On The Oakland Post’s Instagram account, at the request of the Oakland University Student Congress (OUSC), a story post was published inviting OU students to ask questions to the incumbent President, Andrew Romano, and Vice President, Murryum Farooqi.
Their answers are outlined below:
Q: “What are your top priorities for next year?”
A: We would be going into our next term with a huge advantage because of our experience, which allows us to have an ambitious but attainable list of tangible ways we plan to help students. Some of our priorities include:
Increasing the number of green spaces on campus.
Raising the wage.
Lobbying for more state funding so tuition doesn’t have to increase so much.
Expanding accessibility to free menstrual products on campus.
Adding an option for LGBTQ+ students to express their gender identity and sexual orientation on the OU admissions application.
Providing students the tools they need to be sustainable.
Expanding food options in the food court (including vegan, vegetarian, and halal options).
Holding the University accountable on sustainability.
Finding solutions to get election day off for students.
Developing a self-reported absence policy (to give students sick and mental health days where they can miss class and not be academically punished).
Co-sponsoring Indigenous Heritage Week at OU, co-sponsoring Arab Heritage Week at OU, co-sponsoring Asian Heritage Week at OU and co-sponsoring a Pacific Islander Heritage Week.
Q: “What accomplishment are you most proud of from this year?”
A: That’s a tough question. We think it would have to be our work in textbook affordability with our Trash The Textbooks campaign. The absurd additional costs associated with course materials should not exist in higher education where students pay thousands of dollars in tuition already.
Student Congress was able to raise awareness and put this on the radar of many in upper administration. We donated to the ACMI (an initiative on campus that assists professors in converting their courses to use only low to no cost course materials), [and] the University now tells students which courses offer low-cost course materials when they register for classes, the University has committed to funding the ACMI, there is a dedicated donation area for the ACMI, Student congress gave out 30 textbook scholarships and the University has given the initiative a lot more credit and publicity.
While Student Congress has had a history of lobbying for the University to act on textbook affordability, there has never really been any significant progress on the initiative until our administration. Of course, we want to give credit to Julia Rodriguez and the ACMI team for building the infrastructure and helping to educate us. Without them, we would have never been able to Trash The Textbooks.
Another accomplishment we are proud of is paying our workers and making sure student congress participation is accessible to all. Being a student is already insanely expensive with rising tuition costs and more, making it unreasonable to ask students to dedicate so much time and effort to Student Congress for free. We don’t want our peers to feel like they have to choose between earning money at a job or working to make the campus a better place.
Q: “What kind of support are you providing/plan to provide for minorities on campus?”
A: When you look at what we have done and what we plan to do, it is clear we are very dedicated to supporting every group on campus. One of our main focuses is to make sure every student has a place for themselves at our University. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are things our University speaks about often, and there are a lot of great groups/initiatives on campus that foster inclusivity.
A problem we’ve noticed however is visibility. Some groups are very represented on campus, but others are left behind. We celebrate Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ Community, Hispanic Heritage Month, First Generation Students’ Week and African American celebration month — all of which are great. But what about the Asian, Indigenous, Pacific Islander and Arab American students at OU? Why is it that Oakland University’s programming only celebrates a few select groups? It’s adding insult to injury.
These unrepresented students are bombarded left and right with marketing for programs celebrating all of these other groups, and for some reason, they are left out. If a student doesn’t see a place for themselves on campus then how can we expect them to want to stay? We plan to bring together student organizations, university community members and others to make planning committees for heritage weeks for these groups.
Furthermore, we can’t ignore the glaring inequity that menstruators face on campus, the majority of which are women. Why is it that we have free BioButtons, facemasks, hand sanitizer, COVID-19 testing, condoms, kleenex, toilet paper, etc., but, when it comes to menstrual products, the stigma around menstruation (a normal bodily function for half the population) continues to win?
It’s time our University supplies free menstrual products in all women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms. If we are re-elected, we will continue our work on this initiative and the implementation of free menstrual products will be expanded to many places on campus.
We also plan to support our campus LGBTQ+ community. OU used to be the leader in Michigan for being an LGBTQ+ friendly campus, [but] unfortunately, our ranking is slipping. One of the reasons our ranking has been slipping is due to the fact that we do not collect data on our LGBTQ+ students. Anyone on campus who wants to improve the Oakland experience for our LGBTQ+ community runs into this problem. Whether you are in Student Congress trying to find data to back an initiative, an employee of the Gender and Sexuality Center trying to find students to reach out to and provide resources to, or even a prospective Oakland Student searching for demographic information, it just isn’t there.
The simplest way we can at least start the process of collecting this data is by having an optional question on the OU application that allows prospective students to express their sexual orientation. Until OU starts compiling this data, the campus community is flying blind when it comes to addressing needs and providing resources to our LGBTQ+ peers.
Q: “Is representation important to you?”
A: Representation is something we both think about often. It matters at all levels and in every aspect of what we do. It is one thing to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, but it is a much larger task to actually achieve it.
We are most likely one of the most diverse and representative Student Congress tickets Oakland University has ever seen, and while we are certainly proud of this achievement, as well as the progress we’ve made in the last year towards becoming a more diverse, inclusive and representative Student Congress, we recognize that we can never truly represent and fight for the needs of all students unless we are proactive about connecting with our peers.
Diversity is not a task that can or should ever simply be checked off and marked as completed. Diversity and inclusion are about always leaving the door open for people to be heard. We value and will continue to value hearing from any and all students that want their voices to be heard — whether this manifests in the new heritage weeks we plan to work on, giving student organizations representation in a general assembly of Student Congress, or anything else anyone may suggest, our ears and doors are always open!
Q: “Is there a plan to make OU more environmentally friendly?”
A: Of course, sustainability is going to be at the forefront of everything we do. The time to be ambitious with sustainability is now. Our world is facing countless environmental crises and it is the responsibility of universities to prepare their students for the future. Oakland University needs to do more now — not in 5 years.
Going forward, it is imperative that we treat sustainability as a priority on campus at every level. Integrating sustainability in this way cannot be done through committees alone. We need to have a dedicated office for sustainability at Oakland University immediately — we are one of the few universities that don’t have a centralized sustainability office. Without a centralized office to coordinate sustainability efforts, groups and individuals working towards sustainability have found themselves chipping away at similar initiatives simultaneously without knowledge of each other, often resulting in redundancies and inefficiencies.
As our University discusses sustainability in more detail, we encourage them to review the millions of dollars they sign in contracts for projects and initiatives and work out ways they can push sustainability wherever they can, even if it is in small ways.
For example, the next time they renew their contract with OU Eats or the bookstore, why not add wording that requires vendors to offer paper bags? Or even better would be to require vendors to provide monetary incentives to customers who bring their bags. The same goes for technology contracts. Next time OU looks to purchase new technology, we want them to prioritize energy efficiency.
Most of all, we want OU to stop doing business with companies whose business practices are blatantly against OU’s values — such as businesses that exploit workers. Frankly, it’s tiring seeing all of OU’s environmental responsibility handed over to students and faculty. Sure, we’ll “Skip the Straw,” but the university needs to do its part as well. If OU doesn’t actually work to change the ways it does business, then our efforts will be in vain.
You can find the OUSC on Instagram at @ouscofficial.