OPINION: Final state of the campus address

A goodbye letter to ASUP and University of Portland

By Emma Fuller | April 19, 2023 12:30pm

Photo courtesy of Emma Fuller.

Good afternoon and welcome to my final State of the Campus Address. When I started my role as President two years ago at the age of 19, little did I know what was in store for me.

We have weathered a global pandemic, navigated a national presidential search, witnessed a historic presidential inauguration, developed and implemented a new strategic plan, revised our ASUP mission statement to better reflect our values and dealt with record-breaking budget cuts due to a freshman melt.

Despite these changes, we have achieved significant milestones, including gifting $375,000 for a new student welcome and engagement center, raising the student activities fee, contributing $50,000 to open a new diversity center, creating a new DIP Director position, GSP hosting our first ever DRAG show and another successful one this year, establishing a menstrual product program, starting a professional clothing closet, lighting the largest living Christmas tree in the world, hosting two consecutive student government leadership conferences and in the second one, successfully inviting and having three university presidents in attendance, implementing ASUP Green Dot training, and passing key continuity documents that will impact ASUP for years to come.

My tenure as President has been a transformative time for UP, and I am grateful to have been a part of it and to have made a positive impact on our campus. In this address, I will reflect on the goals I set forth at the beginning of my presidency and highlight the achievements. 

Additionally, I will share the areas where I fell short and express my hope that future ASUP leaders will take on those challenges. In my closing remarks, I will provide my final words of advice and articulate my vision for the future direction of the University and ASUP. Additionally, I will express my gratitude for the opportunity to serve as the first woman and woman of color two term student body president at University of Portland. Thank you for joining me for my final State of the Campus Address.

Let's rewind to the beginning of Fall 2021. One of the most surreal experiences for me was leaving campus as a freshman class senator and returning as the President. I had no idea what to expect in this role, and unfortunately, I didn't receive much guidance from my predecessor. 

My tenure as ASUP President began during the summer. The first order of business was to schedule meetings with as many people in administration as possible. I wanted to gain a comprehensive understanding of who I would be collaborating with. 

I recall Nick Owen, who was the President during my freshman year, warning me that, as a woman of color, I would not be given a seat at the table automatically. I would have to work hard to establish my voice and earn the privilege of representing the student body.

Although the upper administration has changed significantly since Owen's presidency, a part of his statement still holds true. Trust is essential for collaboration, regardless of the situation. Without a willingness to listen, compromise, and see things from different perspectives, progress cannot be made. 

When I began meeting with administrators, my primary goal was to establish a relationship with them. I made it clear that I was not there to criticize or tell them how to do their jobs, but rather to listen and collaborate with them. I emphasized the importance of building a strong relationship with them, and to this day I believe this was one of the wisest decisions I made during my tenure as President.

During my first semester, I felt like I was entering uncharted territory. I had many new responsibilities to take on while still adjusting to being back on campus. One of my first duties was to emcee the President's Welcome, which, for those who are unfamiliar, is an event for all the freshmen and their families. Needless to say, it was a nerve-wracking experience. However, I made it through and it has greatly helped my public speaking skills.

Additionally, I was asked to serve on numerous committees that I was not even aware of before, including the COVID-19 Steering Committee, the Academic Senate, and the Board of Regents Student Affairs committee. Later, I had the privilege of serving on several other committees, including the Lund Annex Committee, the Inauguration Committee, the Commencement Committee, the Title IX Committee and most recently, the New Student Welcome and Engagement Center Steering Committee.

The first meeting I attended as ASUP President was the Board of Regents Student Affairs committee meeting. During this meeting, I presented my plan for my tenure as President. One of my initial goals was to ensure that all students and the greater UP community felt supported during the transition back to in-person classes and living, as well as to help implement health and safety precautions for students, faculty, and staff. 

Thanks to my position on the COVID-19 Steering Committee — where we met every Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. — we were able to successfully navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic. While there were certainly bumps along the way, overall, I received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from students who felt that the University of Portland could not have handled the transition any better. 

I made sure to keep ASUP and the student body informed every step of the way through weekly updates, information sessions, webinars and Beacon articles.

Another goal of mine was to involve students in the process of hiring a new university president. Although this was a national, confidential search, I worked to ensure that students were kept informed and included as much as possible. We invited the hiring committee to an ASUP closed door meeting where students were able to provide valuable insights about what they were looking for in a new president. 

Additionally, the ASUP executive board was invited to the final three interviews of the top candidates, where we were able to share more about UP and what students value.

Next, I would like to discuss my overall goals. My primary objective was to establish clear communication channels between the student body and administration to promote effective collaboration. As previously mentioned in my speech, my first step was to build relationships with the administration. 

In every senate meeting, I ensured that I relayed all information received from administration, staff and faculty. Additionally, during meetings with administration, I made it a point to voice student concerns. Two notable examples were the COVID plans for the spring 2022 semester and the Title IX program changes.

To elaborate further on these two examples, as we approached the spring semester and COVID cases began to increase, there was no outreach from the administration regarding their plans. I remember that less than a week before our planned return to campus, people were starting to express concern about whether we would indeed be coming back, or if we would receive an email stating that the semester was going to be conducted online. 

In response, I requested an urgent 1-1 meeting with Herbert Medina, the university interim president at the time. He immediately called for an emergency steering committee meeting and the following day an email was sent out to all students with the game plan. 

Furthermore, when the university decided to let go of their Title IX coordinator, many students were worried that the program would be discontinued entirely. To address these concerns, I called for an emergency meeting with Tammy Herdener, and immediate email communications were sent out to keep students informed and up to date.

Overall, my goal was to ensure that the student body was well-informed and involved in decision-making processes on campus. Effective communication was key to achieving this objective, and I made it a priority to establish and maintain those lines of communication.

I had also set some smaller goals, which included organizing a student government leadership conference and introducing senators to the PLC. We successfully held two leadership conferences, and the second one was even better than the first. This year, the PLC met twice with the senate, which was a significant achievement, as we know their time is very valuable.

Another theme I emphasized was continuity, given the major budget cuts we were facing. Rather than proposing big capital projects, I felt it was crucial to establish more structure within ASUP and promote continuity between officers during transitions. 

To achieve this, we created a task force comprising senators who drafted a bill that required executive board members, chairs, senators and service directors to fill out documents detailing their key accomplishments, unaccomplished goals, key partners and contacts as well as any long-term projects. All these documents will be stored in the P-drive and on our website to promote easy access and facilitate a flawless transition.

In addition, all our senate meetings are recorded by an owl camera and uploaded to our website, weekly, for members who were absent or for anyone in the UP community who is curious about what takes place in our meetings. This will also be helpful for ASUP to look back on and see what was done in previous years.  

I also revamped the website, making it more user-friendly and easier to update. We added new features, including executive board meeting minutes, a newsletter, semester recaps, past Beacon articles and easily accessible links to our meetings. My hope is that these improvements will help ASUP become more efficient over time and make it easier for everyone to achieve their goals.

Another goal I set for this year was to promote conversations between the administration and the Gender and Sexuality Partnership to improve resources for the LGBTQIA+ community. I assigned this task to my Vice President Meckey, and she was able to establish a subcommittee within the presidential advisory committee on DEIJ work.

Furthermore, I wanted to ensure a smooth transition for our new president, Robert Kelly. To achieve this, I met with him and provided him with previous addresses that offered valuable insights into UP from a student's perspective. President Kelly has done an outstanding job so far and has fit in like a glove.

A noteworthy achievement for ASUP is the increase of the student activities fee from $130 to $150. This change will result in approximately adding $70,000 in funding for clubs to enhance resources that will positively impact the student body. Considering the size of our school, our previous student activities fee was significantly low, and this adjustment is a significant stride towards improvement. We extend our gratitude to Senator Sanchez for spearheading this initiative.

Last but certainly not least, ASUP has made history by taking a significant step towards improving the student experience on campus. Saint Mary's, UP's current student center, has long been in need of serious renovations to compete with other universities. 

In the new strategic plan, a new Student Welcome and Engagement Center was proposed to address this issue. On March 13, 2023 ASUP made an important decision to contribute $375,000 from our quasi-endowment, which is a pool of funds built up over time from unspent funds and accumulated interest. This donation marks the first step in realizing the vision of the Student Welcome and Engagement Center and demonstrates the strong desire of students to see this project come to fruition. 

As the leader of this initiative, I am proud to have played a part in this historic moment. I believe that this is the best investment ASUP can make to positively impact the student body for years to come. Since then, the architects for this center, OPSIS, have been to an ASUP meeting and EspressoUP to get student input. They will be here all month to collect data by tabling, conducting listening groups, and actively engaging in the community. It is not every day that students are asked for their input in a new building, so this is a huge deal.

Finally, I would like to highlight some incredible events that took place at UP, including Flavors of PDX, Rock the Bluff, our collaboration with Carioca Bowls for the Into the Jungle dance, the Ballin’ on the Bluff event, the opening of the new Diversity Center, Weekend on the Bluff with the overnight component, a record number of turnout for Riverboat and all the amazing cultural nights that our clubs have put on. Given the fact that we are all still adjusting to our new normal post-COVID, it is incredible that we have managed to organize so many events during the past two years.

Lastly, I would like to share the conclusion of my Board of Regents presentation. I made it a point to emphasize the values that I was committed to upholding as the president. These values include:

1. Assuming good intentions

2. Keeping an open mind and listening

3. Establishing trust and open communication

These values were crucial to me because I wanted the Board to understand my priorities and my vision for collaborating and achieving my goals. I hope that the next president and senate will also prioritize these values because they have been instrumental in helping me succeed in my role.

Although there were some items I wished I could have accomplished, such as more collaboration with the diversity collaborators and establishing additional mental health resources, I am proud of the progress we made. Thanks to Senator Heyler, we were able to start conversations about mental health and we have many passionate senators who deeply care about DEIJ work.

Looking ahead, I am optimistic about the future and hope that the next generation of ASUP leaders will prioritize these needs on campus and develop feasible action plans to address them. These past two years have been surreal, and as a school, we have accomplished so much. I am proud of the work that we have done, and I have faith that the UP community will continue to thrive in the future.

Wrapping up my speech, I would like to discuss my vision for UP's future. I firmly believe that UP is a unique and remarkable place, with a stunning campus, caring staff, faculty and administration, and passionate and driven students. 

As someone who loves UP deeply, I do have thoughts on where UP is falling short. While UP's student leaders are undoubtedly a great strength, it can also be a weakness that puts undue pressure on students, particularly those from underrepresented groups. To address this, UP should work on hiring more staff, faculty and administration to provide support and share the workload. I would also like to see more designated spaces on campus for these underrepresented groups.

I have also observed that faculty, staff and administration at UP have experienced burnout and leave due to a lack of support. Therefore, in addition to increasing resources, UP should also focus on retaining and adequately supporting its current employees. 

As we continue to expand and become more diverse, with new facilities like the Shiley Marcos Center for Innovation and the new Student Welcome and Engagement Center, we must invest in increasing our support for all members of the community at the same level we are growing. UP has incredible potential, and we are fortunate to be a part of it and have the opportunity to advocate and drive change, making this place the best it can be.

I have learned four important things during my tenure as ASUP President. Firstly, building relationships is crucial. Without trust and collaboration, progress is difficult to achieve. It is essential to prioritize relationship building and take it seriously, as it will take you far in life.

Secondly, change is slow, especially in higher education. However, that does not mean that change cannot happen or that you should give up. Patience is key, and it is important to celebrate even the smallest accomplishments.

Thirdly, effective communication is vital. Conflicts and disagreements are inevitable in any workplace, and you may not always get along with your colleagues or agree with the way things are managed. However, communication is the key to resolving these issues. 

Strive to be a problem solver rather than someone who just points out problems. Initiate constructive conversations, keep communication lines open, and approach situations with the best possible assumptions. Remember, without communication, conflicts can never be adequately resolved.

Finally, it is crucial to project your passion in a positive way, even when things do not go your way. Use that passion to accomplish things in a helpful manner and be someone who works hard and gets things done. Being passionate and using it to achieve your goals will put you above your peers.

My advice to future ASUP leaders is to always remember that you are a student first, and to prioritize your education above all else. Be open to learning and lead by example, helping others along the way. The best leaders are not those who make others feel inadequate or inferior but are those who inspire and empower others.

To end my speech, I would like to show my gratitude. To the staff, faculty and administration, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your tireless efforts in making UP a welcoming and supportive community. Your unwavering dedication to the University has not gone unnoticed, and I hope UP continues to attract and retain people like you who share this passion and love for students. 

Working with you all one-on-one has been a privilege, and I am grateful for your overwhelming support during both good and bad times. Your willingness to listen and work with me has been invaluable, and I would not be where I am today without all of you in this room. Please know how much of an impact you have made on me, and I hope to carry your teachings and lessons with me as I continue my journey.

I would also like to express my gratitude to everyone who gave me the privilege of serving as a two-term student body president. To the students, senators of both years, and my executive board of both years, I am deeply grateful for your collaboration, support, and shared dedication to improving the student experience at UP. Your hard work and passion have been a constant source of inspiration to me, and I am honored to have had the privilege of working alongside you. Thank you for your contributions and commitment to making a positive difference on our campus.

And finally, I would like to express my gratitude to my parents, who are in the audience. I know that at times I was not easy to deal with, whether I was ranting, crying or sharing my successes as ASUP President. 

Four years at UP, four years in ASUP, and two years as ASUP President has allowed me to grow personally and professionally alongside my fellow students, executive board members, and senators. Thank you for watching me grow, thank you for giving me grace when I made mistakes, and thank you for trusting me to represent the student voice. 

My experience at UP has exceeded all my expectations and has been everything that I could have asked for, and more. Thank you UP for molding me into the person I am today. You will always have a special place in my heart.

Emma Fuller is the ASUP president. She can be reached at fuller23@up.edu.

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