As president and vice president, juniors Jaida Abbas and Jennifer Kelly want to help students “rise” above the various challenges the pandemic has created by using their experiences in Student Government (SG) as their guide.
The pair is running on the platform RISE, which is both an acronym and a wish for students to overcome the obstacles that the pandemic has presented, including tuition costs and virtual learning. The “R” stands for “respond to the disparities of the pandemic,” which, according to Abbas, reflects the flexibility of the duo.
“The biggest thing for [us] is the ability to adapt and stay vigilant of what the student body needs and not get complacent,” Abbas said. “We don’t see our platform as a checklist, but more a dynamic set of goals that can be altered and adopted to fit what the students need from us in the moment, because Student Government is meant to be a responsive and reactive organization.”
The pillar encapsulates smaller initiatives like changing the course registration matrix, which is the software that determines when class registration opens for students each semester. Abbas and Kelly hope to reorganize the criteria the matrix considers, such as GPA and class standing, in order to give students in “less desirable positions,” for example with a low GPA, better opportunities. They want to ensure students who may have slipped due to external factors, like the pandemic, are able to get the classes they need.
The pair also wants to publicize existing on-campus resources through new marketing strategies so students can easily find available support. One of these initiatives is to work with professors and students to make closed captioning more accessible to students with disabilities in a classroom setting as well as promote the use of inclusive language.
“We know that COVID has set back a lot of students in a lot of different ways, whether it’s financially, academically, health wise or emotionally, and we want to be able to help students address that,” Abbas said.
The “I” in RISE stands for “integrate new resources,” which is a portion of the platform dedicated to helping all three campuses attain new resources post-consolidation. Some of these resources include Amazon book return lockers for each campus so students can return textbooks from Amazon easier, more vegan and vegetarian food choices for students at dining halls and other places like concession stands on campus, power sockets around major outdoor study locations and on-campus compost areas to reduce food waste, according to Abbas. They hope to make these changes on all three campuses.
“St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee sometimes feel like they’ve been forgotten and it’s understandable, they do have a much smaller population so I believe SG may sometimes put them on the back burner,” Kelly said. “We really believe that representing all students, no matter what campus, no matter what background you come from, is significant.”
Within the “integrate new resources” initiative, Kelly said her main passion lies with promoting “Support the Survivors,” which she hopes will help survivors such as the ones who came forward with stories of sexual violence on USF’s campuses last summer.
Kelly hopes Student Health Services (SHS) will be able to form a collaboration with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Under a partnership, SHS will be able to call the Crisis Center and a nurse could come to campus to administer a rape kit, which consists of tools that allow a medical professional to determine and test for signs of sexual assault.
The duo also want to create a system to give students easier transportation options to the Crisis Center, which is 15 minutes from the Tampa campus off of Bearss Avenue.
“I have close personal connections to a lot of the survivors, and I want to act on that,” Kelly said. “Throughout SG so far I have been in touch with the nursing director at the Crisis Center Tampa Bay, and I’m working right now to create a partnership with them and SHS and SG.”
Helping survivors to pursue legal action in order to prevent repeat offenses is also one of Kelly’s priorities. She hopes to improve the statistics surrounding sexual violence at USF and make the campus safer.
The “S” in the RISE platform stands for “strengthen the student body,” which will provide resources for students to help them daily, such as vouchers for snacks at football games and software to help students filter professors based on preferred teaching style. Kelly’s main concern was students struggling with tuition or funding for other costs such as meal plans or books.
“I know some people are 100% on their own fiscally or living by themselves for college,” she said. “I know that it is a struggle for so many students to even go to college, but I really think that academics should be everyone’s main priority when they are at USF, and specifically SG should be supporting all the other needs like food insecurity.”
The current plan to fight food insecurity is to allocate more funding to the Feed-A-Bull Pantry and to provide food vouchers for other locations on campus.
In strengthening the student body, Abbas and Kelly also hope to allocate more funding to help students pay for certification testing that students must pass in order to move forward in their careers. One such test is the Medical College Admission Test, commonly known as the MCAT, which can cost $320 per attempt.
“Empower students to rebuild” is the “E” in RISE as well as the portion of the platform Abbas is most passionate about. She wants to improve communication between students and SG so that students can easily advocate for what they need.
Abbas is focused on the “Be Herd” initiative, which will allow students to reach SG directly with concerns they have. This will consist of a lobbying system where students will address the Senate directly and bring in data and presentations to explain what changes they want to see or needs that they have.
“We know that a huge complaint is that students don’t know how to get in contact with or even know what SG does,” she said. “The problem lies with dissemination of information, we need students to actively interact with us and to learn more about our services, and the way we do that is by soliciting students through formal systems like coalitions or a formal way to give us feedback.”
In order to further empower students, Abbas wants to create coalitions for student organizations. Each student organization would have the opportunity to join a coalition, and if they joined, one member would be designated to have direct access to SG.
There will be six total coalitions, each based on the core principles of a group of student organizations: mental health and student well-being, external and business affairs, affordability, civic engagement, community outreach and resistance and solidarity. Each coalition will be overseen by an SG member who will help with coordination of initiatives that each coalition would like to advocate for, as well as disseminate information to each member organization.
In order to make some of these initiatives a reality if they are elected, Abbas and Kelly said a solid cabinet will be vital.
When choosing their cabinet, Abbas and Kelly want to choose individuals who are leaders in their respective subject areas. The running mates acknowledge that they don’t know everything, so they want to pick cabinet members who can help supplement them, according to Kelly.
“We’re only human at the end of the day,” Kelly said. “We aren’t going to know every single fact about every single thing, but it’s about that effort to at least try for that, and when we can’t accomplish that, we have other people to help us.
“It’s really a team effort, at the end of the day we don’t want just the two of us to lead and block everyone else out.”
Abbas and Kelly are both veteran members of SG. Abbas is currently serving as the deputy public defender for the Tampa campus, and Kelly is the solicitor general for the federal cabinet. Kelly said their time within SG has given them the experience they need for the job.
“Just because we don’t have a crazy list of a resume, does not mean that we aren’t ready to serve the student body, and we aren’t prepared to, because I believe that both of us are prepared to run SG in the way that it needs to be run,” Kelly said.
All of their goals revolve around giving students the most opportunities possible and making them feel at home on campus. They both said they felt out of place at USF when they arrived, but once they got active, they realized there is a place for everyone.
Abbas said their campaign is reflective of their drive to make students feel heard and understood at USF.
“Students should feel like, no matter who they are and what communities they are part of or what their affiliations are, they have the right to take up space on our campus, they have the right to voice their concerns, they have the right to take an active role in designing what USF is and what our legacy is going to be,” she said.
“I want students to know that an SG under my leadership welcomes every student, every aspiration, and we will work to help every student attain what they want to, because ultimately our message is we are there for the students.”