State of the Campus Address highlights mental health, admin transparency

USG President Ama Appiah addresses the state of the campus in her speech and lays out future plans and visions of USG. (Kush Kumar/The Daily Campus)

Undergraduate Student Government (USG) president Ama Appiah discussed mental health initiatives, administrator transparency and the push for student representation at the State of the Campus Address, held on the Student Union terrace Wednesday afternoon.

The last presidential address was held in 2016 by then-president Daniel Byrd. The presidential address is required by USG’s bylaws, USG Public Outreach chair Omar Taweh said after the speech.

“It’s in our constitution, so it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Taweh said.

In her speech, Appiah mentioned the student pushback against parking and transportation changes earlier in the year,) how USG pushed for transparency and a feedback loop with UConn Transportation to make improvements through advocacy and the Transportation Advisory Committee.

“Bus routes are now adjusted to address student concerns,” Appiah said. “Last semester we saw the TransLoc Rider App, the new bus-tracking app, in response to a call for a better system...In spite of difficulties in maintaining the conversation, we [also] look forward to crafting a creative solution with parking services based on student input.”

Appiah also discussed USG’s health and wellness initiatives and her meetings with Dr. Suzanne Onorato, Executive Director of Student Health, Counseling & Wellness, to help improve student mental health on campus.

“Without student health, there can be no proper pursuit of academics, extracurriculars or social life. Wellness is multifaceted,” Appiah said. “If we want to be successful on this campus, we need to discuss its integration on every level.”

One of those ways was through USG’s Wellness Case competition, which gave students the opportunity to come up with a program encouraging others to increase their health. The winning initiative is a program called Wellness Points, which awards points to students who take part in healthy activities, Appiah said. The runner-up initiatives, a traveling therapy pet service and an initiative focused on increasing outdoor green spaces for mental health, will be implemented and funded by USG.

“USG is excited to bring these initiatives to fruition,” Appiah said. “Mental health has been a prominent part of our discussions, and USG has been at the forefront of this.”

Appiah said advocacy for increased mental health programs and funding for Counseling and Mental Health Services has also been a focus for USG, and will continue to be with president-elect Priyanka Thakkar. She highlighted USG’s Mental Health First Aid program, which has been popular among students, Appiah said, as well as UConn’s.

The president also discussed the new environmental literacy General Education requirement, which will start in fall 2019 for all incoming freshmen, which USG and several other organizations on campus pushed for, as well as changes to dual degree and major programs which will require fewer credits to complete than before.

“This would be a huge win, as it would allow students to graduate in four years with two majors, and make the opportunity financially feasible to accomplish,” Appiah said. “The proposed change would encourage students to take these opportunities more often.”

As well, Appiah said Tier II funding policies have been “heavily assessed” and said USG is looking to make the process for requesting funding easier for clubs and organizations, as well as requiring all funding changes in USG to be announced two weeks before they are passed.

“We hope this will increase transparency and provide more opportunity to provide input on funding,” Appiah said. “We are also hiring more funding staff so we can keep up with the large volume of funding requests.”

Appiah said after her speech that USG is continuing to working on the funding rollover from previous years, and that the amount “has gone down.”

“We’re gonna evaluate what it is at the end of the semester and see,” Appiah said.

Appiah closed her speech by saying she believes the trend of student advocacy she sees within USG will continue on to next year.

“I am proud to say this organization has made great strides in fulfilling its mission to advocate for students and fight for a seat at the table that directly impact(s) the student experience,” Appiah said.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.