OPINION: ASUP President State of the Campus Address 2023

By Kaya Olson | December 14, 2023 1:00pm

Photo courtesy of Kaya Olson.

Hello, everybody! My name is Kaya Olson and I am so honored to be serving as your ASUP President this year. Thank you for being here for my State of the Campus Address. For those of you who might be experiencing their first ever senate meeting, welcome! Although I can’t promise any cookies or a gift basket in the future, we are always happy to have visitors seeing how the decisions that affect you get made, and the work that the senators put in every week.

It is already the halfway point of this executive board's term and I’m super happy with all the work that we have already accomplished. When Kianna and I set out on our campaign together in the spring, we believed that the correct priorities toward building a better University of Portland included increasing collaboration, effective and informative communication and building connections. Tonight, I want to show you where we left off last year, everything that we have accomplished so far and what we are building towards in the future.

Last year, ASUP made an exciting contribution towards building a new student center. Essentially, the time to upgrade from St Mary’s came, and Dr. Kelly immediately recognized that during his first year as president. We contributed $375,000 to go towards the beginning steps of this project, a project that is estimated to cost $90 million. Now I know the people are worried about the Pilot House disappearing, and to them I say do not worry, your grilled cheese sandwiches are not going anywhere soon. Until the entire project is funded, there won’t be a single shovel hitting the ground, and although I don’t know what that will be, it is safe to say that most of us will be graduated by the time that P-house sells its last Smashburger.

The student welcome and engagement center steering committee, a team of administrators, faculty and students, was meeting all summer to build something to define what student life is about at the University of Portland. The architects we were working with listened to our needs and went out of their way to get input directly from students on campus. This feedback was extremely critical in building a student center that truly reflected what students want. Although I’m kind of jealous of the future pilots who are going to be using this building, I look forward to visiting as an alum and telling students that back in my day, this used to be called the P-house.

Even before the school year started, I could already tell that the energy on campus was different than any of the previous years of my experience. I want to give a shoutout to the class of 2027 for bringing their enthusiasm to campus. Orientation weekend is probably the weirdest, most exhausting, scary, nerve-wracking time in any student’s college career, but the energy that was brought during orientation weekend was something special. From the President's welcome to the numerous community-building activities, it takes a certain kind of bravery to be open-minded about the new experiences happening around you — and 2027 really brought it.

Of course, this couldn’t have been accomplished without incredible student leaders. Student leaders who have really been through it during this college experience. Sophomores entered a university struggling with the first-year melt which led to extreme budget cuts and a hiring freeze. All students can directly feel the effects of an understaffed university, and it is especially not easy when it’s your first year and you’re trying to navigate this complicated system.

And let’s not even talk about how the pandemic totally turned the college experience upside down for juniors and seniors, students who were learning what being a Pilot meant on a campus that was previously a ghost town. This kind of reset that the pandemic caused meant that instead of inheriting an established University of Portland culture, we were redefining what the campus climate was like.

Despite these hardships, the passion that our students have for making this university a place for them really shines. I’ve always noticed the work that students put into different clubs and groups around campus, and it truly is inspiring for my work within ASUP, and I have learned a lot from observing my peers. But I can only learn so much from observing, and when I was a senator, something I had always wished for was an opportunity to make connections with student leaders around campus to learn, grow, and to just rant about this school with.

Usually, the only time student leaders are all in the same room is during the awards ceremony that the Office of Student Affairs hosts, which happens at the end of the year. Now I always have a good time celebrating our accomplishments, but it also left me wondering why we don’t do this at the beginning of the year. I felt like many of the students in that room all had similar goals, and this kind of collaboration is key for making things happen, (especially since creating change can take a really long time), and I saw a need to connect these different areas around campus to close the gaps.

So, on Oct. 6, ASUP’s first ever student leader mixer was hosted in the quiet side of the Commons. There was community building, discussion questions and, of course, all the fun of food and a photo booth. By intentionally mixing students from different areas of the school, I think I speak for those who attended in saying that I left with a wider perspective and a better understanding of the people I see around all the time. With 19 different organizations around campus being represented, the first student leader mixer was a success, and I am confident that the next one will be even more of a success.

To move onto events that involve the entire student body, the director of CPB, Clarie Vondekamp and her team started the year off strong with 2,480 people attending Riverboat. That’s 73% of the student body, which is a huge accomplishment. CPB has been continuing the theme of hosting less dances that didn’t seem to interest the student body by doing Flavors of PDX again after how well the first one from last year was. This food festival featured seven vendors from all over the Portland area and from a wide variety of different cultures. This meant that some students were able to try cuisines of food that they had literally never tried before. CPB is still listening to that student feedback about hosting more unique events, so I’m so happy about CPB hosting more unique events like their bonfire on campus. 

ASUP has made listening to student feedback a high priority this year. Although we have our constituent report form on our website, I thought it would be good to go old school to see what we were missing by reaching a possibly different demographic of students. So that is why one of the first things I did as president was simply take a shoe box and cut a hole on top for people to put little notes in about their thoughts of this school. From the activities fair to tabling for first year elections, this little box went many places with me and the senators on ASUP. We gathered over 70 notes of feedback during that first month, and after reading through every single one and organizing the results, I found that, by far, the most common and uniting feedback from the students was about having access to a pool.

The student affairs committee within ASUP did something about this need by jumping on right away to see what the possibilities were. I’m so incredibly proud of them for the progress that they made and I am so happy to announce that UP students will have access to the Matt Dishman community center pool. We can't wait to keep moving on with that project and keeping students informed about the updates.

Michael Hauger, the Speaker of the Senate, is aiding this effort of creating an effective feedback loop by creating a senate environment where the new standard is that senators are encouraged to do their office hours not hidden away in the ASUP office, but to be out and around campus, where everyday students are. I have noticed the difference because of how active our constituent report sessions have been during our weekly meetings, and this is extremely helpful for the committee to know what they should prioritize as goals.

Again, effective and informative communication was one of the key pillars of Kianna and I’s campaign, and now that I spoke about how ASUP hears students, I want to move on to how students hear ASUP. This is something that Karal Farfan, our director of communication, has worked so hard on. She, along with the communication committee, have done an incredible job with revamping the ASUP Instagram so that students know what they can expect from us. Weekly posts that highlight events going around campus throughout the week and collaborating with advantage UP (shoutout Austin…) embraces the creativity that comes with marketing and having fun with how we promote the things that ASUP is working on. Although sometimes, our Instagram reel skits seem a little silly. I want to squeeze fun into every aspect of ASUP that I possibly can for students, and this has all contributed to a more informed student body.

One of the challenges that we are facing this year is continuing to adjust with the budget shortfall. Ronit Chopra, our dedicated Director of Finance, recruited and built a team of 10 dedicated individuals to be on the financial management board (FMB). Being on FMB is never an easy task, but especially because the University faced another year of low enrollment, Ronnie and FMB faced the challenge of creating a $352,000 budget proposal when we received $640,000 in requests from clubs. This is happening because, of course, with less students, there aren’t as many people paying the student activities fee, but I believe it is also because how now that we are getting back into the swing of things with on-campus events, students are realizing the possibilities of their clubs and trying to make their dream events come true. Now cutting the budget in half is a challenge for everyone involved, and it’s not easy making these decisions knowing that a crucial part of student life — the clubs of this campus — are going to be suffering, and many people are going to be disappointed. 

I am confident that despite these budget challenges, there will be creative solutions that come from it. One of my goals for next semester is to support our clubs by providing the resources that we can. Thanks to CPB’s smart decision to invest in a photobooth on campus, clubs can save hundreds of dollars by reaching out to them for their selfie needs. Also, helping students understand how to fundraise for their club and the money that they can save (and the promotion that they gain) by collaborating with different services around campus like Pilots after Dark and Espresso UP, which brings in 500 students every week, is especially important for our smaller, tiny but mighty clubs, who might have not known how to get involved with these opportunities before.

My biggest goal as ASUP President is to empower students to advocate for themselves, to understand they have control over the role that they play within this university and to feel that they have the knowledge to create the college experience that they want and deserve. And although I understand that a crucial part of my role is collaborating with the administration, I want students to understand that I don’t work for them, I work for you. And ASUP’s purpose is to serve students. And this doesn’t just mean students who are involved all around campus and love being a Pilot, but this is also for students who don’t even know what ASUP is. Basically, whether you love this school or hate this school, we’re here for you.

For the upcoming elections in the spring, I believe it is possible to significantly increase voter turnout with the right communication. From all the reports that the senators give during our meetings, I can see that these students care, I trust that they want to understand how the decisions at this university get made, and I bet that if ASUP practices transparency to the full extent to where we are making this information effortlessly accessible, they will want to participate in this UP democracy.

Since I will only be holding this role for one term, I understand that I have little time, and I must choose my priorities wisely. The foundation of my decision-making process has been and will always be to focus on building a community where students are thriving and empowered. As I continue to push towards initiatives that do just that, I want to remind you all that ASUP is here to serve you.

Thank you so much for your time today, it has been a blessing so far to hold this position, and I can’t wait for all that’s to come. Thank you!

Kaya Olson is the ASUP president. She can be reached at olsonk24@up.edu.

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