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USG reflects on past accomplishments and outlines future plans in address

USG President Shamina Merchant speaks at the State of the University Address at the Ohio Union on Jan. 15. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

Student government leaders recounted the organization’s progress during the fall semester and turned their attention toward the last 11 weeks of the administration at the Undergraduate Student Government State of the University Address Tuesday night at the Ohio Union.

President Shamina Merchant, Vice President Shawn Semmler and Chief of Staff Zayn Dweik emphasized the progress the organization has made under the administration’s five core values: engagement, community, empowerment, innovation and accountability.

“These are the values that have been at the forefront of our minds and have helped guide our decision-making over the past year,” Dweik said to open the address.

Semmler reflected on the challenges the past semester brought to USG and its response, noting that USG is not only an advocate for students, but also built to suggest solutions.

“The issues that our university has faced over the last year are issues that have not only challenged institutions nationwide, but have even, more importantly, defined how our students experience The Ohio State,” Semmler said.

Semmler said that committee representatives are leading projects that include adding the BuckID to the mobile wallet; launching the university’s first-ever sex week; learning how to retain diverse students and staff; keeping scooters safe; exploring third-party safety rides; increasing efforts to meet sustainability goals; and pushing to change rates for out-of-state students.

USG also allocated $80,765 to student groups to host events, according to Semmler.

Merchant highlighted USG’s major accomplishments from the administration’s beginning in April, including the use of the Student Voice Index as part of national case study investigating the role students play in the university policy-making process.

She also noted the organization’s efforts to engage the student vote in November and said voter registration within USG was at 100 percent for the first time ever.

In relation to affordability, Merchant reflected on USG’s legislation to eliminate 70 percent of course fees and the ability for seniors to take up to 21 credit hours that were both approved by the Board of Trustees. They were officially implemented this semester, according to Merchant, and are estimated to save undergrads over $1.2 million annually.

USG also worked to expand Buckeye Road Trip, the program that provides rides home over break to New York, as well as revamping the USG Renter’s Guide.

The administration also focused on student wellness, launching the use of the Rave Guardian app — which provides a virtual walk home — expanded access to feminine hygiene products to more than 90 academic buildings across campus, and brought energy-generating bikes to the RPAC and Jesse Owens South.

Merchant said USG’s key focus was on sexual violence and mental health resources.

“Education and access to resources and support have been the key focus of our priorities in these areas,” she said.

USG sponsored a resolution that led to the implementation of mandatory sexual violence training and organized student focus groups to organize resources in a survivor-driven way, according to Merchant.

Merchant said with the creation of University President Michael Drake’s mental health task force, USG launched a survey to incorporate the student voice into the recommendations, Merchant said.

In terms of inclusion, so far USG has hosted an International Student Alumni Panel, Trans Awareness Week and passed a resolution requiring resident advisers to be safe-zone trained, Merchant said.

USG plans to focus on five key focus points for spring semester: a tuition guarantee for out-of-state students, the development of an Ohio State mental health app, support for survivors of sexual violence, a safe-ride program and the collection of self-reported ethnicity data.

Merchant concluded the event with a challenge to her fellow members of USG for the remainder of the administration, asking them how they want to end their last 11 weeks.

“What do you want this organization’s legacy to be?” she said. “How do you want future generations of Buckeyes to look back at our time here?”

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