Student Association president reflects on year in office
Gunnar Haberl looks back after year of ‘relationship building’
Gunnar Haberl has had to use a sword a few times in his life.
The outgoing Student Association president isn’t a dragon slayer, though.
He was a child magician showcasing his favorite trick with the tape-measure weapon, something he used in front of over 50 crowds as a kid.
Haberl didn’t have to pull any tricks on anyone this academic year, but he admits he did his best to mend SA’s relationships with departments, not disclosing whether or not he used magic in the process.
Last March, the R.E.A.L. Party –– Haberl, Vice President Anyssa Evelyn and Treasurer Tanahiry Escamilla –– ran for SA e-board on a platform focused heavily on mental health advocacy and the inclusion of an on-campus campsite. While their outdoor recreation element never came to fruition, they called on UB to put Counseling Service’s number on the back of UB cards, pushed for an on-campus food pantry and introduced SA’s first sexual assault prevention week. Haberl went into the year excited and leaves knowing that, although he couldn’t please everyone like he did during his days in entertainment, relationship building doesn’t take a magic wand.
He said he spent the year building up crucial relationships for SA–– either preexisting or nonexistent –– with administrators and department heads, including Athletic Director Mark Alnutt.
“[When we meet, they] are trusting students to do something and to represent the university and push boundaries,” Haberl said. “And that's not an easy thing to let up because that is a liability in some cases. But I think that’s something our team really pressed this year.”
Haberl remembers members of the UB community telling him “Athletics doesn't talk to the Student Association,” and said a lot of the initiatives SA has pushed this year –– including the on-campus food pantry and the inclusion of more menstrual products on campus –– couldn’t be accomplished by just the student government.
Escamilla agreed that this was one of the most “notable accomplishments” of their term.
“Many of our initiatives would have not been accomplished without the support and collaboration between many individuals on campus,” Escamilla wrote in an email. This also allowed to Student Association to form a relationship with many of Administrators, and we hope the relationship is preserved next year.”
Escamilla wrote that some of the other highlights this year include the growth of SA's Student Affairs Department, continuing the “Sign The Bull” program, “improving the quality” of Spring Fest and the Comedy Series with funds that the Fall Fest Concert Series saved and having student representatives on the food pantry task force.
As a member of the task force himself, Haberl said he made sure it was executed “properly” when UB initiated it last month. He can now be seen pushing around carts full of food in the Student Union regularly.
Haberl was also vocal about incorporating free menstrual products on campus after attending a conference. He then went to administrators who invited him to a preexisting group to help bring the products to UB. Haberl announced in June that SA and the Office of Inclusive Excellence each provided $5,000 for a pilot program, which will provide free pads and tampons in 20 bathrooms across campus later this month.
But Haberl says SA’s push to include the Counseling Service’s number on the back of UB cards and the events SA held to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week in March are successes that he holds close. Haberl visited Counseling Services himself this year and thinks shining a light on mental health was a crucial part of his e-board’s agenda.
“I just think there’s so much pressure on students, whether they’re social or academic pressures [and] they’re not going to go away,” Haberl said. “And we can’t ignore the fact that it’s not going to go away.”
Haberl says the hardest part of his term wasn’t dealing with criticism, but rather the “personal attacks” that came with serving in a large position.
“You saw students were unhappy with SA sponsoring Vice President [Joe] Biden. But then there were students that were also upset that we sponsored Condoleezza Rice, right,” Haberl said. “So you're not going to make everyone happy. But for me, in this position, it's important to understand why. And when you understand why that's when you learn from it.”
Haberl says he learned a lot about relationships in the role, and will take this knowledge with him to George Washington University next semester, where he starts a two-year master’s program in public policy and with a concentration in educational policy.
He hopes to eventually work for the Department of Education and be a liaison between the department and members of Congress.
But regardless of where he ends up, Haberl always has a couple tricks up his sleeve.
Brenton Blanchet is the managing editor and can be reached at Brenton.Blanchet@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @BrentonBlanchet.