USG President and VP reflect on their term

Graphic by Daily Trojan staff

After a year, the terms of Undergraduate Student Government President Austin Dunn and Vice President Morgan Monahan are coming to an end. During their presidential campaign, the two advocated their vision to “Achieve More” as representatives of the 19,000 undergraduate students they serve. Some of the progress Dunn and Monahan have made, via resolutions in the Senate, include the creation of a fall break initiative, the implementation of free hygiene products in campus restrooms and a rideshare partnership between USC and Lyft. 

Despite these  accomplishments, Dunn and Monahan agreed the most defining moments of their term occurred in the face of spontaneous crises.

“The biggest thing that strikes me this year is responding in real time to all of the issues that happened in our nation, because it affects communities and students on our campus,” Monahan said. “So, for instance, [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  initiative] was a big thing that we pulled together really quickly to support students.”

When the administration of President Donald Trump announced its decision to end DACA, the USG Senate passed a resolution to allocate $10,000 to aid DACA students’ application renewal fees.

While the DACA fund was a highly publicized amenity to students, Monahan expressed concern regarding a general lack of student awareness of on-campus resources, such as free legal counseling and complimentary shuttles to LAX. She and Dunn each referenced  examples of USC students who had learned about these useful resources too late in their academic career.

“It is definitely an ongoing battle,” Dunn said. “We want to institutionalize initiatives that come out of USG in order to make them a part of campus culture, which would take some of the publicity efforts out of our hands.”

To address this, Monahan repeatedly cited the upcoming mandatory first-year wellness course as a potentially useful tool to inform incoming Trojans of the resources available on campus.

“I would say something that really spoke to me this year is that there is definitely a culture change happening on our campus,” Monahan said. “And I think one of the big catalysts of that is the first-year course initiative that we’re trying to do.”

Mental health and mindfulness were key issues addressed across USG this year, in several initiatives such as free access to the Calm mobile app — which promoted mindfulness and meditation — and the passing of a fall break resolution. Although it will not be implemented until 2019, the fall break initiative was strongly supported by students and serves the purpose of alleviating academic stress and improving mental health.

“We actually had a meeting with Provost [Michael] Quick on Jan. 25 and we got a date for fall break,” Monahan said. “It’s going to be the fall semester of 2019 in week eight.”

The idea of a fall break is one that spawned and receded several times over the past five years, but a resolution finally passed the USG Senate, Graduate Student Government Senate, Academic Senate and Faculty Senate in Fall 2017. Much of the force behind this initiative was provided by an Engemann Student Health Center study, which showed that a spike in demand for counseling repeatedly occurs from weeks 8 to 10 in the fall semester.

Dunn recognized some confusion among students and faculty regarding when the new break will be implemented and hopes to address it.

“Our hope is, before the end of our term, to have a memo released to the entire university community signed by us and the provost making that totally publicized,” Dunn said.

Monahan elaborated on her vision for how the first-year wellness course can create a safer, better-informed and more tolerant atmosphere on campus.

“This first year course for all incoming freshman, spring admits, and transfer students will really create a culture of accountability, looking out for each other, and respect,” Monahan said. “And culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s going to be impacted by things that happen on campus.”

Dunn said the shifting norms on campus were his and Monahan’s favorite development during their administration. He referred to the fall break resolution as an example of how this progress is manifesting.

“If we had to sum up what we are most proud of, in one word, it would be culture,” Dunn said. “Just because these things we’re listing have to do with that. Fall break focused on destigmatizing mental health and supporting our students in times of crisis in weeks eight to ten.”

In the aftermath of Christina Yokoyama’s termination as the former director of the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, many USG officials and students questioned the ability of students to influence decisions made by the USC administration. Dunn acknowledged these concerns, and explained he has tried to address them by meeting with administrators more often.

“In my entire time as vice president [during the 2016-2017 term], I only saw [Vice President for Student Affairs] Ainsley Carry three times,” Dunn said. “I now see him weekly, usually even more than once a week. I couldn’t ask to be better supported by the provost. In that realm, that is definitely something that we have made great strides in but that’s not to say that everything we say to the provost, Dr. Carry, or [President C. L. Max] Nikias is immediate policy.”

When asked what advice she would offer to the current USG candidates, Monahan emphasized personal wellness and trying to preserve oneself.

“Wellness is an important aspect of this and making sure that you fill up your own cup before you fill up others,” Monahan said. “And just make sure you are reaching out to as many people as possible, but doing it in a responsible manner for yourself.”

Dunn added that candidates ought to remember what inspired  them to join student government, and to stay true to those motives.

“Every student who’s running or who gets involved in student government has a reason for having done so,” Dunn said. “And I think that one thing that campaigns and the dirtiness of elections and the stress of life can often take away from staying at your core.”

Dunn concluded by reminding the next USG president to seek assistance from all members of USG, and to work on every issue as a team regardless of who receives the spotlight.

“Even though I might be the first point of contact on a particular issue, or I might have to give a speech on a particular thing, I am never doing that as me; I am always doing that with USG as my team,” Dunn said. “To know that you have the support of your team behind your back is pretty great. My biggest piece of advice is to rely on the amazing people around you.”