Illinois Student Senate holds public forum

By Samantha Jones Toal

The Illinois Student Senate held a public forum in the Union on Tuesday to discuss current issues facing students and the University.

At the start of the forum Mitch Dickey, student body president, spoke about the success of the It’s On Us campaign and the legislation that gives survivors of sexual assault the opportunity to weigh in on their perpetrators readmission into the University.

Dickey also stressed the importance of the Budget Cuts Mean Us campaign and the lobbying efforts of ISS at the statewide lobby day in Springfield.

“There’s no time as important as now to act, to engage with our elected officials in Springfield, and speak up for what we believe in,” he said.

Dickey said that as more time passes without a state budget, more damage is done to the University. He urged students to support MAP grant funding and participating in the ISS sponsored letter writing campaign.

“It is a complete shame that students at our University and across the state will face financial uncertainty,” he said. “It is our civic duty to engage with legislators and there is no better time to engage with our legislators than now.”

Focus on Mental Health

ISS is involved in the “U Are Not Alone” campaign, which is a mental health awareness initiative sponsored by an association of Big Ten Universities.

“We really want Illinois to be a leader on this initiative,” said Farah Chalisa, chairwoman of the ad hoc mental health committee. “We want to create a climate on campus that allows students to feel comfortable talking about mental health.”

Chalisa said she intends to promote Project Semicolon on campus, a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who struggle with depression, self-injury, mental illness and suicide.

A member of the audience brought up the issue of having a 10 session cap on counseling sessions at McKinley Health Center as well as long wait times.

Chalisa responded by saying she hopes to increase student’s awareness of different resources on campus, for example, the University’s Counseling Center is separate from McKinley. The Counseling Center has no cap on visits and has walk-in counselors available.

Committee for New Mascot

Alex Villanueva, student senator, has plans to create a committee tasked with deciding if the campus is ready for the selection of a new mascot.

He said the committee will probably not be formed until the spring semester and will need to create a survey to properly gauge students’ openness for a new mascot.

“The conversation has seemed to change from, ‘we want the chief back’ to ‘we want a mascot back,’” Villanueva said.

He said his personal goal is to have a new mascot by the fall of 2017, 10 years after the Chief was retired.

New Proposed Student Senate Constitution

Sarah Hochman, Vice President-internal, explained the push for a new ISS constitution.

The new constitution would change how executive officers are elected, as well as further separate the executive branch from the legislative branch.

Currently, officers are elected by student senate members. The new constitution would call for a popular election, meaning the entire student body would elect these figures, rather than than through an internal election.

“Some support leaving the process as is, but the overwhelming support is for this new system,” said Hochman.

Hochman said the new process would include candidate debates and would overall increase student involvement and engagement.

In order for the referendum to get on the ballot, 2,500 electronic signatures are needed.

Dickey included a link to the new proposed constitution and petition in a Massmail sent to students Monday evening.

Senate Works Towards Open Source Textbooks

Rahul Kalluri, Illinois Student Senate treasurer, wants to create financial awareness across campus.

“The problem is student engagement,” he said.

Kalluri said he plans to launch a social media campaign to help students find the proper resources to aid with their financial affairs, such as debt and taxes.

He said he also wants to increase the option of open source textbooks

“They will be easily accessible and hopefully free,” he said.

Kalluri said he is reaching out to faculty and administration to make these open source textbooks a reality for students.

Similarly, Colin Shumock, chairman of the committee on academic affairs, said his committee is working on creating a campus-wide syllabus bank. The bank would be available to all University students and is intended to make sure students are fully aware of what they can expect when registering for a class.

Cultural Awareness on Campus

Farah Chalisa, chairwoman of the cultural, international and minority student affairs subcommittee, CIMSA, said the committee is continuing to try to enhance campus inclusivity and diversity.

On Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., CIMSA will host a Syrian refugee crisis awareness event on the Main Quad. The event will raise money for refugee families who recently settled in Chicago.

Chalisa said the committee is also committed to its goal to create a better environment for international students.

“We want to make international students feel more welcome on our campus but we also want domestic students to learn more about the cultures of international students,” she said. “We don’t want them to feel like they just have to fit in here, we want to celebrate their differences.”

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