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3 Years of SA In Review: Onwenu, Engles and Wickerson speak on progress, achievements

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By Brian Lin     2/25/20 11:45pm

The end of the Student Association election season on Tuesday marked a new term for the SA. We asked the last three presidents to speak, in their own words, on the most prominent SA accomplishments from the past three years. In the administrations of former SA presidents Justin Onwenu, Ariana Engles and Grace Wickerson, the SA’s achievements span the creation of the Rice Harvey Action Team to the formation of the Financial Accessibility Working Group. 

Kristen Ernst, associate director of student engagement, said the SA serves as amplifier of student voices.  

“If a student has a particular priority, utilizing the SA is a great way to make sure that they are connected to the resources they need to help make that idea or concern see through to fruition,” Ernst said. 



2017-2018 

In August 2017, when Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston and flooded various parts of the city, over 1,700 students volunteered as part of the Rice Harvey Action Team to support recovery efforts. 

Onwenu, the 2017-2018 SA president, said the greatest challenges in organizing R-HAT were the logistical hurdles of mobilizing 1,700 volunteers and the urgent nature of the recovery efforts.  

“I think the challenge was the sheer scale of what we built in a day or two,” Onwenu (Sid Richardson College ’18) said. “We sent over 1,700 students, faculty and staff all across the city in the drop of a hat, so the logistics and speed of that was certainly a big undertaking.” 

During Onwenu’s term, the SA Senate pushed for the on-campus meal plan to include Saturday dinners at North and Seibel serveries in an effort to reduce financial strain for students. 

Onwenu’s term also saw the beginning of student access to the New York Times, which is currently being funded by the residential colleges, and to the Wall Street Journal, which is funded by Fondren Library.

2018-2019 

In March 2018, the SA voted to extend the Undocumented Student Support Services Task Force, which created UndocuAlly Trainings to reduce barriers faced by undocumented students, according to Engles, the 2018-2019 SA president.

UndocuAlly Training, which Engles said helps students and staff improve their literacy of legal terms and cultural issues surrounding immigration, was most recently offered November 2019

Engles also led the creation of the Undocumented Student Support Services working group to launch daca.rice.edu, a website that gathers campus resources and Frequently Asked Questions by undocumented or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students. 

During Engles’ term, the SA voted to approve the Improving African Presence in Academia Task Force, which in October last year created the Center for African and African American Studies within the School of Humanities, Engles said. As of October, the CAAAS is working to expand the African Studies minor into an African and African American Studies minor by offering more classes across interdisciplinary fields. 

“The Increasing African Presence in Academia [Task Force] did an excellent job in gauging campuswide interest in African and diasporic studies,” Engles said. “[It] raised several important questions about academic privileging of some subjects over others.”

2019 – 2020 

One accomplishment of the SA this year was the creation of the Financial Accessibility Working Group, which produced a 26-page report voicing improvements that could be made to assist first-generation and low-income students, according to Wickerson, the SA president for the 2019-2020 term.  

This year, the SA also collaborated to create the Accessibility and Opportunity Portal, which aggregates funding opportunities around campus into one website. 

On the website, students can apply for funding for career attire, funding to address food insecurity and funding from the Residential College Accessibility Fund to subsidize costs for college merchandise and events. 

The SA this year has also been able to lower the cost of sexually transmitted infection testing at the campus health center, reducing the cost of a test from $100 initially to $46, according to Wickerson. In 2018, they co-led a task force that aimed to reduce the cost of STI testing, and the recent Survey of All Students found that the optimal price students would pay for an STI test was $25 dollars, Wickerson said.  

In April 2019, the SA held a special election to vote on an amendment that would allow any member of the undergraduate student body to sponsor legislation, an idea originally proposed by former parliamentarian Freddy Cavallaro. Before this amendment was passed, legislation had to be co-sponsored by a voting member in the SA Senate, which are college senators and presidents. 

“Any undergraduate student can propose legislation to the Senate,” Wickerson said. “And so that opened a door for people regardless of whether they hold status in the SA to propose legislation, and we’ve actually gotten to see that recently with the refugee legislation that’s out and being voted on in the Senate this Monday.” 



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