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Student leaders work on goals to reduce food insecurity, boost transparency.
November 4, 2021

Transparency, health resources, inclusion among priorities for Council of Presidents

From health and wellness to increased transparency, Arizona State University’s student leaders are working on a wide array of priorities this year that they hope will widen access and improve the college-going experience for their peers.

Among some important issues they’re addressing:

Where do your fees go? Starting next year, students will have immediate access to more information when they pay their fees online.

How can you find food if you’re hungry? The student leaders are looking into developing an app that will connect students to local resources for basic needs.

Can you afford grad school? Several goals focus on improving access to graduate school, including setting up scholarships and lobbying for expansion of Pell Grants.

The priority list is set by the Council of Presidents (CoP), which is made up of the student body presidents from the Tempe, Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic and West campuses, plus the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

Shortly after they were elected last spring, the officers began meeting to set the priority list, which they brainstormed and then streamlined over the summer. The final list was released in September.

The council set the priorities based on student feedback, including what they heard while campaigning, plus consultation with administrators and work done by previous student administrations, according to John Hopkins, student body president for the Tempe campus.

“The CoP believes that we can accomplish a broad range of things, and we’ve designed the list where our passions lie,” he said.

The list is divided into five “pillars,” with several specific goals. Each president is the point person for one of the pillars.

John Hopkins, student body president for the Tempe campus, said that the priorities require a lot of collaboration across many units at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News


Hopkins is the contact person for this pillar and said that one of the main goals will go into effect next year, when students will see an arrow tab where they pay their student fees online.

“Next year, when they’re paying their student fees, there will be an information arrow next to the fee, describing it and linking to more information,” he said.

“Now they’ll see ‘This is why I’m paying this fee’ and what it’s going toward.”

Like all of the goals, working on the updated website required collaboration with several ASU units, including the University Technology Office, Student Services and the Dean of Students.

“It’s not easy getting these things accomplished because there are so many moving parts and so many people involved in each priority,” said Hopkins, who is a finance major. He also is pursuing a master’s degree at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU.

“The administration tries to connect us with the right people to get the priorities done. They will give context to situations to give us a better understanding of why things are done a certain way.”

Another goal in the transparency pillar is more information for international students. The council wants to partner with the International Students and Scholars Center to provide updates to international students through their My ASU accounts, such as visa status and testing requirements.

“That would be a long-term goal and I’m working to familiarize myself on that, so that won’t happen overnight,” Hopkins said.

Cecilia Alcantar-Chavez, student body president for the Polytechnic campus, said that while basic needs such as food or housing insecurity are urgent, creating sustainable solutions takes time. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Basic needs

This pillar addresses concerns over food insecurity and housing. Among the goals are:

  • Partnering with the ASU Foundation to create a scholarship for students with unmet basic needs and highlighting the Basic Needs Fund on Sun Devil Giving Day.
  • Working with Aramark to provide meal swipes to students in need.
  • Supporting the creation of the basic-needs app and integrating it into the ASU app to connect students with local resources such as food assistance.

RELATED: Services for students in need, from immediate meals to emergency financial aid

The contact person for basic needs is Cecilia Alcantar-Chavez, president of the student body at the Polytechnic campus.

“I took a lot of time over the summer to think about a plan on basic needs,” she said. “It was always in my head — how do I let students know what’s here for them at the university?

“One big thing is access to information. We’re working on the groundwork to develop a basic-needs app to let students know what’s here for them.”

Alcantar-Chavez is working with the University Senate on a proposal to have professors add a paragraph to their syllabuses about how students can find basic-needs resources through the Dean of Students Office.

“Another thing is food and housing posters that will raise awareness,” she said. “These would be like, ‘Am I skipping meals?’ ‘Am I couch surfing?’

“If you’re dealing with these things, you should reach out to the Dean of Students and they can help you.”

Issues like food or housing insecurity are urgent, and she said that it can be frustrating when developing solutions takes time.

“It has to be approved to make sure it’s the right step and that we did enough research and looked at the full picture,” said Alcantar-Chavez, a mechanical engineering major.

“I wish we could have these posters done in one week, but we have to get approvals and follow ASU brand and marketing standards to make sure it’s the right message we want to send. You want students to feel comfortable reaching out so it has to be reviewed by multiple people,” she said.

The app development will likely take at least a year.

“We will put in the time and effort now so that something can happen next year,” she said.

Elizabeth Chilton, student body president for the West campus, said students at her location want more attention from the university. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Elizabeth Chilton, student body president for the West campus, said that many of the goals in this pillar have been worked on by previous student government leaders.

One of those goals is a multicultural space.

“That is something that will take years and last long beyond our tenure to see the final product, but every year we’re improving,” she said.

“Every campus now has a temporary space.”

Student groups on each campus are making sure the multicultural spaces are fully functional.

Chilton said that the presidents also want to make sure all students are aware of SAILS — Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services.

“We think it’s very important the university recognizes the name change and prioritizes the update on all of the websites,” she said.

“Some of the websites and syllabi that students get still say DRC, for Disability Resource Center (SAILS' previous name). To us and from the feedback we heard, it shows that’s not a priority.”

Every year, the Undergraduate Student Government collaborates with SAILS on safety walks to make sure that all parts of each campus are accessible.

RELATED: Students work to map accessibility features on all four campuses

The priority list also includes an expansion of the Native American land acknowledgement. Each campus has a plaque, but the student leaders have received feedback that a more prominent placement, near the ASU Charter, would be appropriate.

The student leaders also have asked the administration to gather and disseminate diversity data on faculty, staff and students.

“What we hope to gain from that is more transparency about the university, but also we’d like to see it turn into some kind of mentorship program,” said Chilton, a business administration major.

She also wants to address concerns specific to West.

“I think the biggest thing for the West campus is that the students felt there wasn’t enough attention put on the students here. All of the coalitions are based at the Tempe campus. All of the big events are at the Tempe campus,” she said.

“And especially for our freshman and sophomore students who had no experience on campus, they would always call it the ‘main campus.’ And that’s a stigma we’re trying to break.”

So several student groups have committed to tabling in the walkways at West to hear from students there.

Renuka Vemuri, student body president for the Downtown Phoenix campus, said that the student health pillar has a focus on sexual and relationship violence prevention. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Student health and wellness

“A lot of this pillar’s focus is on sexual and relationship violence prevention,” said Renuka Vemuri, student body president of the Downtown Phoenix campus and the contact person for the pillar.

“There’s been a lot of student push around this subject, and the problem I’ve observed is that what the university is doing, that information is not trickling down into the student body.”

The presidents are working with ASU administration and student groups to figure out the five focus areas of sexual violence prevention that they want to publicize on a larger scale.

They want to create mandatory safe-space training activities for the leaders of all clubs and organizations on campus.

“Rather than being a training where they’re clicking through the videos, we want it to be an activity where students are learning how to create a safe space for their staff and club members,” said Vemuri, a medical studies major.

“Because for a lot of students it’s the first time navigating professional and personal boundaries.”

They also want to get the word out to students about vaccinations and testing available at Health Services.

“We also want to look into how we can update the current health insurance plan offered through ASU. This is particularly helpful for graduate students, who are often the ones aging out of their parents’ health insurance, and they lose optical and dental coverage. So we’re seeing if we can add in those options,” she said.

The insurance issue is complicated because the policy is voted on by the Arizona Board of Regents for all three public universities, not just ASU. So the presidents are in talks with the student member of ABOR.

Nicole K. Mayberry, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, said she is working on a strategic plan to ease the way for undergraduates to stay at ASU for grad school. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Spirit, pride and tradition

One of the goals in this pillar is establishing a student tailgate section at ASU football games, but the priorities also include a focus on graduate students. The contact person is Nicole K. Mayberry, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA).

“Grad students don’t always partake in traditions because they think they already did that at another school,” she said.

“But they’re really fun. So we’re trying to work on creating meaningful experiences that draw grad students in. Can we expand or create new traditions for grads or postdocs?”

The priority list includes a goal of an “undergraduate-to-graduate-student pathway” by establishing scholarships at ASU to cover the cost of master’s programs and by working to expand Pell Grants to cover graduate and professional education.

Mayberry said that many of the Council of Presidents’ priorities will benefit grad students as well as undergraduates.

“At a high level, the priorities capture graduate students’ needs, and we have our own organization to take it to the next level,” she said.

For example, “basic needs” might be different for grad students, so the GPSA is working with administrators on stipends.

“If you’re a research assistant or a teaching assistant and you’re getting paid, is it sufficient to cover your expenses?” she said.

Mayberry, a PhD student studying human and social dimensions of science and technology in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, said that ASU does a good job of making sure its undergraduate degree programs are affordable and accessible.

“But I don’t know if that has been extended to graduate students,” she said. “The (graduate school) application process is very old and elitist and complicated. Can we work on an administrative process for graduate school that’s the same as for undergraduates, where if you took these classes and had this GPA, you’re in, and it’s, ‘We want you to be here’ and ‘Can we help you finance that?’ ”

Mayberry earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees at ASU.

“The one thing I’m really passionate about is working to develop a strategic plan with the Provost’s Office and President Crow’s office to think long term on how we get undergraduates to stay at ASU for grad school,” she said.

‘How can we improve upon it?’

The student leaders said that generally, the university’s administrators are responsive to students’ concerns and want to help. They meet regularly with the Council of Presidents.

“I think the most generous thing anyone can give you is their time, and they’re giving us a lot of their time,” Mayberry said.

“And it’s not a lot of brainstorming meetings where nothing gets done. It’s very intentional.”

Chilton said she would like students to know that their elected leaders are working hard throughout the year on the goals.

“The students elect someone in April, and I feel like they have no idea what they do beyond that,” she said. “We’re taking the feedback they give us and we’re trying to make what they want the university to look like happen.”

Vemuri said that the process has to be collaborative and not adversarial.

“We really try to take the time to figure out what would be the most feasible and sustainable way to make change rather than throwing out random ideas,” she said.

“We try to approach it from an inquiry standpoint rather than an accusatory standpoint, like, ‘Why doesn’t the university do this?’

“It’s more like, ‘What happens at the university? How can we improve upon it?’ ”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Production aims to bring healing to veterans

November 4, 2021

As part of Salute to Service, ASU presents 'Healing Wars,' an interactive multimedia piece that pays tribute to soldiers from Civil War to present

Veterans find healing in a variety of ways and places.

It could be camping in the woods. Playing with dogs. Working with pottery. Now they can add the theater to the list of options.

Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and TheatreThe ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. will host a series of performances of Liz Lerman’s “Healing Wars” for Salute to Service starting on Nov. 5 at the Galvin Playhouse Theatre on the ASU Tempe campus.

Lerman, who is a Herberger Institute Professor, choreographer and dancer, said the arts has a dynamic way of tackling and addressing difficult subjects.

“It’s my perception that the military found the normal mechanisms by which they hoped things would work for veterans to be engaged in society had not been working,” said Lerman, whose father served in World War II and suffered from PTSD. “The military discovered that veterans opened up to the arts in a way they had not opened up in the past.”

And that’s one of the reasons Lerman started research on “Healing Wars” about a decade ago, when she was an artist-in-residence at Harvard University. She said the inspiration for the play grew out of a moment while visiting Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. It made her wonder about the women during the Civil War, including her personal hero, Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross. She said it’s one of the most spiritual and emotional plays she has ever written.

“I wrote about the pain of the soldiers, including the pain of the people trying to support them such as doctors and nurses,” Lerman said. “When you’re marred by something like war, you never get over it. Your task is to learn to find a way to live with it.”

Billed as multimedia experience that fuses music, dance, theater and performance art, “Healing Wars” addresses various issues related to war, medicine and the ways people’s minds respond to traumatic events. It also toggles back and forth between historical accounts of the Civil War and tales of soldiers lost and maimed on battlefields today.

“Healing Wars” opened in 2014 in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Actor Bill Pullman and his wife, Tamara Hurwitz Pullman, were cast in the starring roles, and the production toured across the country.

It has now been revitalized and repurposed for Salute to Service with Keith Thompson at the helm. Thompson, an associate professor and assistant director of dance in ASU’s School of Music, Dance and Theatre, was also a dancer and choreographer in the first phase of the work. He is more than familiar with the material, and he’s putting his own stamp on it.

“It’s a whole new set design, whole new costuming, whole new lighting, whole new media design,” Thompson said. “I’ve incorporated some of the threads from the original, but I’ve also created a lot of new things.”

Thompson has also expanded the original number of roles from eight to 18 to make it “an educational experience” for students. Many will be mentored by faculty such as Marissa Barnathan, a first-year MFA student at ASU.

“It is a play but has elements of music, dance and theater,” said Barnathan, who has worked in the Philadelphia theater industry for almost a decade and will assist Thompson to oversee a cast and crew of around 50 people. “It uses all of these art forms to elevate and make visible the struggle of veterans.”

It’s also elevating the cast, according to Honestine Mbuyenge, a performance and movement major in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

“The use of movement takes you to a place … it offers more emotion,” said Mbuyenge, who is cast as “Spirit” in the play. “This is an ensemble-based show, and I feel even more connected to my classmates than any other show I’ve done.”

Thompson is keeping some original pieces of the play intact, including a preamble 30 minutes prior to the show where the audience walks through an immersive experience en route to their seats. Thompson recommends ticket holders arrive 45 minutes early to have the full experience, but audience members may opt out and go directly to their seats.

“Healing Wars” will also continue to use veterans in the cast. This incarnation will feature three, including Aaron Hernandez, Anders Lettie and Kermit Brown, who is cast as “Vet.”

“A colleague referred me and said, ‘Hey, you’d be great for this role,’” said Brown, who is a full-time lecturer in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and served seven years in the Marines from 1991–98. “I was reluctant at first, even skeptical, but I’ve been blessed with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I decided I wanted to try something new. And so here I am.”

Brown instantly related to the material, having joined the Marines right out of high school and served at the tail end of the Gulf War in the '90s.

“This play has been therapeutic for me. It has forced me to deal with the dark side of being in the military, and death is very prevalent in this play,” said Brown, who portrays a soldier with PTSD. “It has also taught me that art can be therapy.”

It can also be informative. Theater major Matthew Griesgraber said he has had little contact with people who have served in the military.

“It has opened my eyes to the effects of war,” Griesgraber said. “Through the play and the script, it shines a light on what our veterans experience in war time and has given me some perspective.”

For actress Ann Ethington, “Healing Wars” is a way to give back to veterans and bring awareness to some of the issues they struggle with after military conflict.

“Every 21 minutes a veteran commits suicide, so every time that’s mentioned in the news or on social media, I’ll drop and do 21 pushups,” Ethington said. “We can bring healing to veterans by showing them they’re not alone in this and that we can get a message out to the public that this what they’re struggling with. Having that recognition and representation in our play can help heal them.”

Lerman’s “Healing Wars,” directed and adapted by Thompson, opens Nov. 5 and runs through Nov. 14. Tickets must be purchased in advance through the Herberger Institute Box Office. Because the production focuses on death and war, audiences should be warned that there are loud sounds and explosions as well as depictions of violence and trauma. Audiences can learn more about the production here

Written by Marshall Terrill and Lacy Chaffee.

Top photo: Fourth-year theater major Ann Ethington (right) and second-year theater major Matt Griesgrabar perform a rehearsal of “Healing Wars” at the Galvin Playhouse in Tempe on Nov. 3. Photo by Samantha Chow/ASU News