Noah Vega is the student body president for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, the UA’s student government. The Daily Wildcat recently interviewed Vega about ASUA’s plans for the year, the House of Representatives and campus life in the age of COVID-19.
Daily Wildcat: What motivated you to get involved in student government?
Noah Vega: [I’ll] start from the beginning. At the [UA] I ran into Anthony Rusk, he’s one of the student regents, and he reached out to me after I had a couple of questions about ASUA and he [told] me how I could learn more about policy-making [and be] a part of the conversation. And at first, I was like okay, cool, this will be awesome, [I can] learn a little bit about [ASUA]. I'll be in it, maybe for one year tops and I'll be done. I stepped into a meeting one time, and it was about — I think it was like building more buildings on campus and removing the green space — and I remember standing up and advocating for students in that moment. I was really nervous to speak in front of a bunch of faculty and staff, and they were like, “Oh, we didn't really see it from that perspective of students having that lifestyle on the green space,” like, for example, [the] hidden little environment plazas on campus. I think that was when I realized how vital it was for student government, student voices and representation to be on campus and just be a part of that.
I got involved with EDP (Educational Psychology), and that was really focused on diversity, equity, inclusion. We also worked on a lot of different committees as well. [This] obviously was a very tough time because of the pandemic, so we were focused on a lot of conversations [about] vaccines, masks, social distancing and then [trying] to navigate that world. So then, after I got that underneath my belt and I got to learn more about EDP, I ran for student body president. One of my goal points was [to find] different avenues of revenue for, let's say, CAPS (Counseling and Psych Services) funding, maybe hiring more people for staff. I think the really exciting part about student government is we come in with all these hopes and dreams, in a way, and then something new completely happens and then sometimes you're taking like a 180 in that sense.
DW: What do you intend to do differently than previous presidents of student government?
NV: I feel like a lot of the student body presidents have been almost in the background. So, I think, reaching out to cultural centers in the past [is] a very big part. I'm reaching out to [the Coalition of Black Students and Allies] currently in a sense of adding them more onto different types of committees. I think a very big factor and variable that's going to really change doing government this year is going to be the House of Reps. The House of Reps is going to be so, so big. Obviously, [this] is going to be my first year, so it's going to be [a] little odd to be a part of the conversation just because [it’s] so new, but I mean we're going to have Native American representation, we have the cultural representation, we’re going to have athletics, we're going to have all these different types of organizations coming in together.
I don't see any disagreement happening in this realm. I believe in our students a lot, especially the ones who are being elected to these positions to actually do the right things in these cases and not stir up anything, or disagree with one another, which is going to be a good thing. I think using the House of Reps in the best way possible, using their influence as well, their ideas, concepts even and then even working with like the Senate, like all these different types of branches working together — especially the organizations [and] departments within ASUA — I think that would be a very big stepping stone.
DW: When it comes to electing representatives, are they going to be appointed by whoever is already in charge of their organization or are the organizations individually going to elect and send representatives?
NV: Yeah, I think what they're going to do — if I remember correctly — is, for example, the cultural centers, they're going to put up applications and stuff and then those types of organizations and departments, depending on who is actually the head of the organization, are going to find out who's best fit to represent their organization.
DW: Will members receive any sort of payment for being part of the House of Representatives?
NV: I really hope they're going to be paid for. If they’re not, that definitely needs to be a topic of the conversation, especially in that area of influence and spending that time and effort, but I'm going to optimistically hope that they are. Knowing the university, I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't.
DW: How will clubs work differently this year? Will they work differently with the pandemic?
NV: [Last year] was just very odd, but clubs/organizations couldn't meet with one another. If they did, they had to — if there were more than like 15 people or something — they had to reach out to the [COVID-19] response team to get approval and everything. They couldn't rent out any rooms. But from what I've heard, this year … they're going to be back on campus. They're going to be able to meet in person, I know the Senate's going to be meeting in person.
The [UA and the COVID-19 response team] are still talking about what their plans are for the fall and it kind of gets me worried just because I haven't heard anything. My biggest concern is that the delta variant certainly spiked up again [and] that not enough students [are] going to be vaccinated, which I could go on and on about mandatory vaccines on campus. That could be a whole hour conversation.
But who knows, maybe we're back online, hopefully not, but I haven't heard anything and they’re not sounding positive that we're going to be back on campus. Originally, they were like, “oh yeah we'll be back on campus, everything's going to resume in the fall,” but obviously we’ve heard these types of statements before, and especially with the uncertainty I’m like, “huh?” Clubs and organizations, if everything is working out to the plan, if the [UA] administrators are saying what is going to happen in the fall is correct, they're probably going to resume right back to normal, I think, that obviously the biggest change, I think, with clubs and organization, maybe, will be the mandatory masks indoors, so if they do meet, they’re going to have to wear masks inside.
DW: Will clubs be allowed to mandate vaccination?
NV: I would say yes, and the only reason why I would say yes, is because I feel like some clubs and organizations have their own requirements. If you are joining [a] club, and you have to pay a $10 fee, you’re agreeing to those dues.
DW: Does ASUA intend to revitalize campus life in any other ways post-pandemic now that people are kind of coming back perhaps wanting to get into the social life?
NV: I believe our club fair is going to be coming up this upcoming fall [on Aug. 31], but I think in-person as well. I highly recommend people to start registering themselves on Campus Groups with the new club and organization software that I actually worked on implementing last year and is super cool compared to [the previous version].
I mean again, if everything is looking good again, we're hoping for a Bear Down music festival, we're hoping for the Spring Fling — the normal things that I feel like are almost vital to be a part of [the community]. I remember my freshman year going to the Spring Fling, going to Bear Down music festival where you can meet a ton of people, socializing. I think it's a very big part and if things are on track with the way they are, I think that ASUA [has] a lot of potential to get a lot of it implemented.
We have ZonaZoo starting to come back up and [Wildcat Events Board]. We're going to be back in person, so ZonaZoo is going to be strong. We just hired a new ZonaZoo director, she's very, very experienced so there's going to be a lot of events. I feel like it's going to go back to normal, but that feeling of normal is going to be very, very different from what we're used to.
DW: One of the big things that the pandemic emphasized was food insecurity. A Daily Wildcat article published back in April, basically stated that food insecurity doubled amongst UA students. How does ASUA intend to kind of help mitigate this problem?
NV: Because one of my biggest issues on campus has always been clothing and food insecurity on campus, one of the ideas that I was thinking about, [is] obviously food insecurity [is a] very, very big issue, and I think [food insecurity] could very easily be solved by [the UA], but I think [the UA]’s priorities are misaligned. That's not coming from the student body president, it's coming from just Noah, aside from his position. I think that the university [has] definitely [steered] clear of actually aiding their students in a way, but one idea that I had was working with Res Life. If you're written up in a dorm or, if sometimes you get fined, if you are violating any of the rules, or like misconduct, and sometimes they'll charge you 15, 20 something dollars. Rather than paying that $15, you should bring in food as an alternative. I think that that could probably help as well. Also, I think they would even be beneficial to the students as well, obviously, because they're getting food and as well, on the other side of the token, these students breaking the rules don't necessarily feel like they're just absolutely not attached with these fines, almost like a burden, [rather than saying], “Okay, I get why I broke the rule, that I understand I did break the rules, I'm going to give food I'm not just passing out money, I'm actually giving it to a good cause at the same time.” One thing that Coronado Residence Hall is currently doing is they have a mini little, campus pantry inside their lobby. People can walk up, they can grab the stuff they need, they don't have to answer any questions. So, if they do have food insecurities, [they] don't have to write anything down, they just go see what's on the table, grab it and walk away. If a lot of dorms did the same thing, maybe they could implement their own pantries as well with [that option] instead of the fines, they get the canned foods or get the food that could be used for that food insecurity.
DW: What do you intend to use your face time with President Dr. Robert C. Robbins to do?
NV: I already had a meeting with him before and I talked to him about finding different avenues of revenue for CAPS. I'm a very big proponent for mental health. Obviously, there's been all the stuff that's happened this past year, with the pandemic, so a lot of people have lost and it's been unfortunate and sad, especially when you see how much money the university gets, and they can increase [funds for] stuff. I know some students who’ve been on the waitlist to see a CAPS psychologist in like three weeks or something. That's ridiculous, there's no reason why you [should] have to wait three weeks to meet with somebody.
But you look over it, you see athletics — obviously athletics is different — but you see a lot of these departments just getting a lot of money and you're like, “Okay, so where are the priorities at the universities when [there are] kids that are struggling every single day on their campus when the whole reason why [the] university is functioning is because of the students?” So, I’ve brought up these types of conversations, and obviously I get hit with by administrators a lot of time [with], “Well no, it's not that easy, there's red tape, there are systems put in place, we can't just move money around,” like that's the issue.
I don't think the issue can be solved by myself, I think the issue can start getting traction if more people start different types of organizations, cultural centers. And let's just say the individuals on campus actually start realizing the larger problem at hand. I think at this point we're just accepting a lot of these issues at hand and we're saying that's just the way university runs. I think that’s the most dangerous part about it — mentality, I should say. Students on campus [need] to really re-prioritize. I think a lot of administrators have lost their touch with students and you can see that, when you hop in every single meeting mostly run by faculty, so it's probably not the answer that you want, but that's just how it is.
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