When Yelizza’s Mercedes decided she wanted to have a second year in Student Government (SG), she didn’t know she would be inspiring her close friend, Elizabeth Noonan, to make her own debut.
Mercedes will be running for governor of the Tampa campus alongside running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor Noonan. While Mercedes, a third-year biomedical sciences major, currently serves as a senator, Noonan, a first-year graduate student in social work, is new to the world of SG. She decided to join Mercedes in her campaign to gain firsthand experience igniting change across the Tampa campus.
“I liked how she inspired me to run as well with her because there’s so many things I feel like could be changed or improved on,” said Noonan. “And I have strong opinions on certain things. And she made me realize that if I ever want to actually influence anything, then [I] might as well get involved so I’d like to take this opportunity to do that.”
Their friendship blossomed at the Sigma Delta Tau sorority in the fall 2020 semester, which eventually led to them deciding to partner up for the governor-lieutenant governor positions, according to Mercedes.
“We just clicked … from the process of the big-little. She’s … my best friend, and obviously my big, so I feel like our dynamic would be a perfect match,” said Mercedes.
“Accessibility,” “advocacy,” “community,” “sustainability” and “change” are the five pillars that make up their platform. Each pillar has at least one to four subcategories with specific initiatives the pair hope to implement at the Tampa campus if elected.
One of the initiatives under the “accessibility” pillar, which is a priority to the campaign, is to provide closed captions on virtual lectures.
“Microsoft Teams [has] the option to have closed captioning during lectures,” said Mercedes. “I feel like we should work more with Microsoft to make it … less complicated to use, and it can work better.
“We do have a lot of students trying to get to the faculty and talk to them about how to make the courses more accessible and [we would] pretty much try to contact the IT department and see how we can work with them to provide closed captioning that is needed and the transcript for online lectures.”
There are three initiatives under the campaign’s “advocacy” pillar, with response to the many survivors of sexual assault who came forward during summer 2020 being one of them.
Noonan, who took the lead on the initiative, plans on making education regarding sexual assault a recurring practice for the entire student body. She said through the Corbett Trauma Center, or Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, she was made aware of its involvement in educating organizations on campus about sexual assault and hopes to expand its reach at the university.
“[The Corbett Trauma Center] is willing to do presentations and education courses and stuff on what a sexual assault is, because I feel, even though orientation … shows that tea video and they educate a little bit, I think a lot of people overlook it, and I think it’s something that should definitely be re-brought up every so often instead of just at the beginning when we come in. So, we can maybe work to set something like that,” said Noonan.
Noonan also wants resources for sexual assault survivors to be more publicized to the student body for those who are seeking help.
“I think there should also be a demonstration of resources, because even though [students are educated] on what [sexual assault] is and where you can go if [you are assaulted], I think sometimes we’re just being reiterated information … so maybe … demonstrate it,” she said.
“Have a program … [that makes seeking help after being assaulted] seem less scary … Like what a sexual assault exam is and what [it] entails … so it seems less daunting.”
The two also want to create a more united community by creating events and promoting communication among organizations.
“I just look around [and] I feel like the university sometimes, in a way, clicks off, whereas people get so [immersed] in their organizations and specific groups, which is very important and it’s nice to find where you fit in among so many people, but I also think that it’s important for us to come together as a university, as USF,” said Noonan.
“And I know it’s a little hard with COVID at the moment, but I feel like the way we can initiate that could be to create some events that we can do either online or reach out and do things where maybe people can pick things up.”
The two other initiatives under the “community” pillar include setting up donation boxes across residence halls and the Marshall Student Center for food and clothing to be distributed to community organizations.
“Let’s say a student wants to donate clothes but they don’t have the means to get to Goodwill. They can just drop it into the boxes and hopefully someone can come and take them,” said Mercedes. “Or just having them in the residence hall having like a little pop-up, or having people donating or having a clothes exchange.”
Mercedes also wants to provide more funding to the “Feed-A-Bull” Food Pantry on the Tampa campus. Food scarcity was a big initiative the pair wanted to include in the development of their campaign, not only in raising more resources for food accessibility, but also making sure it doesn’t go to waste at campus dining facilities.
In their “sustainability” pillar, the campaign plans on eliminating plastic waste across dining halls as well as bringing a new form of technology to eliminate food waste. Mercedes and Noonan plan on working with the Patel College of Global Sustainability to establish a biodigester for campus dining halls on the Tampa campus.
A biodigester uses organic matter, such as leftover food, and repurposes it in the form of fertilizer.
“I don’t like food waste, I feel like every single [thing] on your plate you should eat it, and if you’re not thinking about eating it, you shouldn’t [throw it] into the trash because there’s a lot of people starving in the world,” said Mercedes.
For Mercedes and Noonan, their passion for USF is what drives them the most in their campaign for governor and lieutenant governor, and it’s what they feel makes them the right fit for the positions.
“I just feel like with my passion and my drive, I believe that I can help out the student body,” said Mercedes. “I can help them have the best USF experience that they can have. You’re in this institution for four years, and having at least one year having the best SG, having the best experience will be the highlight of your four years so I believe that I can make that difference, [even if] it may be in the students’ one year.”
While Noonan is in graduate school, her three years at USF have made her passionate to make changes.
“I feel like I can bring that determination and unbiased opinion toward a lot of topics,” she said. “And I also think that I have a rational outlook, and I’m not going to promise a bunch of things that I know [are] either out of my control or I realistically cannot do in my time … I think we are very capable of fulfilling the things that we have set out to do and that we will do it.”
As their campaign moves forward, Mercedes and Noonan want to hear what changes students want to see across campus and be voices for students’ concerns.
“We are very open to any suggestions, and a lot of people have an issue that is passionate to them that we’re not going to turn away any issue or concern or problem that even how little they think it is,” said Noonan.