RUSA plans to meet with N.J. legislators following productive summer
The student assembly is working towards adding a student voting seat to the Board of Governors
After a productive summer, Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) leaders are looking forward to pursuing a broad array of initiatives to improve the student experience.
“We’ve had a very good summer in terms of things we’ve been able to get done,” said RUSA President and Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior Evan Covello.
One key accomplishment of the summer was working with the Office of the University Registrar to extend WebReg hours by a significant amount throughout the week, Covello said. The main motivation for this was to make the class registration process easier and more accessible for students.
The RUSA Legislative Affairs Committee has also made significant strides over the summer in the ongoing battle to gain a student voter on the Rutgers University Board of Governors. This past June, the Higher Education Committee of the New Jersey General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution supporting a student voter seat on the Board of Governors.
“Moving forward, it’s about meeting with different legislators and making our case again for why we need this vote, and working to bring it to the voting floor once (the legislature) is back in session,” said Christie Schweighardt, the RUSA vice president and a School of Arts and Sciences junior. In order to be enacted, the bill still needs to pass through the entire Assembly and Senate, she said.
Covello said that he is looking forward to meeting with both New Jersey gubernatorial candidates in the upcoming months to gain their support for the voting seat — Phil Murphy, the Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee, has already voiced support for the initiative during a RUSA Town Hall meeting last year.
Covello also discussed RUSA’s work with the Douglass Governing Council and campus facilities over the summer as they move toward starting a pilot program for free menstrual hygiene products for students, as many of the Big Ten schools have done.
Some of the key initiatives that RUSA will address this year focus on campus mental health services, sexual violence prevention, public safety, college affordability and supporting diversity and social inclusion, Covello said.
One of the critical projects for this school year is improving both the accessibility and the effectiveness of mental health services on campus, he said. This initiative was something he and Schweighardt advocated very strongly for during the campaign season last year.
“RUSA has a new Health and Wellness committee which has been working very closely with CAPS (Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services) throughout the summer," Schweighardt said.
As a result of their collaboration, CAPS will soon pioneer an online appointment system, where students can set up appointments with counselors online any time rather than calling the office, Covello said.
RUSA will also be holding a Mental Health Town Hall at the end of September, which will address all the resources available to students on campus, Schweighardt said.
Covello said that RUSA is currently partnering with the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) to possibly install cameras at various locations off campus.
“We have been collaborating on that effort, and we think it’s a very tangible step to making Rutgers a safer community,” he said.
Covello also hopes to address the college affordability issue, he said.
This does not mean just lobbying on the state level or federal level, but also working to improve services already available at Rutgers, he said.
"Tuition continues to go up, but state funding does not go up at the levels that we need it to,” he said.
A recent success in this initiative area was a collaboration with other Big Ten schools and the Rutgers Office of Federal Relations to instate a full-year Pell Grant, which would allow students to use the grant not only for the spring and fall semesters but during the summer and winter sessions, as well making it easier for students to graduate in four years, Covello said.
“We also helped to lobby to keep — and actually increase — EOF (Educational Opportunity Fund) funding back in June,” Schweighardt said.
There are also plenty of improvements to be made on a smaller scale, Schweighardt said.
“We usually only think about tuition, but there are also textbooks, and why is there a $100 fee for online courses? It’s about finding those little fees around campus, figuring out where they come from and going from there,” she said.
RUSA is also currently doing research and collecting data to improve the Financial Aid Office, Schweighardt said.
Students can expect to see RUSA taking more steps to become a more transparent organization, Covello said.
“If there was one overarching goal that I have for the entire year, I want to make sure that students know that their student government has their back. And the one way they will know about that is if we are transparent, and letting them know what our priorities are because everything we do is in service to the students,” he said.
Covello believes Town Hall meetings are a great resource for this purpose — RUSA will host a Town Hall meeting sometime this semester with the new Chancellor of the New Brunswick campus, Debasish Dutta, he said.
Schweighardt also emphasized the importance of the Town Hall meetings.
“We have a lot coming up — we’re in the process of planning a Town Hall that will be a discussion on free speech,” he said.
There will also be a Town Hall to facilitate cooperation between RUPD and different multicultural groups on campus, she explained.
“Our job as RUSA isn’t to be at the center of the conversation, or to be the only people who have knowledge of the University,” Schweighardt said. “Our job is to bring different organizations together to talk about these issues and how we can all solve them together."
Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in public policy. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.