If you’ve been hearing a lot more about Undergraduate Student Government than usual this past year, you’re not alone. The executive team behind USG President Andrew Menard and Vice President Rini Sampath has been hard at work publicizing and promoting the efforts of USG in order to make student government more transparent and accessible to those whom they represent.
“This is not about Menard or Rini taking credit for things that other people have worked on — we literally have been very fortunate to have the most amazing people helping us and working with us for this past year,” Menard said.
Among the many goals USG has pursued this year include the proposal for a fall break, the reduction of fees charged for student use of campus facilities, the expansion of current tuition to cover 20 units instead of 18, increased accessibility for students with disabilities, the Black House initiative and increased outreach to students admitted in the spring semester with a spring admit guide and discussion of potential housing for those students.
Some of the hoped-for changes have yet to be made, though progress has been ongoing. Much of the outcome depends on the university’s response to the policies for which USG advocates.
“A lot of these projects take time and a hefty amount of research. For example, in compiling the Black House initiative, we looked at nearly every university that has something similar — Georgetown, Yale, Stanford — we even visited Stanford to obstain pictures of what their house looked like there,” Sampath said.
Sampath is part of the leadership team on the communication, public relations and social media task force that aims to establish a Black House at USC that would provide academic and social support as well as mentorship for students. The project is not expected to be completed for another five to 10 years.
Menard and Sampath feel that they have had productive conversations with administrators, including President C.L. Max Nikias as well as Vice Provost for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry, who are willing to listen to student voices.
“I think administrators are definitely here to listen, it’s just a matter of making sure that we take advantage of all of those opportunities and ensure the voice is heard at every level,” Sampath said.
Menard and Sampath expressed that Nikias has been receptive to issues they’ve raised with him, including increased access for students with disabilities as well as reduced expenses that students are mandated to pay the university for programming.
Menard said that students are forced to pay USC for large-scale events that require Dept. of Public Safety officers, security ambassadors and fencing. Other examples of expenses include a charge for keeping the sprinklers off during an event, even if the sprinklers were not scheduled to be on.
“[Nikias] said students shouldn’t have to pay for the security expenses, which I agree with, and I appreciate the support, but now we have to get into the logistics of how we’re going to do that,” Menard said.
Accountability and a sense of getting things done have been priorities for Menard and Sampath. Menard noted that this mentality was a deliberate choice for his presidential ticket.
“That was my main priority this year — Rini and I and the rest of our execs wanted to emphasize that we were not just going to talk about the things that we were going to do. We were actually going to do them,” he said.
Sampath noted that student outreach was one of her priorities as well.
“I really do enjoy the responsibility I have to answer to students,” she said. “I’ve gotten messages on Facebook or people have stopped me on campus asking me everything from, ‘Rini, the hourly wages I have in my position as a student worker simply aren’t enough to support my lifestyle,’ or ‘What’s the status with expanding hours at Doheny? Leavey isn’t necessarily my favorite place to study.’ I love talking to students in that context, being able to earn their trust so that we can actually make a difference for their needs or concerns.”
Though administrators have been meeting with USG about a variety of proposals, ongoing student concerns include expanding tuition to cover 20 units as opposed to the usual 18. Sampath noted that administrators were not as receptive to the expansion as they had been regarding other proposals.
“We didn’t have the same reception because maybe USC isn’t financially equipped to handle that kind of expansion, so moving forward, we have to try a different avenue in which we can accomplish that,” she said.
Through SpeakSC forums established this year, Menard and Sampath hope they have brought a greater sense of connectivity between students who are not involved with student government and administrators. Further plans include the creation of a video to better communicate USG’s next steps as well as a potential State of the Union-type address.
For their future plans, while Sampath is running again this year, this time for USG president, Menard has a position lined up at Eastdil Secured, a real estate investment bank in Santa Monica, where he will work after graduation.
“Ultimately, I feel very fortunate to have met some amazing people on this journey and very, very grateful for all of our friends and everyone who worked on our campaign team to put Rini and I in this position,” he said.