For UB SA president Gunnar Haberl, giving back to the community inspires his work

Haberl hopes to raise mental health awareness during presidency

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Most high school students are attracted to sports or clubs, but Gunnar Haberl always gravitated toward student government. As president of his high school class, Haberl loved being involved with decision making at his school.

Now, the senior legal studies and political science major is preparing for his role as Student Association president. After winning the position unopposed, Haberl has a long agenda he hopes to complete this year.

Haberl served in the SA Assembly his freshman and sophomore year, leading to his selection as SA Chief of Staff in the fall semester of 2017. He also completed an internship with the New York State Assembly. Following his internship, the assembly hired him, making Haberl the youngest legislative aide in New York state history. He currently has a seat on the Elma School District Board of Education to continue improving his alma mater.

Haberl said he finds fulfilment in giving back to others. With roughly 20,000 undergraduate students falling under his control, he said not everyone will like his decisions, but he’s prepared to make a difference.

“One of my core beliefs is giving back to others. I know it’s a cheesy catch phrase, but you get a sense of fulfillment when you are helping others,” Haberl said. “I’ve learned over time that when you voice your opinion, people will listen, and thankfully people have listened to me.”

Haberl’s father, Matt Haberl, said his son’s passion for student government has prepared him for his role as president.

“What he does is speak up for himself and those who need a voice,” Matt said. “He’s always got the backs of those people. If there’s a question that he doesn’t know the answer to, he looks it up and figures it out, which has always impressed me.”

As promised during his campaign, one of Haberl’s first goals is to increase awareness of mental illnesses on campus.

Haberl said students are held to high expectations concerning involvement, grades and social life during college. He’s witnessed the negative effect these pressures have had on fellow students and said he wants to raise more awareness about illness.

“We’re seeing [all of these factors] take a toll on the mental health of students across the board,” Haberl said. “I really want to take a look at how the university is addressing mental health issues, because the university itself is acknowledging it’s an issue, yet we’re not providing more funding or more resources towards solving the mental health crisis.”

Last year’s SA President Leslie Veloz said she admires Haberl’s interest in mental health. She said if anyone is able to raise more awareness and bring change to campus, it’s Haberl.

“[In] the survey that I conducted, mental health was actually the number one survey result of what students felt was the biggest issue on campus, and one of the things that was being addressed inadequately,” Veloz said. “I think that for Gunnar to take that on next year is appropriate. It shows that he’s listening to the needs of students and is working towards addressing them.”

Haberl said he plans on working with Student Affairs to create mental health awareness programing. He hopes to work with Russ Crispell of outdoor pursuits to create more opportunity for outdoor activities, which have proven beneficial when trying to improve mental health.

Haberl also wants to change how the student mandatory activity fee is used to maximize the potential of events like Spring and Fall Fest.

SA controls nearly $4 million of student money through the mandatory student activity fee of $104.75 per semester. As chief of staff, Haberl had experience overseeing money within the organization. He said he wants to make sure students get the most out of the more than $200 they give to SA per year.

He said students may not like the decision, but SA is considering downsizing Spring Fest and Fall Fest to one bigger festival.

“Funding is going to be tight next year because our mandatory student activity fee hasn’t been raised and we’ve compensated our staff with the minimum wage increases,” Haberl said. “Events like our fests are growing to the size where we can’t sustain them. Students have to realize it’s either two fests that are not to the scale of what they currently are, or one large fest at its current scale, with the rest of the money set aside for smaller shows, like the comedy series.”

Although SA has dealt with numerous problems in recent years, Haberl is optimistic.

He said some administrations did have issues in the past, but that there hasn’t been an e-board with all three members coming from the same ticket in a long time.

He’s confident that working with Vice President Anyssa Evelyn and Secretary Tanahiry Escamilla will provide a smooth year in office. He knows it’s impossible to make everyone happy, but thinks he and his team will handle the job well.

Max Kalnitz is the senior news editor and can be reached at max.kalnitz@ubspectrum.com @Max_Kalnitz