Despite a dwindling turnout throughout the meeting, Student Government (SG) responded to student concerns at its first roundtable open forum Thursday.
The questions were directed at a panel of four SG members, and the majority of them were answered by Senate President Khalid Hassouneh.
Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), an organization that has rallied against tuition hikes on campus this year, asked the panel how the process of increasing tuition works. Students may see a 15 percent tuition hike next fall, if the current state budget is passed by legislators.
“The sad and unsatisfying response is that most of those decisions have nothing to do with USF or Tampa.” Hassouneh said. “Our policy has been that we will lobby at Tallahassee on behalf of the students at USF. That‘s why we have things like Rally in Tally, that’s why we have the student body president traveling up there and meeting legislators and discussing initiatives with them.”
Yet the students said they were unhappy about the effectiveness of Rally in Tally, an event sponsored by the Florida Student Association for students to voice concerns about rising tuition costs and cuts to state-funded financial aid programs such as Bright Futures during a legislative session in Tallahassee.
“We were there (at Rally in Tally),” said Dani Leppo, a junior majoring in English and an SDS member. “Students are the ones fighting for teacher’s rights, technically fighting for our administrators as well. Why aren’t the administrators helping protect our schools with us? Why are we the ones always going and lobbying and fighting these fights for them, and they seem to be sitting back and watching us tussle around in the mud?”
Christina Hughes, a senior majoring in marketing and economics and an SG senator, agreed that USF does not have adequate representation in Tallahassee.
“Let me just say, it seems that the revolving concern is that the face of USF is not being permanently established in the state Legislature,” she said. “We don‘t have a permanent face in Tallahassee. So my question is, what can Student Government, what can everyone, faculty, students, do to establish a face permanently in Tallahassee?”
The question remained unanswered.
Parking, a hot-button issue universal to most students on campus, was also brought up.
“There are still unused spots,” Leppo said. “(According to the Digital Bullpen), they sold 1,300 gold zone passes (for faculty and staff members) and there are 1,400 spaces and there are 24,000 non-resident students, so clearly there‘s a large (disparity) of parking.”
Hassouneh said the situation is not as grave.
“Fact of the matter is, it‘s not that there isn’t enough parking spots, it’s that most people don‘t want to park where the availability is,” he said. “Everybody wants to be close to classes. But if you want that, they’re going to have to build a parking garage on every open spot near a building and that‘s going to cost even more.”
The students threw several questions to the panel, which were promised to be answered after a short break. Yet after the break, when resolutions were supposed to be drafted to address some of the issues, more than half the students had left the roundtable, which started at 6 p.m. and ended at 9 p.m. Instead of writing the resolutions, the senators decided to continue withthe question-and-answer session.
Scott Sandoval, a senior majoring in English literature and the chairman of the Senate Committee on University Affairs, said answers to the questions posed by students would be sent back in an email or saved for a future meeting.
“Every two weeks we’re going to have the same meeting,” he said. “Slowly and slowly, we’ll start having a tradition to form. I think this was successful, I think this was a good start and I honestly implore more students to come.”
Other concerns addressed included protection for transgender students, SG’s involvement with student organizations and bicycle safety.
Deni Brave, a senior studying public health and member of The Student Union, said the roundtable is something that was long overdue.
“We had questions, they gave answers,” he said. “They didn’t have answers to everything, but they took it into consideration and they’re going to get back to us … We need to establish the next one where more people can come and be more effective.”