First I want to thank the Inter Faculty Organization for inviting me to share this update! I would also like to thank the IFO for being a trusted partner of Students United.
Each year, Students United works at the legislative level for student-focused higher education funding and policies. This year we expect to advocate for $130 million in state funding for asset preservation and replacement funding at the colleges and universities, as well as on federal higher education issues such as increasing access to the Pell Grant.
However, in addition to our legislative work, I am excited to tell you about our progress on three university-based objectives. Our three objectives this year are: university participation in the carbon commitment, an affirmative consent policy for sexual relations, and the creation of textbook affordability plans at each Minnesota State university. With a platform packed full of positions students are passionate about, we narrowed it down to these three, knowing we would make an impact.
Universities across the country play a significant role in helping create a sustainable society, and students are dedicated to making our campuses more environmentally friendly. We are impressed that this year Bemidji State University was one of only nine post-secondary institutions in the country to be awarded the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon, recognizing the university's efforts in sustainability. The carbon commitment, which is an agreement signed by university presidents nationwide pledging their university to become carbon neutral by a date of their choice, will have a significant positive environmental impact. Three of our universities have already signed it: Bemidji State University, St. Cloud State University (SCSU), and Winona State University (WSU). Students are working with the other universities to become signors, and you can find more information about the carbon commitment here.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 11 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Minnesota State’s consent policy is fairly strong, and it is arguably better than many universities across the country, but it could be better. This is why changing this policy to affirmative consent is a priority for students. The current policy defines what consent is not, rather than what consent is, leaving too much room for gray area. We define affirmative consent as, “informed, freely, affirmatively, and continuously communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unanimous words or actions.” So far, we have spoken to Minnesota State University Moorhead’s president, Anne Blackhurst, and WSU’s president, Scott Olson about creating university affirmative consent policies and both have been supportive. In addition, the Inter Faculty Organization brought the topic to their Meet and Confer with the Chancellor. We greatly appreciate these partnerships as they help us advocate for this change. In addition, we are working with Chancellor Malhotra about how affirmative consent policy can be addressed at the system level.
Textbook prices have risen over 1,000 percent since 1971. Because of this, students incur more debt or go without needed textbooks. Students United is committed to working with faculty on each university to develop measurable and achievable plans to offer affordable textbook options for students. Ben Reimler, Students United Board Member and Student Senate President from WSU, created a university-wide textbook task force made up of faculty, students and administrators, and Metropolitan State University has a university textbook task force. Our Board Member and Student Government Vice President from SCSU, Kayla Shelley, is working with her student government and administration to create a similar committee. Students United Board Members intent to create effective textbook affordability plans at each campus.
We are motivated and excited to take action on behalf of Minnesota State university students to improve the quality of our universities and our system. We invite faculty members to join us as we work to make Minnesota State universities environmentally sustainable, safe, and affordable for students and their entire university communities.