Submission: ASUP President delivers State of the Campus Address

By Sitara Nath | December 2, 2018 12:49pm

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Sitara Nath, ASUP President. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Burks.

The following was the State of the Campus Address given by ASUP President Sitara Nath at the ASUP Senate meeting on Monday, Nov. 26. The Address provides a report on the progress ASUP has made this semester and the work we are continuing to do, as well as the leaders on campus that have been involved in carrying out the platform of the ASUP President & Vice President. -Kathleen Burks, ASUP Communication Director

When I was preparing the State of the Campus for today, I spent a lot of time asking myself how it was done in the past. What do I say? How do I say it? What do I focus on? And how do I best use this opportunity to ensure we continue to best serve the student body? I kept thinking the answer must be in how we’ve done things in the past. I went through the minutes of the past few years. I read through the transcripts of the leaders who stood here at this time last year and the year before that and the year before that. Somehow, I still wasn’t able to describe the unique, refreshing work of ASUP this year by looking at what leaders have said in the past. And then I had this really incredible moment of awakening when I realized that asking ‘What did we do in the past?’ is not the question to ask anymore. Because this has been a year of growth, of visions becoming reality and of profound, meaningful change. So, this year I decided to focus on answering the question ‘What are we doing now so that students can benefit for years to come?’

Because this year the State of the Campus is about shifting away from what has been to what can be. It’s about highlighting the change and unique energy that has been so visible on our campus. And it's about the visionary leaders at the University of Portland who are keeping this change alive. It seems appropriate, then, when we start by looking at the beginning of the year to the arrival of the incoming class of freshmen who not only made up one of the biggest incoming classes, but also had the second highest number of underrepresented students in history at the University of Portland. ASUP’s presence, in particular, began strong as members of our Executive Board were present at almost every single Orientation event to welcome the students who are and will be taking on the work that we are starting now.

And this effort to be seen, to be visible when it matters most to students, has been an incredible area of growth for ASUP leaders this year. We saw that first with the powerful presence of so, so many of you at the Institutional Betrayal and Institutional Courage events that took place this fall, events that have strongly influenced the discourse on our campus surrounding survivors of sexual violence. In the broader national context of the Me Too movement, of supporting and believing survivors and translating that support into important actions, leaders at the University of Portland have persevered in keeping our campus engaged. It would be impossible for me to not mention the leadership of Dr. Sarina Saturn and Dr. Louisa Brad, two psychology professors who have taken our university’s discussion of sexual assault to a deeper level than ever before - we here may be student representatives but we cannot forget those unsung heroes, whether they be students or professors, like Dr. Saturn and Dr. Brad, who continue to advocate for students with the same passion and resilience that we strive for.

In talking about these unsung heroes in our community, it seems only fitting that we acknowledge and honor the work of several student leaders who have been instrumental in changing our campus this year. The names that immediately come to mind are those of Rachel Melman and Ryan Martin from Active Minds, who have been crucial in prioritizing the mental health and well-being of the student body. And of course, the Students Against Sexual Assault and the It’s On Us team are among those who we must acknowledge as leaders who who have remained resilient in the face of adversity. Emma Covert and Shelby Gavigan, the co-presidents of SASA, have been instrumental in advocating for ways in which our community can support survivors. Just recently, they made a groundbreaking step towards finding funding for confidential advocates to be made available for our students so that survivors can have support when working through the Title IX process. Their work has extended into powerful initiatives like the the Fall Week of Awareness where compassionate listening workshops and other events gave us the necessary skills and knowledge to be part of the solution to a deeply rooted issue. In the wake of the Department of Education’s recent proposed changes to Title IX, it is more pressing than ever that we have these conversations. It is because of these broader conversations in our community that our entire ASUP Executive Board participated in Green Dot training. It’s the same reason that ASUP worked with the Title IX Office to bring Mike Domitrz to campus, the founder of the Date Safe project, to provide an opportunity for the student body to become further educated on consent. 

In addition to the growth in these areas, we have also made incredible progress in our work with diversity and inclusion issues on our campus. Obviously another unsung hero in our community comes to mind - Dr. Eduardo Contreras, who has taken on the role of Assistant Provost for International Education, Diversity, and Inclusion and has overseen the creation of a Diversity Space on campus. University of Portland students have been calling our administration and leaders to create this change for many years and this was one of the most important steps yet. Michael and I were very fortunate to run on a platform that is so timely with these efforts. Our platform centered on inclusion, engagement, and transparency, all of which we’ve been able to intertwine with the work of ASUP leaders and university administrators. With the help of many of you, we were able to establish a Diversity Committee to brainstorm and formulate ideas on how ASUP can best serve the diverse needs of the student body in the coming year. Senator Nick Owen and Senator Megan Musquiz have been crucial in building those relationships between ASUP and diversity-based organizations on our campus. Senator Sage Taylor, with the many roles he holds in our community, has also been an immense source of support in ensuring that diversity and inclusion-based clubs are supported through ASUP Films, which is one of the services this year that has become very deeply valued by our student body. 

The work of these leaders and so many more of you ultimately led to the Diversity Roundtable ASUP just arranged a few weeks ago where leaders from the Black Student Union, Native American Association, Filipino American Student Association, the Gay-Straight Partnership, and many more clubs were able to come together and start discussions around the most pressing issues we’re seeing at UP today. Our prioritization of engagement, through collaboration with other students also led us to co-organize a forum with the Gay-Straight Partnership earlier this year to discuss issues facing the LGBTQ+ community at the University of Portland - and we know this forum was following a huge effort coordinated by ASUP leadership to demonstrate visible support for those students when approximately 500 of us stood in silence and solidarity at the Red Mass - not to stir up controversy or conflict but to visibly remain steadfast in our values and commitment to a truly diverse, inclusive home for all. In turning our direction more inwards, I immediately want to highlight the incredible contributions made by every single one of you, the leaders who are all individually and collectively making ASUP the organization it is this year.

Never have I seen such committed senators holding themselves accountable to serving the student body above all else. But it’s not just your commitment to representation that has changed ASUP – it’s your commitment to values. Because we no longer read a mission statement that we had no part in crafting at the start of every meeting. We look, instead to our Affirmation of Values, a reflection of what we are committed to for the students we represent. This focus on values and approachability has changed our presence at UP immensely. And I must honor how much the ASUP Executive Board has contributed to that growth as well. As our Vice President, Michael Gallagher has not only contributed to Title IX and inclusion efforts on campus, but internally has done so much to ensure that Espresso UP, Pilots Express, ASUP Films and other services continue growing and providing experiences that students will cherish throughout their four years at UP. His dedication has also allowed for the possibility of new services to be added so we can continue providing for campus organizations.

Kaity Sullivan, our CPB director, has headed a team of truly inspiring students who continue putting together events that cultivate a campus culture that is innovative, energetic, and creative - her work with her team led to a record attendance at Riverboat this year and phenomenal engagement with other events throughout this semester. Our director of finance, Brandon Wester, has been so involved in making sure that ASUP’s financial resources best serve every student on our campus - so much so that this year, the Opportunity Grant was fully utilized for the first time since its creation. Students, clubs, and organizations asked for more money from ASUP this year than ever before. His work on making ASUP accessible and approachable has been central to our organization’s growth.

These efforts towards accessibility and visibility has also been so strongly supported by Director of Communications Kathleen Burks. Her work to keep ASUP transparent with the community is first and foremost seen with the ASUP newsletter which now maintains nearly 1,000 subscribers. This semester, Kathleen’s efforts to revamp the newsletter to be an all-encompassing platform of campus events and to provide feedback outlets throughout the campus, have tangibly demonstrated our promise to remain in open communication with the student body.

And lastly, Speaker of the Senate Brady Boos has brought so much order, focus, and accountability to our Senate. His passion for ensuring that senators serve the student body, his dedication to following through with every student concern, and his efforts to ensure we are efficient and effective are admirable.

I want to conclude the State of the Campus address today by emphasizing that this list of accomplishments, of highlights, of important leaders on our campus - these are all examples of the changes we are implementing now to prepare for our future.

As we continue on this trajectory, it’s crucial that we continue to ask ourselves how our actions and our efforts are benefiting our current community and students for years to come. Thank you all for contributing to this change and to this movement. I look forward to continuing next year with all of you and with more enthusiasm and energy than ever before. Thank you.

Sitara Nath can be reached at nath19@up.edu.

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