Good morning, students, staff, faculty and community members.
My name is Melissa Bardo and I am a Biology student here at Sacramento State, serving as the 64th Associated Students Inc. President. Now, I
know that President Nelsen is going to be talking about four-year graduation rates and I have to admit, I’m not setting the best example by being a fifth year student. But President Nelsen: I promise, I am graduating this semester.
Joking aside, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge President Nelsen for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you today. This is the first time I can recall in Sac State history, that a student has spoken at the University President’s address. I think it demonstrates just how student-focused President Nelsen is. In the short time that I have gotten to know Dr. Nelsen, I can confidently say that he has consistently been an ally for our students. President Nelsen is ready to create change on this campus and he is carving a path for even greater student success at this university.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you what Associated Students does for the campus community and how we are contributing to student success. Associated Students Inc., or ASI, is an organization that is run for students by students.
ASI is most commonly thought of as student government; but we are so much more than that. To some, ASI is the affordable and convenient child care service that student parents can access so they can focus in class knowing their child is safe. Last year, 220 enrolled children received excellent care from 13 professional staff and over a hundred student staff at the ASI Children’s Center. Not only are student parents benefiting from this service, but student employees or volunteers are also obtaining practical experience that they can apply to their future careers.
To others, ASI is a place to escape the daily stresses of going to college and working. Over 12,000 students visited Lake Natomas to take advantage of our Aquatic Center. While these types of services may not directly relate to academics, these recreational opportunities are important because they add to the physical and mental well-being of our students.
ASI has many other successful programs and initiatives, but the easiest way I can describe what ASI is at its core: is students helping students. Student volunteers drove more than 25,000 miles last year in an effort to give their peers a safe and confidential ride home through our service, Safe Rides. That is evidence that our students are here not only to receive a great education, but also to give back and serve their community.
Student success is key to everything we do in ASI. Many will argue that student success starts with the curriculum. And while I acknowledge that coursework is certainly important to our success, performance in the classroom is not the only factor that determines a student’s success at this university. Students are required to balance school with work, family obligations, extra-curricular activities, volunteer hours and commuting. Additionally, there are many students who struggle with the added stresses of homelessness, food insecurity and even with their undocumented status.
Associated Students and the Board of Directors is committed to meeting the various unmet needs of our peers and helping them along in their efforts to graduate.
After considering tuition, textbooks, rent, parking and other costs associated with being a college student, many students struggle to afford their next meal. With the launch of the ASI Food Pantry, students in need are now provided with the opportunity to access free items like canned vegetables, pastas, cereals and toiletries.
With over 600 students visiting the food pantry this last semester, we can clearly see that the need is there and the support that we are providing is helping students to nourish themselves and focus on their academic studies.
Partnering with the Central Downtown Food Basket and the Sacramento Food Bank, we were able to provide even healthier options to students in need by launching our Pop Up Pantry, which served over 500 students with fresh produce this past semester.
With your support, we have hosted over 20 campus and community food drives that have helped keep our shelves stocked throughout the year. On behalf of Associated Students and the entire student body, I would like to thank you for your support in serving our students.
But, our student leadership does not end with this campus.
Last year, our student government was involved in a system-wide campaign, called “Stand with the CSU.” This was a collaborative effort with the California State Student Association and the Chancellor’s office to advocate for a fully-funded CSU budget. The budget originally proposed by Governor Brown was 97 million dollars short of what the CSU needed to adequately serve its students.
As the capital’s university, Sacramento State’s student government led the charge in rallying students across the CSU to lobby at the state capitol. We shared our stories of sitting on the floors of classrooms, praying that we would be added to the prerequisite class we needed to progress in our degree. I told my story of sequoia hall not being an adequate or safe building to sustain the rigorous curriculum that our faculty teach.
I’m proud to say that the legislators listened. They approved the CSU’s proposal of an additional 97 million dollars to fully-fund the CSU system for the first time since before the recession. What was most remarkable about this accomplishment is that it was a partnership between students, staff and faculty. When we leverage those partnerships to advocate for students, Sacramento State and the CSU is at its strongest.
Nonetheless, our work is not over. The governor’s budget proposal this year is again 100 million short of what the CSU needs to properly serve its students. We are committed to amplifying student voices to the California legislature and we hope that you will join us in that effort. You can expect to see us at the capitol and you can expect us to be fighting for the education we deserve.
The reason I am sharing this with you is because it is time that we as a campus acknowledge that student voices matter in these conversations. And more importantly, that student voices are the most powerful. For too many years, we have been operating on the premise that change does not happen fast enough in higher education. I reject that premise because I have met so many passionate members of this community who are creating change every day on campus. Whether it is the faculty-member from my biology class, the administrator I meet with to discuss student concerns or the talented students I have the privilege of working with every day, TOGETHER we ARE changing the culture of Sacramento State.
To the students: I encourage you to challenge yourself, step out of your comfort zone and speak up when you have concerns. Additionally, share your ideas on how to resolve the issues that you experience in your academic pursuits. This is your university and you have a right to be involved in the decision-making. I promise that you won’t be alone. ASI will help you deliver your message.
To the faculty, staff and administrators: We ask that you listen. Even if you don’t agree, still listen to and acknowledge a student’s concern because we are doing our best to navigate a very complex system. The solutions to these issues might not always be easy, but I challenge you to think beyond what is just reasonable and think about what students truly deserve from the institution they are investing their time and money in.
As students, we came to Sacramento State to receive a great education. So, please recognize that we are tired of being asked to wait, to tough it out and to pay more. We cannot and WILL not sit idly by while the CSU system continues to accumulate more than 2 billion dollars in deferred maintenance. We won’t stay silent if our academic building infrastructure cannot support our education. And we will not give up on ensuring that students feel safe and heard on their campus.
I have attended numerous committee meetings, lobby visits and receptions and more often than not, I see ideas being shot down because it just takes too long or too much effort. But all you have to do is take a look at some recent successes to prove that is not true. Look no further than the ASI Food Pantry that was established in a matter of only two semesters of planning. A student’s idea evolved into a tangible resource for students with the support of staff, faculty and community members. Or take a look at the student emergency grant fund, which was created seemingly overnight. This was another idea that started with students in this very room. Or look at how quickly two new sections of statistics were added immediately after a student posted a viral video of more than 50 students crashing one class. All it takes is putting our heads together to turn those small ideas into realities. As faculty, staff and students, we are all Hornets and we are all learning from each other. Together, we CAN accomplish great things for our university and I truly believe that. Thank you.