Nicholas Thomas is practically giddy as people trickle in for the weekly Student Voice meeting on Monday at 9 p.m. He plugs an auxiliary cable into his phone and a jaunty jig blasts from the speakers in Benildus room 108.
“Irish drinking songs,” he explains with a grin, as if the music perfectly suits the occasion.
Four of Student Voice’s five vice presidents, the first to serve in these newly designed roles, flank Thomas on both sides of the room while concerned students trickle in to be a part of the meeting. Vice President of Public Relations Garrett Johnston taps away at her keyboard, taking notes as Thomas turns off the music and formally opens the meeting. He flies through the group’s new constitution, a document he spent hours drafting over the summer. He bounces over articles and subsections, words crashing into each other. It’s necessary information, but he doesn’t want to bore anyone.
“Last spring, when [former Student Voice President] Bryan [Seigel] basically stepped away from the organization, there were 20 different things that had huge time commitments that Student Voice was doing and I was placed in charge of every single one of them. I had to handle that all on my own,” Thomas says. “It was partly my pushing that got us the multiple vice presidents, because I didn’t want to see whoever stepped into the vice president position after me go through all the craziness that I had to go through.”
Besides Johnston, there are four more vice presidents.Vice President of Campus Improvement and Safety Marisa Doherty oversees matters of campus facilities that directly affect students. Laura Leal serves as vice president of finance, overseeing funding of Student Voice projects. Selena Ontiveros, as the vice president of campus communications, coordinates with clubs on campus to collaborate on mutual concerns. And Vice President of Student Concerns Jasmine Lee fields concerns and complaints from the student body.
“This is a student organization run by students for students,” Thomas says. “And that being said, we can only do something about things that students actually bring to us. We can sit there and come up with all these ideas all day long and come up with all these fun little projects, but if students aren’t coming to us with ideas and suggestions and concerns we can’t do anything about it.”
Thomas joined Student Voice in 2014 at the behest of Seigel, who appointed him as vice president in 2015.
“Bryan basically gave me free reign of it around November or so, and he became less and less involved,” Thomas says.
He became the president of Student Voice after Seigel graduated in May. This November, as the rest of the country prepares to vote for a new president, students are invited to take part in an election on campus. For the first time ever, elections will be held for Student Voice positions, voted on by the student body. All students are eligible for candidacy, so long as they announce their intention to run at a Student Voice meeting.
“We’ll be putting out specific descriptions of each role as listed in the Student Voice constitution,” Thomas says.
The elected students will not take over their roles until Fall 2017, giving them plenty of time to study under the current president and vice president, ensuring their preparedness next year.
In the past, “there wasn’t really any training that was done,” Thomas says. “I really want to prevent that sort of thing, because I feel like that takes away from time that Student Voice could be actively doing things.” That way, in May, “the new person who’s in office will already know what to do. They can just keep rolling with things.”
Skyler Anderson, a freshman film major, attends the meeting on Monday night. He served in student council at Whitehouse High School in Whitehouse, Texas, the same high school Thomas graduated from in 2013. Anderson hasn’t wasted a moment in carrying on the service torch from one school to the next.
“I was president of student council,” Anderson says. “I’m just moving what I had there and bringing it here.”
Sophomore Photography major Gary Sachtleben sits in the back of the room, earbuds nestled in his ears. Kayla “Goldie” Casiano, whose hair matches her nickname, arrives with a head full of ideas and her friend Jordan Kanauoha in tow.
“I just came with my friend. I might come back,” Kanauoha says. “I was part of the student body council in high school.”
At Student Voice meetings, members of the student body have the opportunity to present the group with their concerns about the school. Though various clubs strive to improve conditions at SFUAD, Student Voice works directly with the administration in Student Life to resolve problems and make the school a better place for students to live and practice their art.
“It’s open to every student on campus,” Thomas says. “We need people there so that we can hear what’s going on on campus, what problems there are, what we can fix, and then we need to hear ideas on how to fix these things. We do try to brainstorm any type of problems that pop up. The more people we have there, the more perspectives there are, the more differences in ideology and methodology there are, the better the solutions we can find.”
Not every idea floated at Student Voice meetings comes to fruition. Thomas recalls one meeting last year when reason flew out the window and the group spent a great deal of time discussing plans for an “adult playground” on campus. The idea got out of control as the proposal grew to include suspending swings from a 40-foot tall, Christ the Reedemer-inspired statue carved in the likeness of former SFUAD President Larry Hinz.
“The conversation just went off the hinges there,” Thomas says.
After the group approves the constitution, Thomas opens the meeting to concerns and complaints. Anderson and Casiano thrust their hands in the air.
“I know we can’t get rid of the speed bumps, but is there any way we can turn some of them into humps?” Casiano asks.
“They’re professionally built,” Anderson says.
“You’re professionally built,” she replies.
Casiano recounts an experience driving Kanauoha’s car over a speed bump behind King Hall, a notorious nuisance which runs diagonally across the parking lot, which scraped the vehicle’s undercarriage as she jostled over it.
“I almost tear her car up every time,” Casiano says. “We named it Big Bump Bertha the Bitch.”
Thomas says he’ll speak to the facilities department about the matter. The group also discusses Student Life’s recent notice regarding approval for posters on campus, putting together bake sales for holidays and making hot chocolate and ice cream available at the Grill.
Casiano asks about making a haunted house for Halloween, and suddenly everyone’s offering suggestions.
“Nothing’s happening in LaSalle right now,” Thomas says of the practically abandoned dormitory that many students already claim is haunted.
Student Voice is just one of many groups mulling over plans for a haunted house this semester (Student Activities Board and the Resident Assistants among them). The group considers pooling their efforts with the other organizations.
None of these ideas are set in stone yet. This is a brainstorming session. Plans will firm up as the year progresses, and duties will be assigned both to vice presidents and students who volunteer to take part in projects.
The group’s efforts have already made an impact on campus this year. Giant blue recycling bins popped up in every dorm lounge last week, a project that took several years for Student Voice to execute. Thomas says that former Director of Facilities Peter Romero was skeptical that students would utilize the containers.
In Spring 2015, Student Voice “did a test run of recycling in St. Mike’s A200,” Thomas says.
It wasn’t long before students started calling members of Student Voice and their friends in that hallway so they could get in and drop off their recycling. Thomas says they had to empty the bins out several times a day for the first month of the program.
“We figured that was enough proof of concept,” Thomas says. “We managed to expand it to the rest of St. Mike’s so there was a bin in B200 of St Mike’s and a set of bins in the post office.”
When Ryan Davis joined the Student Life staff during the summer, he approached Student Voice with his desire to institute a recycling program on campus, unaware that the group had been trying to execute such a plan for some time. With Davis’ help, the campus-wide recycling program took effect.
Doherty spearheaded the initiative last year before she took on the vice president role. In her new position, she has a personal hand in checking and emptying the bins. As part of her duties, she also established a recycling club on campus.
“It’s not a real big commitment,” Doherty says of the club. “It’s basically just helping me once in a while, helping me carry things and empty bins, because I’m a small person and it’s very slow when it’s just me.”
Doherty beams with pride at the program’s immediate success.
“I checked the bins on Friday and it’s going so well,” she says. “Even the halls that didn’t do it perfectly, there was no trash in any of the bins. That’s amazing, especially after certain members of this school thought this was not a thing this campus could accomplish.”
Doherty’s role as a vice president, along with each of the other vice president positions, was created last semester in an effort to lighten the load on the group’s president.
As the meeting wraps up at 10 p.m. on Monday night, Thomas calls for any last minute comments or suggestions.
Sachtleben, practically silent for the entire hour, raises his hand.
“We did talk about this last week,” Sachtleben says. “We had the idea of putting some sort of communication together between Student Voice and the different living dormitories. Students could take a Post-it note and write down an idea that they want to complain to Student Voice about, something they want done. I could put together something to hang up on the halls and I could check on it two or three times a week to see if anyone wrote down an idea.”
“That would be an awesome idea,” Thomas says. “Would you be willing to do that?”
Sachtleben gladly accepts the responsibility.
“I’ve heard people talking about stuff that they want done, but they don’t come to the meetings,” Sachtleben says. By offering students another avenue for submitting their concerns, “that could be their voice, because we could talk about it during the meetings.”
Student Voice encourages all students to stop by any time with their concerns, either at their meetings at 9 p.m. on Monday nights, or at the Student Voice office in Mouton Hall. Thomas holds office hours every Monday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Most of the vice presidents hold office hours as well, which are posted on the wall outside their office.