Big Ten student governments discuss diversity, mental health

By Samantha Jones Toal

Schools in the Big Ten conference don’t only meet in the athletic world.

Over the weekend, six delegates from the Illinois Student Senate participated in a three-day Association of Big Ten Students, ABTS, conference at Rutgers

In attendance were representatives from all 14 universities in the Big Ten.

“I love ABTS because it’s basically a huge brainstorming session,” said Sam LeRoy,CH sophomore and senator in ISS.

Each school held breakout sessions that exemplified something unique about their university’s student senate, campus or legislation that they’re working on. The Illinois Student Senate gave a presentation on their uniquely structured government — Illinois student senators work directly with campus administrators.

LeRoy said it’s beneficial to learn about initiatives happening at other universities and forming partnerships with other schools in the Big Ten conference.

“Sometimes it’s hard to dig at what really is the problem and it’s tough to get that engagement with students on our own campus,” LeRoy said. “Sometimes, it takes students at other campuses to show us how we can do better at our own university.”

LeRoy is a member of the Academic Affairs committee and is seeking to pass legislation that would create a syllabi database that would be available on the course catalog — a goal that the Michigan State student senate is also working toward.

“Everybody comes back so energized and ready to work on things,” said Mitch Dickey, student body presidentCH.

At the conference, the delegates passed a resolution supporting diversity and inclusion among the Big Ten.

“We took some time at the conference to discuss the issue of diversity and how do we promote diversity and inclusion on our campuses within our student governments,” said Andrianna Kurzenberger, student senate chief of staff and Big Ten liaison.CH

Delegates across the Big Ten also discussed creating a task force to specifically evaluate how members of the conference can communicate together and promote diversity as a whole rather than on specific campuses.

“We want to say, ‘Hey, the Big Ten is encouraging diversity,’” Kurzenberger said.

The creation of a Big Ten Diversity Day was also discussed.

LeRoy said that while this topic is a national issue, nothing “monumental” passed at this year’s conference.

“The conference a year ago that was at Northwestern (University) was the one that really brought about the It’s On Us campaign,” he said, in reference to the White House’s sexual assault awareness campaign. “There wasn’t anything of that degree at the conference.”

Dickey said mental health was also a huge discussion topic at the conference.

“I’m disappointed we haven’t done much with this, but we talked about it a lot,” Dickey said.

The delegates flew back to Illinois Monday, each toting bags filled with pages of notes that hold ideas for future student senate endeavors, LeRoy said.

“The Big Ten is set apart from other university conferences where they mainly revolve around sports,” Kurzenberger said. “We have that aspect in the Big Ten as well obviously, but it’s really cool that even our student governments are capable of coming together and cheering each other on.”

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