Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the undergraduate and graduate student governments 'merged.' The opposite is true, they were separated. That said the Student Body President, while an undergraduate, serves as the representative of all students, including graduate students. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.
Junior Savannah Putnam was recently elected as the Student Body President of UNC-Chapel Hill. While she hasn't taken office yet, senior writer Preston Lennon sat down with Putnam to talk about her plans for the coming year.
The Daily Tar Heel:You used the phrase "Feasible and Attainable" often during the campaign. How did the meaning of that phrase change after the election for you?
Savannah Putnam: Our platform is built around the ideas of feasible and attainable. And then those feasible and attainable goals will then translate into how our administration operates. Also we have some things called reach goals. Hopefully we’ll be able to plant the seeds here with those for after our term.
DTH: What are some of the flaws you’ve seen in the student government’s ability to fulfill its role for the student body, and how can you make it more representative of the student voice?
SP: Student government is really disconnected with the student body. In order to create a transparent administration, we should be responsible for what the student body holds most valuable. They don't have feedback mechanisms. There’s nothing that tells the administration how good of a job they’re doing, so they can correctly adapt policy changes to what the students need.
Student government encapsulates a lot of campus problems and campus ideas, so in order to fix those, we need to break down the structure a little bit. So in particular, the student safety and wellness committee tackles two major issues on college campuses, one being mental health and the other being sexual assault. I want to break down that structure and implement task forces to first get more involvement in student government, secondly to give that Student Safety & Wellness Committee support for projects they are working on.
Thirdly, I really want to have student government voices sitting in on student organizations, to make sure our administration is being as reactive to the student body as it can be.
DTH: You talked in the campaign about Counseling and Psychological Services' inability to serve its designated role. Given the powers of your office, what projects and reform do you plan on implementing during your term to change the way this campus addresses mental health?
SP: I met with the director today, along with the director of Student Safety & Wellness and the director of Campus Health. What we talked about was using our political advocacy on behalf of the University constituency — basically going to the North Carolina legislature as a student voice and advocating on behalf of more mental health funding.
They are very understaffed and underfunded, especially for the amount of people they’re taking in. There is a 200 percent increase in the students that they’re seeing within the past two years. The resources aren't fully developed. It’s incredibly important to look at student fees for CAPS in particular. Cross-campus infrastructure is extremely important to the well-being of an organization.
DTH: Elizabeth Adkins served as a 'guinea pig' for a separated government, but what challenges do you expect being an undergraduate student representing graduate students as well?
SP: What I emphasized with (GPSF President) Madelyn Percy was the need to streamline communication. Elizabeth put stepping stones in place, but I think they can be improved. Ultimately, something that would be more beneficial is to have a larger graduate student voice on campus.
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