The 108 students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni that comprise the University Senate, which is tasked with crafting policies that will affect the entire university, will gather in Schapiro Hall for the year's first plenary meeting on Friday.
In preparation for the meeting, Spectator interviewed the six undergraduate student senators about their initiatives for the coming year.
The revision of the University's Rules of Conduct dominated the Senate last year. But it's not clear which issue will define this academic year, allowing student senators to spearhead their own initiatives.
Marc Heinrich, CC '16, Chair of the Student Affairs Committee
Heinrich will serve an unusual third year as a University Senator after he won his seat in 2013 in a special election. As the chair of the Student Affairs Committee, the highest student leadership position on the senate, he will lead the student senators' caucus.
On advocating for first-generation and low-income students:
Following Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership and Columbia College Student Council's efforts to combat problems like food insecurity, Heinrich says the senate will also look to provide support for low-income students, as well as disabled students.
“Those are two areas that we know with the Quality of Life Survey there is lower satisfaction, and we want to make sure those students are receiving the attention they deserve,” Heinrich said.
The senate distributes the Quality of Life Survey to the entire Columbia student body and asks respondents to rank their satisfaction with various aspects of university life, including academics, administration, and safety. The results of last year's survey are expected to be released before the end of the month.
Ramis Wadood, CC '16, Vice Chair of the Student Affairs Committee
Wadood was elected to the senate in 2014. During his campaign, he focused on improved mental health resources and open cross-registration for classes between all undergraduate and graduate schools. He also worked as a senate staffer prior to running and emphasized the need for more senate transparency during his campaign. Alongside Senator Jillian Ross, SEAS '16, Wadood worked last year to form the senate's commission on diversity.
On working to increase diversity and confront bias:
“Most of my time will be with diversity-related issues,” Wadood said. “That will be anywhere from looking at policy and looking at our bias-related incident response, our multicultural services, and seeing if we can expand those to a graduate level.”
Wadood believes that representation is important for students seeking counseling and psychological services to form connections to CPS staff. As such, he hopes to see an increase in people of color—especially men—employed by CPS as it looks to hire additional staff, and has been in communication with CPS Executive Director Dr. Richard Eichler.
Sean Ryan, CC '17
Elected in the spring of 2015, Ryan ran on a platform of expanding mental health resources on campus, as well as increased focus on sexual violence prevention and adjudication.
Formally a senator now, Ryan expressed a desire to further pursue these two issues in addition to reforming Dean's Discipline, the controversial disciplinary process used to investigate and respond to allegations of behavioral or academic misconduct.
On his vision for Dean's Discipline reform:
Ryan also aims to push for increased student involvement in disciplinary processes such as Dean's Discipline in cases that might result in removal from the University.
“I think that if Columbia is going to choose to remove someone from our community, all stakeholders in that community should be present,” Ryan said.
On connecting students and administrators:
Ryan also hopes to improve the relationship between students and administrators “to help bridge the gap in confidence, in trust between students and administrators.”
“I feel like a lot of that has to do with students not seeing people's faces enough—whether that be at the high administrative level, but also on the undergraduate student life level, and the dean level,” Ryan said.
Jillian Ross, SEAS '16
Ross ran for the senate in 2014, promising to advocate for increased student access to University data, better access to Global Centers for SEAS students, and a reformed sexual assault policy.
Now, in her second year as a senator, Ross is a co-chair of the newly formed commission on diversity, which she hopes will draw attention to issues of groups of underrepresented students.
On the newly created commission on diversity:
According to Ross, the commission will look to tackle a variety of issues underrepresented students on campus face. For example, she looks to explore the relationship students of color have with Public Safety, referencing the New York Police Department's presence at last year's tree lighting ceremony die-in.
“In my time at Columbia I have never seen that many police show up at protests—and being at Columbia, we have a lot of protests—so that was very striking to me,” Ross said.
Katharine Celentano, GS '17
Before being elected to the senate in 2014, Celentano served as the student affairs representative for Columbia University Family Support Network, which worked to improve access to child care resources for undergraduates.
As a senator, she continued to advocate for family support as well as improved financial aid for GS students. She says she will pursue both causes, among others, in the coming year.
On finding support for families on campus:
“We are excited this year to examine options to support undergraduate students who have child care needs. We are excited to build off of the momentum of this summer,” Celentano said, adding that she hopes to see continued progress on providing lactation rooms, maternity and paternity leave, and increased child care benefits to students.
Erin Bryk, BC '17
Bryk, Barnard's sole student representative in the senate, was elected in 2014 after running on a platform that emphasized reform to the University's sexual assault adjudication process. This year, Bryk will continue to serve on the Rules of Conduct committee.
Last year, the committee led the review and revision of the University Rules of Conduct, the disciplinary code that regulates protests on campus. The senate passed the revised rules in May, and the board of trustees are expected to vote on them in October.
On the implementation of a University-wide honor code:
Bryk hopes to consolidate honor codes across schools to formulate one streamlined, universal code for the University.
“I really want to get as much information and research on all of them in order to have a very informed body of information with what University-wide honor code I'd like to see,” Bryk said. “So I'll be working a lot with the staffers working on it this semester and then moving forward, hopefully putting some sort of proposal in front of the senate.”
The first plenary of the year will be held on Friday at 1:15 p.m. in Davis Auditorium at the Shapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research. Anyone with CUID is welcome.