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USG plans for curriculum, campus environment, basic student needs

The Undergraduate Student Government president and vice president discuss their accomplishments during the fall semester and their plans for spring.
Flora Yang and Zeke Jackson are the University of Minnesota’s Undergraduate Student Government president and vice president for the 2022-23 academic year. Photo courtesy of Yang.

Flora Yang, the University of Minnesota’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president, and USG Vice President Zeke Jackson discussed USG’s upcoming work in the University’s core curriculum requirements, increasing biodiversity on campus and creating a strategic plan to address basic student needs.

Yang and Jackson also recounted successful projects USG was able to complete during the summer and fall semester, including the Fight for 15 campaign and getting students registered for the November 2022 midterm elections.

What are USG’s plans for spring semester?
Jackson: “There’s a few things that will be happening here in the spring semester, one of the big ones that we’re working on, that I’m pursuing, has to do with reforming our liberal education requirements. I’m one of the representatives to a Core Curriculum Committee that will be making recommendations on how to change those core curriculum requirements that all students have to follow. Those changes will be in effect for probably at least the next decade and probably longer, and we’re getting to the point where we’re going to start seeking a lot more student feedback and just general community feedback across campus.

In our Environmental Accountability Committee, they’re writing resolutions around increasing biodiversity on campus, decreasing harmful pesticides. They’re doing more education just in general on waste and waste disposal in dorms and in University buildings. For Academic Affairs…we’re trying to create essentially a space very similar to the Toaster with the same vibe or even maybe the same branding on West Bank. We’re getting some feedback from students that there aren’t enough TAs per class and stuff like that. They’re doing some research and writing resolutions around the role of TAs. We are [also] working on getting better food labels for the dining halls.”

Yang: “Another thing that Zeke and I are taking on is the Basic Needs Strategic Plan. The University doesn’t really have a basic needs type of plan. USG’s moved forward and suggested that we make a strategic plan, and right now, the Office of Student Affairs, as well as Boynton Health and USG are spearheading a project together. That will probably be done…by the end of the school year, where we have metrics and milestones in terms of recommendations for what the University should follow the next couple years when it comes to student basic needs.”

What were the highlights of USG’s accomplishments last semester?
Yang: “The first thing that happened right at the beginning of our term, which is July 1, was the Fight for 15 campaign that we did, where for the past several years, USG has been working extensively to work with administration to increase student minimum wage to $15 an hour from $10.33, which is what we had before. I think July 4 we got an email from the Vice President Calvin Phillips of Student Affairs letting us know that the University is increasing undergraduate student minimum wage to $15. That was super exciting for us and the first thing that really happened, that was really big.

Another thing that happened during the summer was that Zeke and I, along with Dylan Young, the student body president of the Morris campus, met with Gov. Walz’s office to recommend the appointment of Tadd Johnson, who is the first Native American regent currently sitting on the board. The fact that we didn’t have that perspective on the board was a little shocking, but I’m glad that they have that now. If you were at Forum, you saw Tadd Johnson joined us Feb. 7, which is cool.”

Jackson: “Supporting Teamsters was a big one. Another one was some of the local legislative advocacy that we did last fall. We testified in front of the Minneapolis City Council, and essentially we helped pass about $4.5 million dollars to improve pedestrian lighting in the Dinkytown and Marcy Holmes area. We were really excited about that.

For Row the Vote, we registered over 2,000 students and got over 8,000 pledges of people to vote. Every year, USG has taken it upon itself to focus on getting out the votes and this year, we’re still waiting to essentially hear what the voting rates were like here on campus…but from what we’ve seen in notes and documents from previous years, it seems like this was one of the more successful years, especially for a midterm. We’re really happy about that as well.”

What are you personally most proud of with USG in your time so far?
Yang: “I’m very proud of the projects, but I think that at the core of every project is a good staff. I’m honestly so incredibly proud of the staff that we currently have, and not just staff but also At-Large Representatives and Student Group Representatives (SGRs), everybody at Forum who put in the time and the effort to go and learn about things, vote on things, ensure that things are passed…put in the work. I think that nothing tangible could have happened if all of our staff didn’t really put [in] the work and the effort to make it happen. I’m just really proud of the staff culture that we have at USG.”

Jackson: “I think the thing I’m most proud of is how USG has improved its engagement with student groups and communities across campus. One of the things that Flora and I thought was a really big priority for us is just making USG more accessible in general. So this semester for our different working committees, for example, those are open to the public now, which they weren’t before. So anyone who’s interested can sign up and attend and engage.

Also SGRs and Forum attendance. Especially coming out of COVID-19, we saw a big drop in SGRs attending Forum. Last semester, we worked really hard to get those numbers back up. Something that Flora and I have put a big emphasis on is bringing in student groups that haven’t been going to USG for a while and making sure they’re getting more engaged, and we’ve seen success with that.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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