Photo By | Angel Adegbesan
By Asar John
As a result of the Student Government Association Special Election in November, five York students now hold seats in the school’s 32-member student senate, and are ready to make the changes they and their peers want to see.
The five newly elected senators include Pamela Garcia, Sarah Herrera, Veena Karupen,
Cami Melson and Mark Ogbuehi, who will serve what is considered to be a full term, until June 30. This partial, yet considered to be “full” term by SGA, is due to five vacant seats in the senate that needed to be filled for this academic year. Two of the five senators, Cami Melson and Mark Ogbhuehi, spoke with Pandora’s Box about their new roles in the senate and their vision for the York College community.
Melson said that the student senate has met twice since she was elected, and she’s been able to get a grasp on what her role is as a senator, advocate for issues of her interest and of students’ and to discuss the recently passed budget. One of Melson’s campaign goals was to provide better representation for York athletes. However, because sports at York were cancelled for the semester, Melson said she thought of rebranding that goal to focus on a broader scope of students and not just those who are athletes.
“The first thing in that aspect is pushing for the credit/no credit option they [CUNY] just passed,” said Melson, referring to a pandemic-influenced grading policy adopted in the Spring and continuing for this Fall that allows students to change any final course grade to “Credit” or “No Credit” awarded for a course. “That was something I got feedback from my teammates and other athletes as to how they felt about the option, so in a sense I’m being a voice for them while being a voice for other students who that option can really benefit.”
Melson, who has a plethora of platforms such as two YCRadio shows and a mentorship program for athletes, feels that this creates a distinction between her and other senators.
“I think a lot of senators just have the association [SGA] or the Cardinal App,” said Melson. “But for me, especially with YC Radio, we’ve had guests from different departments like the Financial Aid Office and we’ve been able to really talk with them about these issues so I think this does put me at a slight advantage.”
Like Melson, Mark Ogbuehi was another senate candidate motivated to get involved by the impact of the pandemic on the student body. Upon running for a vacant seat, Ogbuehi fixated on getting the college’s cafeteria to officially reopen once in-person instruction and activities were reinstated. Because there is still no definite way to determine when York students will return to campus, Ogbuehi shifted focus as well.
“I know the promise I made in terms of situating the cafeteria, but we’re not worried about that right now,” said Ogbuehi. “What about students that are withdrawing from classes because of professors, and those who are taking off the semester because of online learning?”
Ogbuehi said it’s imperative that the focus is on what’s happening with students in the present and he can help them cope. Some of this sentiment comes from recent deaths in his family and trying to move forward from it.
“I lost an uncle and auntie within one week and it was tragic, but I overcame that by reflecting and talking to a lot of people and that helped me,” said Ogbuehi. “Let’s talk about how we can help those people so they can focus in school.”
One plan of action thought of by the sophomore senator is to have counseling sessions in collaboration with the Counseling Center’s Better Together support group, which meets every Thursday for an hour to gather students who have been impacted by the pandemic, providing guidance and support for them.
“I’m definitely going to go out of my way to talk to those people in charge and work something out and make it known that they can rely on this as a source of help,” said Ogbuehi.
Ogbuehi also points out that although there is a resource for students seeking emotional care, it needs to be more comprehensive and meet more than just once a week.
“If you’re doing this once a week and people are going through so much in that one week, they have to wait until next Thursday,” said Ogbuehi. “I definitely will look into talking to them about making it Monday to Friday because that will be highly beneficial to helping students.”
Being beneficial to students is exactly what these two senators want to leave behind as a legacy after they move on from the senate and from York.
“The biggest thing I want to do is just be a voice for students and I’ve already been a part of that in a way just by proving one option that a lot of students really needed,” Melson said, referring back to the Credit/No Credit option.
Melson also hopes to create a new committee for the senate, one that focuses on social justice.
“I wanted to get other students involved, especially with athletes,” said Melson. “It’s something I discussed with them on a panel before and I think if we can all get involved and do community work, although right now it’s a little bit difficult, but at least if I could get it started before I graduate, that’s something that I wanted to do.”
An approach to this for Melson means getting students signed up for any community activity they have interest in as long as it is considered safe by today’s health guidelines. Once the pandemic passes or it’s safer for in-person activities, they can join different non-profit organizations and be active around their communities. Melson notes that even now, students can get a move on by attending Zoom conferences and board meetings for their local communities to get involved.
Ogbuehi said although there will be challenges along the way, such as the ongoing pandemic, he won’t let it stop him from delivering on his promises.
“Getting into student government I knew what I was signing up for,” said Ogbuehi. “I made a lot of promises that I cannot fail to accomplish. I’m not in it for any other reason but to actually keep that promise and make sure there is a change.”