After a summer of traveling, working at New Student Enrollment and brainstorming ideas, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska president Hunter Traynor, external vice president Jeffrey Owusu-Ansah and internal vice president Emily Johnson are excited for the school year to begin.
Each of the executive members said they plan to pursue “big ideas” this year. Their goals include encouraging freedom of speech and conversation, helping student government become a more approachable organization and maintaining low fees and tuition rates for students.
Traynor and Owusu-Ansah said they aspire to improve campus discourse and students’ ability to express ideas. The two of them helped approximately 3,000 freshmen register to vote during New Student Enrollment and aspire to continue promoting civil discourse, civic participation and conversation.
The two also want to set up pillars, giving students the opportunity to put up posters without obtaining a permit, as a medium for freedom of speech. They came up with this idea after visiting the University of Michigan to attend a Big Ten student government conference, and Owusu-Ansah said he hopes the idea will be implemented this semester.
Traynor and Owusu-Ansah have received pushback about the idea because of community members’ ability to post hateful messages or take down the advertisements. However, they said students have the ability to take away posters that do not fit “Husker values,” which would lift pressure off the administration whose “hands are legally tied” on issues regarding free speech.
“When I walk by and see a Dance Marathon advertisement, what is my incentive to take that off in broad daylight? Why would I do that?” Traynor said. “I think [the pillars] would be a strong educational point and a really pragmatic addition to campus.”
After spending her summer in Spain, Johnson was inspired by the open social environment. She said she wants students to be able to find their niche on campus and also interact with more students easily. Both Owusu-Ansah and Johnson said they aspire to foster a sense of community on campus.
“As time goes on and as the university grows, it’s harder and harder to maintain a healthy interaction of students,” Johnson said. “I think student loneliness is one the biggest issues that contributes a lot to feelings of anxiety and depression. We want students to feel that they can make friends … [we want to] build this sense of belonging because I feel that’s lacking often.”
The executive members are also working on ASUN’s image. Traynor said student government can be seen as “stuffy” and “unapproachable,” but he hopes students will come to committee meetings and feel comfortable talking about their problems with the senators.
Additionally, senators are now required to hold a monthly event at their respective college so students can talk to them about different topics. They also will have office hours in the ASUN office.
Johnson said she wants ASUN to focus on outreach and program events, instead of focusing on policy. She is also planning a leadership summit for members of recognized student organization, residence halls and other organizations for student leaders to attend and talk about big issues on campus.
“[We want to] give students opportunities to converse and get to know what’s going on on-campus, meet new people and network,” she said. “Hopefully out of that comes this idea of empowering students like, ‘Oh wow, I should actually be utilizing all of these things UNL has.’”
Traynor and Owusu-Ansah have already been chipping away at the former image of student government by volunteering at New Student Enrollment.
“It was a really fantastic experience from an ASUN perspective,” Traynor said. “We got so much face time with the incoming class of freshmen. I am hopeful that student government seems a little bit more visible and approachable.”
The executive team also said they want to keep tuition and student fees low. Traynor said ASUN will continue to advocate for financial resources for UNL students.
“From a student government perspective, we want to make it as clear as possible how harmful that would be for students if there were a mid-year tuition increase,” he said. “We want to use student government as a vehicle to express as strongly as we can to our representatives down the street that the funding is vital.”
The three of them plan to provide senators with the resources to accomplish their own goals and projects.
“I want to encourage all the members of the senate body, my fellow executive members and every committee member ... [to] really make sure we are not holding ourselves back,” Owusu-Ansah said. “This year I want us to dream big and pursue our biggest ideas.”
Johnson echoed Owusu-Ansah’s sentiments about having a positive effect on students.
“I want to use my position as an exec not as someone who uses the power to accomplish their own goals,” she said, “but more so to use my position as a resource for a larger number of students to accomplish what they want and create their own change and make their own waves.”