Newly elected SA President Adolyn Cofie wants students to feel more important on campus. She wants them to feel their concerns are being addressed and they have an outlet for their problems.
She thinks SA should become more advocacy-based and less focused on entertainment.
“In the past, we’ve lacked [in] student life in terms of student advocacy,” Cofie said.
She also wants to collaborate with other campus groups — like UB Athletics, The Intercultural Diversity Center and Blackstone Launchpad — to create unique opportunities for student advancement.
“We feel that collaborating with these [campus groups] in UB would help us not only be advocates for more students, but to get more students to know who we are and know what we’re about.”
She and her eboard are disappointed students voted to make the $109 student activity fee voluntary, rather than mandatory, for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. That money — which totaled close to $4 million — allowed the SA to plan free campus events, fund clubs and pay for extravagant campus events including Fall and Spring Fest.
“There will be no more free giveaways, like hot dog stands. There will be no carnival unless you pay for it,” said Cofie, a senior public health major. “Anything SA has ever hosted, would have to involve a transaction.”
Without fees, SA won’t be able to host big events like International Fiesta, said SA Administrative Director Mark RP Sorel. The only way big events will happen is by charging an entry fee, he said. The price will depend on the event and will put clubs at risk of not making enough money on tickets. Sports clubs will need to pay for insurance, which for some will be unaffordable, he said.
Cofie and her board —Vice President Alyssa Palacios and Treasurer Sayan Trotman — created the HERstory party to improve the student experience through “advancement, equity and service.” The party’s main goals are to increase transparency between SA and the student body, address UB’s “negligence” toward minority students, implement new ecological sustainability, improve diversity and cultural awareness and create campus partnerships to “advance where SA lacks in student life.”
Trotman, a senior sociology major, believes students voted out the fee because they didn’t understand its use. That, she said, is because of the “disconnect” between SA and the students this year, unlike years past, where students routinely voted to keep the fee.
Turnout is also routinely a problem at UB. This year, only 5.15% of students voted. Many freshmen, who are experiencing their first year at UB from home, didn’t even know the elections were happening. And with 74% fewer students on campus this semester, many upperclassmen also didn’t know about the elections which usually take place in the spring. The normal elections were postponed due to the pandemic.
Out of 1,128 votes, 514 voted to keep mandatory while 614 voted for voluntary.
“I do feel it was important to keep the fee mandatory because it does help SA a lot, I don’t think students realize how much SA does on campus,” Trotman said. “So I think a lot of students are looking at it more as reducing their tuition and reducing their e-bill, but I think they should pay more attention to what the fee is doing for them.”
Palacios, a senior public health major, agrees with Cofie and thinks SA should have done a better job explaining to students how the fee is used.
“We want to educate [students] and let them know we do X,Y and Z and this is what your money is going towards so that way they can see where the money is going instead of just telling them, we want them to know exactly what is happening with it,” Palacios said. “We want to encourage our students to keep it mandatory and know they are getting all these events, assistance and advocacy from SA.”
Sorel blames the pandemic for SA’s poor communication. He said he understands why students voted voluntary, but that they didn’t realize when it would begin.
“You have to realize that the vote we had was for the fall 2021 semester and that would go for another two years, so you’re talking about possibly post-pandemic spending,” Sorel said. “So the vote against it now isn't going to hurt SA at this point in time or this semester, it's actually going to when things will possibly be getting better and for two years following that.”
Trotman also said in the past, SA has not properly advertised events. She hopes to work with The Spectrum on improving SA’s communication with students to make it more “clear and concise.”
Although only about 5,000 students are on campus, Cofie isn’t worried about her e-board not being able to fulfil its promises. She believes having on-campus events will become more efficient and smaller, since New York restricts gatherings of more than 50 people. Her staff will also be able to better keep track of attendance.
She said their e-board has plans to hold events for students living off-campus so everyone can feel a “sense of community.”
“We have virtual events, so students aren’t feeling that disconnect since they are off-campus,” she said. “Some of the events we have in mind are like talent shows, like “America’s Got Talent,” where people can vote from home, the psychic fair we also want to do online.”
Before the pandemic, the e-board had plans to return SA’s fest to a “single-concert” to save SA money for more events. Due to the pandemic, however, they’ve had to make a few adjustments.
“We’ve realized it might be a little bit harder to do a Spring Fest, but right now what we’re doing is a lot of reimagining, so trying to find a way to still provide some sort of entertainment-based concert to students without making it unsafe for everyone to attend or participate,” Trotman said. “We’re still working on that, whether it be something virtual, but we’re not quite sure what we are going to do yet.”
Palacios worked for the SA Entertainment Department last year and has been thinking about how clubs can operate online.
“I just want to reach out to all the clubs and encourage them and work with them to reimagine how they can [hold events],” Palacios said. “I’ve worked in the entertainment department so I have a lot of ideas and I’ve thrown a lot of events, so help them come up with ways to give to the students in a way that’s safe.”
Last year, SA members dealt with allegations of conflict of interest and time theft. She recognizes it will be hard to shift student perception of the “narrative” of SA. Yet, she hopes transparency will help.
“We are for the students, we’re just a reflection of the students,” Cofie said. “We are student leaders, we’re just the voices for the 20,000 undergraduate students on campus and we value the position we were elected into and we wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.”
Alexandra Moyen is the editor-in-chief and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AlexandraMoyen
Alexandra Moyen is the senior features editor of The Spectrum.