After completing her first semester at the helm of ASUSF Senate, senior psychology major and ASUSF Senate president Shaya Kara looks to leave her mark at the organization in her last semester at USF. Kara, who has some initiatives and projects she would like to see fulfilled before her departure, spoke with The Foghorn about some of the things students should expect from their student union this semester.
Q: What are some of the more notable things you worked on during your first semester in office?
A: Senate has had an internal and external focus this year, as the climate outside of USF has become increasingly important to address. Internally, we have had several resolutions come forward to enhance inclusive excellence within our institution.
The first resolution to come forward pushed to rename Phelan residence hall. [The dorm was named after] James D. Phelan, a USF alumnus that became mayor of San Francisco in 1897. Years later, however, Phelan ran for a seat in Senate under the campaign slogan “Keep California White,” referring to his stance on restricting Japanese immigration into the state. Senate unanimously passed the legislation and now we are working with administration to create a campus that physically reflects our values.
We have also passed a resolution calling for more vegetarian and vegan options in the cafeteria, both for accessibility as well as sustainability. We have renamed the formerly titled ‘LGBTQ Student Representative’ to the Gender and Sexuality Minoritized (GSM) Student Representative to have a more robust and inclusive representation of those constituencies. We have passed a resolution to include minors and double majors on graduation certificates.
Externally, we have had a serious focus on civic engagement and community building. We had a voter registration drive and heavy focus on people coming out to vote, both locally and nationally. We hosted a National Elections Viewing party, which was incredibly well attended with about 500 people moving in and out of the university center first floor throughout election night. We also had a space the following week called Unite and Ignite, because we understood that so many of the people we represent were hurting.
Q: How was your first semester as ASUSF President like? Anything you might be doing differently this second semester after already knowing the process?
A: The president before me explained to me that this role is like a wild card; you never really know what will happen and where you’ll end up serving. I believed him, but I don’t think I fully understood what he meant until now. Serving as the spokesperson for the associated students is an incredible responsibility. I feel the weight of the concerns and voices of my constituencies in every meeting and action I take. I am incredibly privileged to have access to so many spaces, and I work my hardest to make sure I am using that power responsibly.
That being said, I love it. I love hearing from student across campus about their highs and lows, what drives them and how USF can or should be helping them flourish. So many unexpected things happened last year, and luckily I had amazing peers I could rely on and work with to create spaces for students to heal and be heard.
Q: Has there been any new senators acquired? Any senators having left their position?
A: We did have a lot of shifts in positions this year. Several people had to leave their positions because of class conflicts, prioritizing work with financial compensations, and personal reasons. This happened to our School of Nursing Representative, Sophomore Class Representative, Student of Color Representative, School of Management Representative, International Student Representative and our Vice President of Advocacy. Currently, we still have an opening for our International Student Representative and we are still accepting applications for the role.
Q: What are some projects/initiatives/propositions that we should expect from you or senators this upcoming semester?
A: We have an incredibly passionate and ambitious group of senators this year. I can only give you sneak peeks of what’s to come because many of these initiatives are still in the student-voice-collecting process and we want authentic input from students. Some groups we are planning to increase support for: first generation students, undocumented students, veteran students, international students and transfer students.
We have initiatives involving more education around Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, rebranding Senate’s logo, helping students who face food insecurity, increasing support for off campus housing, evaluating food policy and expansion of food service sites, water policy, work around the blue light system, and more. We are also working with Public Safety on the expansion of the Night Safety Program which includes buying more vans for the shuttle services.
Q: What are your plans after graduating from USF?
I’m in the process of applying to graduate schools— I want to pursue a masters in public policy and a doctorate in psychology. I want to have a constituency group some day that I can advocate for through my research in psychology. I want to use a critical race theory framework to conduct research around power, group membership and psychological impacts of certain positionalities. I don’t know how or where I can do that, but I know I’m passionate about it and my hope is to dedicate my life to research and public service.
Q: Anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you about?
A: I actually got asked on a graduate application to make a top 10 list, and working for ASUSF helped me put this one together:
Top Ten Ways to Effectively Represent Your Constituencies
- Don’t expect constituents to come to you, go to them.
- Meet with different community leaders, they have the most insight on the issues facing their community.
- Remember the diverse identities that your position represents.
- Listen more than you speak.
- Go beyond your circle. Ask members at large about your initiatives.
- Build trust, become a champion of their voices.
- Take time to reflect on your privilege and your experiences.
- Evaluate the systems of power in place, and be willing to confront them.
- Destroy hierarchies— work alongside your community, not above them.
- If you don’t feel that their struggles are your struggles, start over.
Photo Courtesy of Shaya Kara