Ayo-Ani.

Town hall guest and computer science exchange student from Carnegie Mellon Qatar Aliaa Essameldin outlined the academically-centered mentorship program at the satellite campus, as well as the currently-existing “buddy program” for exchange students. “You can easily find [social] guidance,” Essameldin said. “The problem is finding someone who can be helpful in your professional and academic career.”
On the contrary, Luvara suggested a mentorship program that instead could promote having relationships across disciplines. Han agreed, stating that having students reach out across majors could perhaps guide those who are undecided, or willing to change colleges or departments.

After echoes from Abboud and Ayo-Ani for a type of “half-and-half” academic and social program, town hall guest and junior economics and professional writing major Barbara Samaniego spoke up, suggesting that perhaps such a program could remain interdepartmental over the summer and shift mentors across majors throughout the school year, or perhaps mirror the “bigs and littles” pairings often seen within Greek life.

In the vein of mentorship, Novet brought up aspects of the orientation program that could further benefit freshmen students — specifically, giving the orientation counselors a more concrete job and “putting it on [them] to get to know the students, and find them a mentor.” To close the discussion on mentorship, Atal brought up a Facebook about the roles of Orientation Counselors in Orientation week, and whether their role was really “for fun and raising school spirit,” or for actually helping first years become acclimated to the campus.
Toward the end of the town hall, Student Government discussed issues brought up in the Student Initiative Poll, emailed out to the student body earlier this year. Along with widening shuttle and escort service, tobacco and alcohol use on campus were among the most talked-about issues in the poll.

“[A tobacco-free campus] is something that we are working on, that has been voted on by different bodies,” Ayo-Ani said. “Undergraduate and graduate just barely made it to tobacco free [in the polls], and faculty wanted to move to a smoke-free campus.” The staff senate, though, was very against the idea.

As for alcohol use, when students suggested that the university should deal with cases internally rather than processing them to the Pittsburgh Police Department, Ayo-Ani pointed out that the majority of the time, a magistrate would be willing to appeal a citation for underage drinking. “There is a way we do it at [Carnegie Mellon], where we make sure that someone doesn’t get forever-penalized for a mistake that they made,” Ayo-Ani said.

Finally, Abboud brought up the limitations of the SafeWalk program, which only assigns volunteers to accompany students to on-campus housing locations. Pointing out the ineffectiveness of the shuttle services, she recounted the fear that many students felt in regards to going off-campus.

Marshall closed the meeting. When he and Ayo-Ani took on their jobs as student body leaders, they “wanted to be the best representation of the student body as possible,” which proved to be a challenge, as they would have to represent thirteen thousand distinct voices. By holding a town hall, “This is the best way we thought we could approach it,” Marshall said.