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Saturday, March 02, 2024
Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin addresses students at the Sept. 30 ASM meeting.

Chancellor Mnookin discusses housing, mental health, sustainability, belonging during ASM meeting

Student representatives react positively to chancellor visit, talk ASM goals.

Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin discussed initiatives for housing, mental health, sustainability and fostering a culture of belonging during Wednesday evening’s Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Student Council meeting.

The chancellor outlined four key issues — housing, mental healthcare, sustainability and student belonging — which have continually sprung up in student feedback and defined student experiences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in the city of Madison.

“I certainly heard loudly and clearly from students that housing is a real concern, given the Madison marketplace, rents and the fact that Madison is a high demand place not only as a university, but the broader community that brings a lot of things that we value here… it can also make housing pretty stressful,” Mnookin said.

Mnookin said UW-Madison intentionally reduced their class size this year, though official numbers aren’t public yet. Last year’s freshman class of 8,628 was the largest in the institution's history and was about 500 more students than the university anticipated, according to Mnookin.

The chancellor highlighted the launch of an off-campus housing services office and a February expansion of Bucky’s Tuition Promise with ​​Bucky’s Pell Pathway, which will cover housing, meals, books and other expenses in addition to tuition. 

She also said the university is working with private developers to create substantially reduced rates for students but acknowledged they “only have limited pathways into this market.”

The university has seen an “increased need” in the mental health space, Mnookin said, and she affirmed that it is working to embed mental health providers around campus in a variety of schools. 

UW-Madison will host its first-ever mental health resource fair at Library Mall on Oct. 10 where students will be able to learn more about the range of mental health resources available at UW-Madison.

She also praised ASM’s sustainability efforts and said the university is finalizing details for rules on zero waste and neutrality. The university will also work to produce more solar energy and is looking to strengthen its sustainability rating, she added. 

In 2022, UW-Madison earned a silver rating in the campus sustainability assessment from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS). UW-Madison’s overall score was the lowest of 19 peer institutions the university identified in a gap analysis of its initial 2019 STARS scores, according to the Cap Times.

Still, Mnookin remarked some campuses “didn’t earn even that” in 2022 and said she hopes UW-Madison will have a gold STARS rating after its next evaluation in 2025.

“Students have often been some of our strongest advocates on campus for encouraging us to do more in the area of environmental sustainability and working with colleagues to develop an initiative that will spin out from our research enterprise,” Mnookin said. 

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She also touted new efforts to foster belonging including “Chats with the Chancellor,” a small group opportunity for students to meet with the Mnookin over a meal. The university is also piloting a “Deliberation Dinners” program that will select 120 undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds to take part in seven issue-oriented dinner discussions led by faculty facilitators. 

The dinners will aim to provide connection between students with a variety of beliefs and ideologies. Engaging across different identities, beliefs and backgrounds, Mnookin said, is a vital part of “personal success [and] frankly, the functioning of our society.”

Diversity is inexorable from the university — this year's student body included students from 71 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, 40 states including D.C. and 52 countries around the world, according to Mnookin. 

“I recognize that we certainly have ongoing work to do to foster a culture where all of our students can feel a strong sense of belonging [in] this institution,” Mnookin said.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor and ASM Shared Governance Chair AJ Butler discuss during the meeting.

Shia Fisher, a returning adult student and ASM representative, said he hopes the university considers a range of student needs in their plan for equity and inclusion.

Fisher has pushed for teachers to incorporate flexible plans for adult students who face challenges like campus parking availability and juggling coursework and child care.

Returning students and older people, Fisher said, “want the school to recognize that there's work to do in that regard.” He said it’s encouraging that Mnookin plans to work with building developers in the community about the student housing crisis, and that he “remains optimistic” about her work with ASM.

“Anytime you can have time with the chancellor and express your thoughts and ideas for the school, I think it's time well spent,” Fisher said. Fisher recently moved to campus “just because of the issues with commuting I was having as a returning adult student.”

“I’m intimately aware of just how scarce the housing is around here,” Fisher added.

ASM members also spoke about their goals this semester. ASM Equity and Inclusion Chair Emmett Lockwood said items on the group’s list include expanding the university’s ethnic studies requirement from three to six credits, with the latter of the ethnic studies credits to be major-specific. 

ASM is also looking to increase accountability for student reports of hate and bias. The group will also host town halls with affinity housing communities and cultural centers throughout the semester to hear from more students across campus.

Kunle Ojo, an ASM Grant Allocation Committee representative, said ASM is working to expand hate and bias reporting resources on campus, particularly for hastening housing bias report response times.  

Grant Allocation Committee Rep. Kunle Ojo speaks at the Sept. 27 ASM meeting.

Ojo said there are currently three or four staff members who look over the forms, but he would like to see up to nine staff members working on that team.

“We want a quick response and for students to feel heard,” Ojo said.

He hopes the chancellor’s engagement with ASM will continue to garner student feedback on issues.

“Last year, a lot of students felt like they weren’t kept in the loop about what was happening on campus, and they didn’t know what steps were being taken on campus in a positive way and creating positive change,” Ojo said.  

“Hopefully [the university] continues to keep students engaged and keep asking for students’ response and opinions when it comes to issues,” he added.

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Rachel Hale

Rachel Hale is a senior staff writer who covers state politics and campus events. Before getting involved with The Daily Cardinal, she was a culture editor at Moda Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @rachelleighhale.


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