Student government plans on through a pandemic

From left to right: Student Body External Vice President Gracie Kelliher, Student Body President Sutton Houser and Student Body Internal Vice President Matt Cole. Photo courtesy of student government.

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

Student government has not slowed down in the wake of the coronavirus. The points of focus for the year are mental health accessibility, expanded diversity, faith and COVID-19 safety.

Boerne senior Sutton Houser, student body president, said he and the vice presidents all ran on similar platforms, making it easy for them to work together and push for change.

One of their goals, increased diversity in student government, was an improvement they tried to make last semester, but the bill did not pass in the Student Senate, The Woodlands senior Matt Cole, student body internal vice president, said. The bill’s goal was to restructure the Senate seats.

“There was a seat for someone who is an education major, or a seat for someone who is part of a multicultural fraternity, or a seat for someone who is part of a service organization, with the goal being that they wanted to get as many perspectives in the room as possible. So then, whenever a bill is debated in Senate, that everyone can be actually speaking up about it from as many perspectives as possible,” Cole said.

That bill was not passed, but Cole said they will develop a new bill this year similar to the first one they tried. In addition to the bill, there is also a diversity and inclusivity committee this year.

From the executive side, Houser said he will reach out to minority students already leading organizations to hear their perspectives and needs.

“I think it’s very necessary that we have students in the room; this is what they want to change and they’re going to be most affected by it. So it’s not just myself, my team coming up with plans of what we think is best for minority students. That’d be nonsense,” Houser said.

In addition to focusing on diversity, Sierra Vista, Ariz., junior Gracie Kelliher, student body external vice president, said showing students what resources they have for mental health on campus is important, especially for people who have suffered and are suffering mentally throughout the pandemic.

“Regardless of what you’re suffering with mentally, different mental health issues, that conversation is always talked about. We need to destigmatize it, but especially now that’s more common in isolation and having to do school or having to quarantine for two weeks is a long time to have to spend by yourself,” Kelliher said.

Kelliher said sometimes students don’t always get what they need out of the Baylor Counseling Center, so she plans to find ways to make campus resources better for students and connect people with off-campus mental health professionals.

“You can’t do school if your mental health isn’t in the right area, or at least being paid attention to,” Kelliher said. “And just from a student perspective, also knowing that it’s just so important for all areas of well being: academically, socially.”

There is a week during spring semester that student government hosts a mental health week. Houser said he wants to expand on that and put an emphasis on mental health in the fall as well.

“Oct. 4 through 10 is mental health awareness week, so we’re planning an event during that week to predominately help our freshman class,” Houser said. “You know, they just moved into Baylor, and so they’re in this brand new community, struggling to find support groups, struggling to find some help. So making sure they know who they can talk to for mental health resources I think is huge.”

Kelliher said this semester will be difficult, but she wants students to know that student government wants to do anything they can to help them.

“I just really hope that students feel genuinely cared for from their peers,” Kelliher said. “Whether that’s just me, Matt and Sutton or whole organization ideally, but that we’re here to listen.”