Letter to the Editor: A farewell from the 2019-2020 student body presidency


VP of Student Relations Gabe Martinez, President AnnaMarie Barnes, and VP of University Relations Latifa Yaqoobi (Courtesy of Barnes Ticket)


Dear University of Utah Community,

Since our administration took office last April, we have worked diligently to ensure that the Associated Students of the University of Utah is the champion students deserve. Prioritizing advocacy, focusing on student wellness and building student involvement formed the basis of our administration. However, beyond the aspirations of our campaign platform, we strove to make structural changes to our campus community that would affect an entire generation of U grads.

Improving ASUU and developing student government as a welcoming community was of vital importance to us. Having all been involved with ASUU in various ways throughout the years, we experienced first-hand many of its structural flaws. We continued the work that our predecessors began last year, first by breaking-down ASUU culture and then trying to rebuild it from the ground up by placing student advocacy at the forefront of every leadership position, program and initiative.

We worked to implement a culture of accountability and transparency — identifying and correcting significant institutional problems of accessibility and inequity. As a presidency, we empowered our directors, cabinet and association with increased organizational infrastructure and managerial support. Recognizing that a critical part of our role was creating opportunities for others to lead and providing the tools for their success, we streamlined communication, implemented training and encouraged our directors to think about long-term goals. Across branches, we established a resilient community through leadership retreats, promoting self-care as well as community-care. It was our goal to make ASUU a place where students can participate in work worth doing as well as create life-long relationships.

ASUU’s role on campus is first and foremost that of the conduit of communication between students and administrators. We were focused on providing increased student access to university leadership, and reassessed direct lines of communication students had with administration. As a result, we revitalized the Student Commission and recreated the Student Leadership Council. We also worked to solidify formal ways for student involvement in bureaucratic university processes like hiring committees and policy changes.

By surveying students and collecting feedback from offices and departments, we routinely assessed our own administration’s accessibility. We made data-informed decisions about our advocacy efforts that were cognizant of benchmarking and best practices. We hosted additional in-person forums, sent out more regular newsletters and articles, and made ourselves consistently available for interviews, prioritizing collaboration with on-campus media outlets. We built relationships with the Daily Utah Chronicle, making it a point to increase ASUU awareness throughout the student body. We bolstered ASUU’s visibility as a result of our transparency and rebuilt trust with the student body due to our honesty and eagerness to be held accountable. Even as we prepare to leave office, we are conducting a transparency audit to find additional ways to increase access, build accountability and uphold the student voice.

A cornerstone of our administration was campus safety. At a time when students feel uneasy about safety and frustrated with the university’s actions, we listened and engaged with them authentically on this issue. We gathered feedback from hundreds of students and relentlessly communicated their experiences to administrators. As members of the Campus Safety Taskforce, we use the student perspective to help guide and implement dozens of campus safety improvements regarding transportation and intimate partner violence.

Week after week, we led critical conversations with university administrators about campus safety, setting a new standard for leadership on this issue. We challenged campus rape-culture, working to streamline reporting procedures and increase victim-survivor advocates. We fought for a culture of support for victims of sexual and domestic violence at the U to be built upon by future ASUU leaders. We transformed the relationship between ASUU and UPD, creating clear lines of communication and collaboration while holding officers accountable for student safety. We helped select the first-ever Chief Safety Officer and new Chief of Police, and contributed to interviews with police officer candidates and other public safety and emergency management personnel.

We led the student engagement aspect of the first-ever SafeU Month, involving students through forums, workshops on domestic violence and bystander intervention training. Lastly, our Presidency worked with campus leaders to award the 2020 Class Gift to the U’s new Center for Violence Prevention that will open during Summer 2020. The Center for Violence Prevention, in conjunction with ASUU, will directly engage students in combatting violence and hatred at our university and other campuses throughout the nation.

It was paramount to make ASUU more representative of the student body it serves and centralize principles of social justice. This year, all branches of ASUU had a majority of women, and saw higher participation among students of color, graduate students and international students. We built relationships with the Dream Center through events like #IStandWithImmigrants and by securing funding to ensure that students can hold leadership positions in ASUU, regardless of documentation or citizenship status – a remarkable feat.

We supported resource centers on campus through sponsorships for International Night, the Black Student Union Legacy Banquet and MLK Week 2020. As a non-Greek affiliated presidency, we made it a priority to reach students who were non-traditional or less involved in the campus community. We integrated them into our organization, using their experiences to inform our advocacy. We also successfully advocated against bills during the 2020 Utah Legislative Session, which would have made it easier to perpetrate hate speech on campus.

We have each benefitted greatly by engaging in ASUU’s opportunities, and so removing barriers to student involvement was vital for our administration. During the summer, we switched to “Campus Connect,” an all-new online involvement platform purchased by ASUU and facilitated through the Department of Student Leadership and Involvement. After the success of Campus Connect, we worked to create a student fee to support its funding in perpetuity. We also worked with the Student Commission to produce plans for a mandatory first-year engagement course to help new students to find community, access resources and create their optimum college experience. In addition to creating tools, we collaborated with campus partners such as UPC, RHA, the Dream Center and the Center for Student Wellness. Most notably, we launched a collaborative late-night programming series known as U-Nights to foster community engagement. We invested in student organizations, increasing the Assembly and Senate budgets by $30,000 and hosting a class-link design competition, letting the Class of 2020 make their mark on university history.

We worked closely with administration to add infrastructure and transparency to the Student Fee Board and student fee proposal process. We fought to ensure that there will be no increase in student fees for the upcoming fiscal year, a rare and historic accomplishment. We cut existing student fees and carefully evaluated new fee proposals through the lens of access and affordability. We also identified opportunities to restructure existing fees, overhauling the Learning Abroad Fee to increase funding for need-based learning abroad scholarships. We worked to eliminate the Collegiate Readership Fee and formed a plan to more cost-effectively administer readership services. Lastly, we increased funding to the School Life Scholarship Fund and invested almost 10% more of our annual budget in childcare for student parents than ASUU has in recent years.

Continuing ASUU’s incredible work on student wellness, our presidency collaborated with the Counseling Center and the Center for Student Wellness to break down barriers to accessing care. We funded additional STI/HIV testing clinics and encouraged movement toward online mental health services – an opportunity we hope to see progress over the coming years. We helped educate ASUU leaders and students on wellness through programs such as intervening with distressed students workshops, the Red Flag Project, mandatory reporter training and Escalation Workshops in conjunction with the One Love Foundation.

Additionally, we collaborated with the Feed U Pantry to fight food insecurity on campus and provide thousands of units of menstruation products for students. As a presidency, we were honored to be involved in the Huntsman Mental Health Institute announcement, which will provide $150 million to the university for research on and access to mental health services. Lastly, in response to COVID-19, we worked with the ASUU Legislative Branch to create a Relief Fund supplying $140,000 in direct financial aid to students in the form of emergency grants, food and hygiene supplies (as well as access to online course support).

Among the success and the failures we experienced this year, we feel our most significant achievement was the time spent advocating for the incredible students at the University of Utah.

As our administration comes to a close, we express sincere gratitude to those who supported, challenged and led with us this year. We want to thank our Executive Cabinet, our ASUU leaders, our campus partners, and, most of all, the student body. Thank you for entrusting our presidency with the sacred honor of advocating for you this year. You have served us more than we ever could have hoped to have served you.

Now and forever, go Utah.


AnnaMarie Barnes, Student Body President 2019-2020

Latifa Yaqoobi, Vice President of University Relations 2019-2020

Gabe Martinez, Vice President of Student Relations 2019-2020

Amanda Carrasco, Chief of Staff 2019-2020