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Cunningham, Wilson look back on presidential term, discuss final plans

Student Body President Julia Cunningham and Vice President Jillian Wilson have mixed feelings about their term ending in May. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Student Body President Julia Cunningham and Vice President Jillian Wilson have completed some goals and initiatives they created when they stepped into their positions, but as they near the end of their term in May, the pair is working on accomplishing any they have left.

As candidates, Cunningham and Wilson had many plans in mind to improve campus life for students and amplify their voices, create direct communication channels between Student Government (SG) and university departments and provide student organizations with more support and resources. 

A move in achieving this communication has been a SG partnership with Victim Advocacy and Title IX across campuses. Cunningham said this was achieved through beginning a precedent that has an SG member as well as students serving on the other two committees, who report back to SG.

“That allows us to know what they’re doing,” she said. “And then, in partnership with them, communicate those resources to students.”

A focal point of Cunningham and Wilson’s career was SG’s Awareness to Action Initiative, which involved making students more aware of the Title IX and Victim Advocacy resources available on campus. The role SG played in this campaign, according to Cunningham, was in their executive code.

“The executive code is created by myself and [Jillian Wilson],” said Cunningham. “This year we were able to pass an amendment that sexual harassment or violence done by any member of SG is unacceptable, and will result in removing them from their position.”

She said the current goal in place is to continue to spread this policy throughout campus departments.  

“Words have power, and putting those words on [an official document], that this is not something that SG [and the university] stand for, is so important,” said Cunningham. “Our goal now is to continue to spread that … So putting it in our Greek Life and their bylaws, and in student organizations and clubs.”

Another goal Cunningham and Wilson achieved was focusing on assisting student organizations. 

One of the main challenges that faced student organizations was how difficult it was for them to navigate the funding process due to many of them being unfamiliar with the financial skills necessary to fill out expense forms, said Cunningham.

In response to this, Cunningham and Wilson developed an advisory board consisting of student organizations so they could understand such issues from the organization’s perspective and plan accordingly.

The pair created “town halls” which allowed SG to alleviate such confusion while connecting student organizations with SG and helping them remain aware of students’ needs.

Cunningham said SG was also able to address diversity and inclusion on campus by working to assist minority groups and organizations across the university.

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, she said the Black Student Union (BSU) created the BSU list of demands. It consisted of 10 demands focused on providing a Student Success Lounge for Black students, implementing mandatory anti-bias training for all students, faculty and staff and increasing the Black student enrollment rate. 

SG met many of these demands in 2021, creating an Institute of Black Lives (IBL) Student Success Lounge on the fourth floor of the MSC, developing an anti-bias training module through EVERFI and implementing initiatives to increase the Black student enrollment rate.

Cunningham had an active role in working to raise the Black student enrollment rate, saying it had fallen by 13% in 2021. She said she worked closely with Interim President Rhea Law as well as served on the Board of Trustees (BOT) to develop a solution.

“I had a meeting with President Law, took [her] concerns, showed her the data and it was talked about at a BOT meeting,” said Cunningham. 

“Now we are working with our admissions representatives to work on seeing what other deficiencies are at our university and why aren’t Black students wanting to go here. Then from there, we’re going to go and address those problems and fix them.” 

SG also made strides toward achieving an eco-friendly campus while under Cunningham and Wilson’s leadership, according to Cunningham, such as the reverse recycling vending machines set up around the Tampa and St. Pete campuses.

“When I was a senator last year, I was a sponsor for a resolution that committed the university to be reliant on 100% green energy by 2050,” she said. “One of these was the Coca-Cola reverse vending machine.

“Lots of people recycle their old plastic bottles into the [reverse vending machine], and then by doing that, it helps reduce waste at the university … The money we get from that partnership, about $5,000, goes back to USF food pantries.” 

Cunningham said she and Wilson have a few more plans they are in the process of enacting before they step down from office in May. 

One of these is increasing school spirit on campus. Cunningham felt this was especially important due to some students experiencing campus life for the first time, as some were unable to be on campus their freshman year due to the pandemic.

SG is actively achieving this through multiple on-campus projects, such as the building of a football stadium. 

“I’ve had conversations with the stadium [building committee] and their marketing team to see what we can do to increase school pride,” said Cunningham. “It’s something that we’re working on, and it’s something I’d like to accomplish before I leave.”

Cunningham and Wilson plan to continue initiatives focused on Title IX, intending to provide resources and increase visibility of minority groups.

Wilson said SG intends to continue working with Title IX across all three campuses to expand its resources to students, with its focus on representing the LGBTQ community.

“[SG wants] to make sure that we market those resources more broadly,” she said. “We’re hoping to create some graphics for them to be able to share those on our platform.”

Cunningham said SG produced pride stickers including the SG logo in order to show its support for the LGBTQ community as well as be a source of representation. They are in the process of making pride T-shirts and mugs, which they hope to have completed before they step down.

She felt this representation was meaningful, because it was important to the students.

“Whenever you hold a public position, it doesn’t matter what I think is important. It matters what students are telling you is important,” she said.

As the end of the pair’s term nears, Wilson said she’s bittersweet about leaving her position, but being in her role was a fulfilling experience.

“It’s been a great learning experience,” said Wilson. “I know it’s a difficult position to be in, and it’s definitely one that I don’t take lightly. So it’s definitely sad, but it’s certainly been worth it.”