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The Daily Wildcat

 

ASUA in the new year: Student government’s plans for 2023

ASUA%2C+the+student+government+at+the+University+of+Arizona%2C+has+a+meeting+on+Wednesday%2C+Oct+12.+They+talked+about+mandatory+meal+plans+and+inequalities+on+campus.
Caitlin Claypool

ASUA, the student government at the University of Arizona, has a meeting on Wednesday, Oct 12. They talked about mandatory meal plans and inequalities on campus.

The Associated Students of the University of Arizona launched the #WhyIRide campaign last semester to rally the community in support of fare-free transit, and on Dec. 20, 2022, the Tucson City Council voted to extend fare-free transit on all Sun Tran services, including the Sun Link streetcar, until June 30, 2023. The extension was not only a win for the University of Arizona community — 70% of streetcar riders are students — but it also demonstrated how effective the UA student government’s advocacy can be.

With the new year in full swing, ASUA has newer, bigger plans ahead, among which include tackling food insecurity on campus, improving accessibility and visibility for clubs and promoting competition during its election season.

Tackling food insecurity on campus: Meal plans and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

ASUA is fighting against food insecurity on two fronts: meal plans and SNAP benefits. 

Since fall 2021, ASUA has been working with Arizona Student Unions to make upcoming changes to the university’s meal plan program more inclusive for all students. 

The university received backlash in 2021 when it announced that it would mandate meal plans for all freshmen living in university residence halls. It previously intended to implement the change in the fall 2022 semester but decided to push it back to 2023 after receiving feedback from students.

Jack Haskins, ASUA senator for the College of Fine Arts, is on a committee with representatives from Student Unions and other members of the university community. Haskins said that right now, the committee is discussing the payment structure for meal plans (like whether it should be paid monthly or by semester) and which student groups should be exempt from the mandate.

“The point of this, Student Unions would tell you, is to combat food insecurity on campus,” Haskins said.

The argument in favor of mandatory meal plans is that it discourages students from skipping meals. Freshmen will have access to dining options that are close to where they live and study, and since most freshmen will have a meal plan, they can dine together.

Student Unions is also investing in diversifying dining options on campus. Saffron Bites, which serves traditional Indian dishes, opened in the Student Union Memorial Center last semester, and Radicchio, a plant-based all-you-can-eat restaurant, recently opened in the SUMC. Haskins also mentioned the possibility of an on-campus grocery store starting construction next year.

Although he was optimistic that the meal plan mandate will help reduce food insecurity, Haskins mentioned that the changes aren’t the right fit for some student demographics, including low-income students.

“My concern is making sure that students who can’t afford to pay have support, and that’s what we’re figuring out with the waiver subcommittee,” Haskins said.

Food insecurity doubled among UA students during the pandemic, according to UA research from fall 2020. One of the original criticisms of the changes was that mandating meal plans would add another cost to students who can’t afford it and who wouldn’t have purchased it otherwise. According to Haskins, the waiver subcommittee is exploring the possibility of providing exemptions to students from low-income households.

Haskins said that the subcommittee plans to finalize its proposals by around March so incoming students can receive information about the changes as soon as possible.

In the meantime, ASUA will begin lobbying state government officials to extend SNAP benefits for students. SNAP eligibility for qualifying students was expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the temporary expansion is set to expire 30 days after the federal government officially declares an end to the pandemic.

ASUA Student Body President Patrick Robles said in a previous interview with the Wildcat that ASUA wants to advocate for a more permanent extension.

“We’re looking for an extension, but an extension that is sustainable and solidified so that college students don’t find themselves again in this weird limbo of trying to apply for SNAP benefits, but those that are helping them apply aren’t sure how far to go with the application if those benefits may be taken away from them tomorrow,” Robles said.

It was announced at the Jan. 18 senate meeting that ASUA would begin advocating to keep the expanded SNAP student eligibility. More details regarding the initiative have yet to be announced.

To learn more about SNAP benefits and eligibility, visit fns.usda.gov/snap/students.

Student clubs

Improving clubs’ interactions with ASUA and their ability to reach out to students will be a priority for Executive Vice President Nico Nieri-Lang, whose office is in charge of recognizing and serving over 500 ASUA-affiliated clubs and student organizations.

In January, Nieri-Lang oversaw the launch of @asuaclubs, an Instagram page for over 500 ASUA-affiliated clubs to receive important information. So far, the page has posted reminders for club registration and spring club fair deadlines.

ASUA held its first FAQ session for clubs on Jan. 25 regarding club registration and troubleshooting. The FAQ sessions will be a way for clubs to interact face-to-face with ASUA officials and receive answers to any club-related questions. The FAQ session in February will focus on club appropriations and funding, and more details will be announced via @asuaclubs.

ASUA also plans to hold a club talent show as an opportunity to promote club visibility. Though specific details have yet to be determined, including dates, Nieri-Lang said that it will likely occur sometime in March or April.

“It’ll just be like a talent show. ASUA senate will be involved, and club advocates will be involved. It’ll be an opportunity to showcase talent, a capella groups will be able to perform, stuff like that,” Nieri-Lang said.

Those interested in participating in the ASUA talent show should keep an eye on ASUA communications in their inbox, on social media or on asuatoday.arizona.edu.

ASUA elections

Promoting participation and recruiting students to run for ASUA senate and executive offices are a high priority for the student government this year.

“I will sleep well at night if I know there’s competition,” Robles said in the Jan. 11 senate meeting.

Last year, ten of 12 senate seats and all three executive positions were uncontested. A total of 479 votes were cast. To put this into perspective, the UA’s undergraduate enrollment is over 38,000. 

The general election will be held from March 1 at 8 a.m. to March 2 at 8 p.m. Between now and then, ASUA will hold information sessions, a Q&A and a series of debates to help the student body learn more about the candidates.

The senate’s job won’t be finished after the general election. Nieri-Lang emphasized the importance of helping the next ASUA class transition into office.

My hope is that senate is able to recruit enough senators for next year, but also once they’re elected, that senators can impart their knowledge on the incoming senators and set them up for success,” Nieri-Lang said.

The deadline to submit one’s candidacy for an ASUA senate or executive position is Feb. 1.


Follow Kristijan Barnjak on Twitter


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