A new Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) presidency, has been sworn in for the 2020-21 academic year. This diligent and dedicated group has taken their unusual circumstances in stride, creating a strategic plan for the coming year and working to build relationships with university administrators and advocate for students.
“Our belief is that you can redefine a student’s experience here, if you are able to redefine the access they have – whether that is providing more resources or removing barriers to the ones that already exist,” President Ephraim Kum said.
The elected officials of ASUU’s Executive Branch consist of Kum, Vice President of University Relations Ayana Amaechi, and Vice President of Student Relations Michelle Valdes. Mihali Sergakis serves as the Chief of Staff, and the four of them are on the hunt for the rest of their executive cabinet. This executive branch is responsible for working with the student body to accurately represent, advocate for, and provide support to all students of the university.
“Our platform revolves around accessibility,” Valdes said. “Our three main issues are safety, connectivity, and affordability. I think those really integrate very nicely into what we’re seeing today. If students don’t have access to technology, whether that be an affordability issue, then they might not have access to the classes. We were already planning to work on those things before we became a virtual campus. Now we just have to adapt and rethink.”
Kum, Valdes and Amaechi have a holistic approach to safety. Any threat to any aspect of an individual on campus creates an unsafe environment for that individual – something they’d like to change. Whether food security, healthier food choices, mental health treatments or beyond – their intention is to create a good environment for all.
“The university has really great resources in place, but there may not be enough to go around, or students might not know about them – in which case it’s almost as if those things don’t exist for those students,” Kum said.
By focusing on safety, they hope to transition wellness to welcome and to create a campus community that is inclusive and involved. By encouraging students to stay on campus and become involved in person, they hope to break down barriers. From easier and more accessible parking to campaigns to raise awareness about events, they have an action plan.
“We want to try to bring the school and all of the good things that it offers closer to students,” Kum said.
In an effort to make an education affordable for everyone, the new presidency will be publicizing options for scholarships, financial trainings and low-interest loans that can help create new opportunities. They will also be making an effort to remove barriers for students on payment plans.
Despite their unconventional start to their tenure as President, Vice Presidents and Chief of Staff, the group remains optimistic.
“I’ve been sitting in front of this computer screen every day, all day for the past month,” Kum said. “And while most of the things that we’ve been doing have been serious, like interviews and meetings with administration, we still find time to bond and relax.”
Amaechi encouraged the group to meditate together at the end of a long day of meetings, to mixed results. But she isn’t giving up, on meditation or the presidency.
“I had a strong inclination to be here at the U, and it worked out that we all ended up here,” Amaechi said. “We all have the same vision, and people are going to see what we’re capable of. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be successful. I think any little things like our meditation session keep us in contact with each other, but also create a ideology that we’ll keep a buffer before business.”
Kum agreed, saying they wanted to keep things informal and approachable – saying he would take a phone call, an Instagram message, any form of contact as a way for students to reach out to his administration.