SGA president lobbies for campus safety, mental health
Having served eight months in her position, SGA President Cait Zona said her lobbying efforts have been focused on visiting different universities across the state to address concerns such as student mental health care programs and campus safety.
Zona has been taking on these efforts with the Florida Student Association, a network of student government representatives from Florida's 12 public state universities. Members meet on a regular basis and attend Florida Board of Governors meetings to represent their student bodies and relay concerns. Office of Student Involvement Communication Coordinator David Oglethorpe said Zona's official trips to different universities have cost $1,388.32 so far, funded from the $18.5 million Activity and Service Fee budget.
"Mental health, making sure that students of all universities in Florida are receiving the correct treatment, that they have someone to go to — we have great programs like UCF Cares … and we just want to make sure that statewide, students are being given care for their mental health," Zona said.
Though FSA's legislative agenda has not yet been finalized, Zona says that along with advocating for better mental health care for students, the association has been discussing lobbying to address the summer credit hour requirement that UCF and other universities have, analyzing time-to-degree averages and advocating for financial literacy programs.
Zona said visiting other SGAs and learning about their structures, programs and how their Senate chambers are designed can help her cabinet implement changes at UCF.
"I always brought up campus safety — trying to make sure that all state universities are as safe as possible. Some universities are older than others, some have more moderate infrastructures … so looking at what some schools already have and seeing if some schools … can jump on the bandwagon," Zona said.
She added that another question some SGAs are bringing up is whether students should be required to complete summer credit hour requirements — which are not funded by Bright Futures scholarships — in the first place.
"Since funding for Bright Futures is so scarce, it might be easier and more beneficial to eliminate it [the requirement] rather than lobby for more money for Bright Futures to cover summer hours," Zona said, explaining her personal stance on the issue.
Zona said she is also working with other FSA members to start a discussion about graduation rates. According to the Florida Board of Governors website, students graduate after an average of 4.3 years — but the FSA is looking into the implications of this rate.
"We're trying to look at, is that the right amount of time? Do students need longer to graduate? Exactly what should our stance be as all 12 state universities? There are some differences, because while we might have a lot of STEM majors … you have some liberate arts in there, and obviously that changes some things," Zona said.
Since May, Zona has visited the University of South Florida, University of Florida, University of North Florida, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University and Florida Gulf Coast University.
She said in spring, she plans to continue visiting the other universities to network with their SGAs and to "work on things that all state universities agree on."
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.