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Community Content: Ignoring Student Poverty Needs Won’t Solve Any Problems

The Student Fee Board could have voted to hear a presentation to help fund an office to finally address student poverty. Instead, it voted “no” on even hearing out the plan. 

The University Park Student Fee Board (UPSFB) met in an off-cycle meeting on Monday, March 21. In this meeting, the UPSFB was to consider a vote on whether to have a hearing for the creation of an office to address student poverty. Although the submitted proposal was in accordance with the UPSFB’s governing procedures, policies, and precedent, the board voted 5-6 against allowing a hearing. 

The Student Advisory Board on Student Poverty (SABOSP), composed of 15 students, has worked diligently for the past eight months in partnership with the university’s Office of Student Affairs and in outreach to the student body. The SABOSP carefully evaluated current university approaches to combat student poverty, engaged with the student body in the gathering of perspectives and lived experiences, and developed recommendations aimed at institutional prioritization to support access and affordability. The Food and Housing Insecurity Task Force, established in 2018 by President Eric Barron, created exigence for the conversations of the SABOSP and Student Affairs for the possible creation of centralized staff positions at the university with the specific focus of addressing student poverty. The SABOSP’s recommendations are currently still under review by the university administration as they carefully consider potential implementation. However, there is shared agreement of the urgent need to create these centralized staff positions to adequately address student needs.

The university is strapped for cash, but in the plan proposed by Student Affairs, the unit would have been able to be successfully launched with support from internal funding from the university and funding from the Student Fee Board — in line with the spirit of cost-sharing for all university initiatives. An investment like this would have the potential to return support back to students tenfold, and funding from the Student Fee Board would’ve been an investment that would’ve changed the lives of thousands of students experiencing the weight of some aspects of poverty.

The mission of the Student Fee Board is to “improve and enhance out-of-class experiences in the categories of facilities, recreation, services, and activities” with the vision to “be an organization driven and led by students that enables and diversifies out-of-class experiences by paving the way to engaging and equitable futures for Penn State students.” The UPSFB is required to submit its recommendations to the Board of Trustees by April 1. At the time of Monday’s vote, there were 247 hours until the final recommendations had to be submitted. If the UPSFB and its members are truly committed to carrying out its mission and vision, they would spend every remaining hour, minute, and second possible to see it through. 

It is disappointing and embarrassing as your student government executives, but even more so as two Penn State students, that the University Park Student Fee Board voted against simply holding a hearing for the creation of an office that would address the largest student-facing need on this campus. Every day, at University Park, some students cannot afford to eat, cannot afford housing costs, cannot afford to receive medical care, and cannot afford basic necessities that every student needs to succeed in their lives and their academics.

We implore you to hold your representative governing bodies accountable. The decisions and deliberations that occur in these rooms impact the ability to address systemic issues in the realms of equity, access, and affordability. The purpose and intent of student leadership isn’t to speak for the needs of students. Rather, the purpose is to embolden. To emphasize. To listen.

At the beginning of each meeting, the Student Fee Board allows for open public comment. The University Park Student Fee Board will meet at the following times in 102 HUB:

  • 8 to 10 a.m. on March 24
  • Noon to 2 p.m. on March 26
  • 8 to 10 a.m. on March 27 

Hold us accountable by voicing your concerns, opinions, and perspectives.  

The University Park Student Fee Board is also currently accepting applications for five (5) at-large positions. Applications, which can be found here, are open until 5 p.m. on April 1. The role that students play in ensuring the costs we incur as a student are relevant and in line with student needs is vital. 

The work of the university, the University Park Student Fee Board, and the Student Advisory Board on Student Poverty will far outlast our tenures at Penn State. However, the discussions that are held today have the potential to transform the student experience for future generations. Join in on the conversations, relay your experiences, and help us create a better Penn State.

Signed,

Erin Boas, UPUA Student Body President
Najee Rodriguez, UPUA Student Body Vice President


This post, written by UPUA President Erin Boas and Vice President Najee Rodriguez, was submitted independently as part of our community content program. You could have your content published on Onward State by submitting it here.

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About the Author

Erin Boas & Najee Rodriguez

Erin Boas and Najee Rodriguez serve as Penn State's student body president and vice president, respectively. Both have a vested interest in eliminating student poverty, among other initiatives.

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