Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government President Celia Wright and Vice President Leah Lacure have full plates and high hopes for Fall Semester.
With the first week of the semester in the books, the USG leaders said they are setting their sights on fulfilling their platform promises, which range from concern over the university’s handling of sexual assaults to ensuring the Mirror Lake jump still happens, despite recent uncertainty.
Wright, a fourth-year in public health, said going into the semester, she’s particularly concerned about sexual assault.
“A lot of nationwide conversations are happening on college campuses right now, and one of them is the university response to sexual assaults and sexual violence,” she said. “We have a problem with under-reporting. Statistics show that between one-fourth and one-fifth of women are assaulted in some way during their college careers. Last year, OSU only received 19 reports.”
To help address the issue, Wright said both students and the university can play a more active role.
“Encouraging reporting and trying to reduce the negative stigma that goes along with sexual assaults is really important,” Wright said. “Practically speaking, part of our agenda is giving students consent training. At no point have we as a university made a concerted or memorable attempt to explain or discuss consent with our students.”
On top of the planned initiatives to combat campus sexual assaults, the university is actively involved with the White House and other college campuses to support bystander awareness and training, Wright said.
Adam Sturgeon, a second-year in computer science and engineering, said he is disappointed by how large of a problem this is on college campuses.
“It’s kind of depressing knowing that students are attacking fellow students. I can never imagine having that kind of interaction with someone,” he said.
Mirror Lake jump
USG plans to also take an active role in making sure the annual Mirror Lake Jump happens smoothly and safely this year. The tradition where OSU fans jump in Mirror Lake the week before the OSU-Michigan football game could be threatened by various unconfirmed plans to change the water source to the lake and re-landscape the surrounding area.
It all began after the lake was drained after last year’s jump to allow for work on a roughly $28,000 sustainability study aiming to prevent water loss due to leaks in the lake’s structure. The study was also set to address maintenance issues related to deterioration of the lake’s walls. The study, which concluded in July, ultimately determined that groundwater is a viable option for sustaining the lake. Mirror Lake was since refilled in early August with water from a recently-dug well that cost an additional $30,000. A final design for Mirror Lake is set to be chosen in early November. But officials have said the lake could be drained again.
“We as a university and as students need to make a more concerted effort to protect this event,” Wright said. “Protecting the event doesn’t mean ignoring serious risks that jeopardize the sustainability of the event. We can’t continue to turn a blind eye to factors that could make the jump dangerous.”
USG will hold a three-part series of meetings starting Sept. 10 to discuss in-depth the factors that will be considered before any decisions regarding the jump are made, Wright said.
Last year, OSU installed fences around Mirror Lake and required students to get a wristband for entry. In protest, some students jumped in the lake the night before the planned jump.
Ben Wilson, a second-year in data analytics, said OSU took too strong of a measure by installing fences.
“(OSU) should work with the students and not work against them. They could’ve had a little less pressure,” he said. “Maybe have an ambulance and some professionals there just in case something happens. The space blankets (provided at the jump last year) were great. I hope it doesn’t resort to this, but maybe someday there will be an Olentangy River jump because (the security) could get so bad. I really don’t want to happen but it might come to that.”
Affordability, University Senate
Lacure, a fourth-year in public affairs, said student debt and fulfilling University Senate appointments also reside at the top of USG’s priorities.
“The biggest challenge on hand right now and this past summer has been getting our University Senate appointments settled,” Lacure said. “Those are some of the best ways that we can connect with administrators and faculty. We have students in different university committees that have voting power in the Senate, which allows us to participate directly in decisions that are made that get sent to the Board of Trustees.”
Lacure said USG plans to make sure university officials are reminded of the burden of student debt.
“We have a very great national climate and attention to this issue makes it ripe for discussion here at Ohio State. It isn’t just about tuition either, we want to address course fees and living expenses as well,” she said.
Lacure said, however, changes to college affability probably won’t happen overnight.
“We are going to continue to work with people such as the provost, the president, and the different university committees to ensure the topic remains in focus,” she said.
Sturgeon said while he is not currently in debt, he has several friends who are, including one who did to return to school this year because he couldn’t afford it. That’s a situation, he said, which should not happen.
“Knowing that people are put in that position where they have to decide whether to leave to school because of debt or put that on their families, there’s only so much I can accept,” Sturgeon said.
Wright and Lacure transitioned to the top of USG after former-President Taylor Stepp — who served two terms — graduated in May. Since then, they said they’ve gotten a lot of support.
“It’s been a little overwhelming getting used to the transition at times,” Lacure said. “We’ve had a lot of support from our peers, administrators and staff wanting to get to know us and how we want to approach things. It’s been great for us that we have different outlets to speak to for different situations.”
Other issues topping USG’s priority list are providing adequate mental health support to students, working toward general safety with a greater police force presence and reaching out to students and organizations to hear concerns.
“The safety and well-being of the Ohio State student body should be the first priority of the Undergraduate Student Government,” Jimmy Alford, a fourth-year in security and intelligence and psychology, said in an email. “Access to mental health resources, adequate security and a safe student life experience here on campus are integral to a healthy and productive student body.”
Alford, who is also the president of College Democrats, said he is excited to see what happens under the new USG administration.
“I’m looking forward to what Celia and Leah will accomplish this year,” Alford said. “Celia carries herself venerably and represents the student body very well, and I’m excited to work with her and with Leah this year.”
Daniel Bendtsen and Grant Miller contributed to this article.