Student Assembly prepares for new leadership

by Lucia McGloin | 3/31/15 6:54pm

With election season for Student Assembly set to begin in the coming weeks, the tenures of student body president Casey Dennis ’15 and vice president Frank Cunningham ’16 are coming to a close. In preparation for new leadership, Dennis and Cunningham said this term they are designing tools to sustain momentum in the Assembly, including the institution of a new financial structure, solidifying committees to continue their campaigns for both sexual assault prevention and mental health awareness and strengthening the Assembly’s relationship with College administrators and the Board of Trustees.

In an effort to improve the relationship between the Assembly and the Undergraduate Finance Committee, Dennis said the Assembly will now receive funding in an annual lump sum rather than on a basis of proposals. In the fall, the Assembly was granted $40,000 of the initial $70,500 it requested from the UFC, a $18,000 funding cut from the previous year.

Cunningham said that the UFC was reluctant to match the Assembly’s funding requests because past leadership had finished with excess funds. He said this year’s Assembly, which is one of the largest in College history at 95 members, enacted an ambitious agenda that enlarged the Assembly’s responsibility and participation in campus issues. By co-hosting events with student groups like Active Minds and Palaeopitus Senior Society, Cunningham said that the Assembly successfully orchestrated their programs, ending the term with “every dime spent.”

Dennis said the Assembly has actively strengthened its relationships with both student groups and administrators. In addition to regular communication with College administrators, the Assembly organized a student dinner last November with the Board of Trustees, something Dennis said he hopes will continue under the next Assembly leadership. The meeting provided an informal platform for dialogue between students across campus and the Board of Trustees.

Dennis and Cunningham highlighted two campaigns last fall — the “I’m Here for You” campaign for mental health awareness and the “It’s On Us” initiative to mitigate sexual assault — as main pillars of their assembly’s agenda. The next leadership will inherit five functioning committees, which Dennis said he hopes will aid the continuation of both campaigns. Cunningham said there is always more work to be done on sexual assault and mental health.

Campaign director Speight Carr ’16, who helped orchestrate both campaigns, said that he thought they were successful in increasing the visibility of the Assembly on campus and extending attention to important issues. In addition to hosting a student panel and co-hosting a relaxation fair, the Assembly coordinated with Dick’s House to make mental health screening more accessible to student patients. Cunningham said that the counseling numbers at Dick’s House have “skyrocketed,” generating more attention toward how resources might be further developed to address mental illness.

Some events hosted by the Assembly garnered a large amount of attention from students. Over 100 students, for example, attended a September mental health panel discussion.

Still, several students interviewed by The Dartmouth expressed a lack of familiarity with the Assembly’s programming, and only one of six could identify a program launched by Student Assembly. Natalie Kwan ’18 said she remembers seeing posters throughout the library, though she never attended an Assembly event herself.

Dennis said that the Assembly was unable to pursue plans to host underrepresented groups at the College and that the idea was one among many that he would have pursued if time and resources had allowed.

Other initiatives included events to honor the people who enhance the Dartmouth experience, Dennis said. The Assembly’s “Profiles in Excellence” event in the winter honored computer science professor Prasad Jayanti for outstanding teaching. They also organized an employee appreciation day for Dartmouth Dining Services to make cards and host a dessert potluck.

“Our priorities are fluid, not static,” Dennis said.

He said that this winter, the Assembly’s agenda was specially tailored to the rollout of “Moving Dartmouth Forward,” creating resources to help students understand and discuss the provisions. On the day that College President Phil Hanlon made his “Moving Dartmouth Forward” announcement, for example, Dennis and Cunningham ran a student-only forum to address student questions and perspectives.

Dennis said that these perspectives informed the focus of the town hall meeting the Assembly co-hosted with Palaeopitus and the Office of the President later in the term, where College President Phil Hanlon, Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer, Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno and Provost Carolyn Dever addressed questions from students in regards to the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan.

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