At Bryant, a student-centric approach is at the heart of everything the University does. As the community pivots to an “online campus” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding how this shift affects students is an important part of maintaining the standard of excellence the University is known for. University Student Government (USG) plays an important role in making the transition a success.
“Our job in student government is to maximize the experience of every student attending Bryant,” says Via Valenti ’21, USG President. “At a time like this, students want to be heard, and it’s our job to help give them a voice.”
Listening and adapting
Student government is an important channel of communication between the student body and the University faculty and administration. Elected to represent their fellow students, the members work to understand their needs and concerns to effect positive change on campus. Right now, this is more important than ever, Valenti says.
“The information and student perspectives that the USG is providing help us better understand how we can make sure that every Bryant student has what they need to excel.”
“I think nobody really knew what to expect. It was a completely new way of learning and adapting to life,” says Valenti of the shift to online learning. “This is a situation that no other Bryant students have dealt with before.” By working together and listening to each other, she says, Bryant creates a better environment for everyone.
The USG, says Valenti, works in close communication with the University, including Provost Glenn Sulmasy, JD, LLM; and Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Inge-Lise Ameer, EdD, to make sure Bryant’s administration has a full understanding of students’ perspectives and the student experience. “It’s a learning period for everyone,” Valenti observes. “The administration reached out to us because we’re close to our fellow students and asked us to forward any concerns or comments we receive.”
A wide net
“Getting feedback from Bryant students is extremely important to us as we want to ensure that we’re providing an educational and student life experience that both meets their needs and exceeds their expectations,” says Ameer. “The information and student perspectives that the USG is providing help us better understand how we can make sure that every Bryant student has what they need to excel.”
“We’re trying to be as transparent and communicative as possible to students to make sure that everyone is as informed as possible.”
With more than 40 members, Valenti notes, the USG can cover a lot of ground and be a presence in a wide range of classes, student groups and organizations. That closeness makes them an important conduit for both receiving and sharing information. “In addition to making ourselves available during class sessions, people have been connecting with us through Instagram DMs and Facebook messages,” she says, “and we’re keeping students updated via social media.”
“Through connecting with and advocating for students, the Bryant University Student Government is providing important insight into what’s going on,” says Valenti, who notes the administration has been responsive and eager to learn more about how students are adapting to the online campus experience. “We’re trying to be as transparent and communicative as possible to students,” she says, “to make sure that everyone is as informed as possible.”
This semester, the USG held online elections for the first time. The strong voter turnout, Valenti says, speaks highly of Bryant’s community. “The fact that so many students, even with so much going on in their lives, showed up to vote for their representatives means something,” she says.
“I have never been more proud of the entire Bryant community. They’ve taken something that they weren't expecting and they’re working to make the most of it."
“I think that it speaks to the overall culture of Bryant in that the students here are very active in their education and active in campus life,” she notes. “They want to be active in their learning experience and making sure they're getting the most out of their college.”
As the new officers take office in mid-April, she says, they’ll have a wide network of support provided by both current and former representatives to ensure they can continue the USG’s work of helping to provide students with the education they deserve.
As Valenti reflects on a highly unusual semester, her biggest takeaway is how impressed she is with her fellow students. “I have never been more proud of the entire Bryant community,” Valenti says. “They’ve taken something that they weren't expecting and they’re working to make the most of it. Despite the turmoil and the changes, they’re proving to themselves and to everyone that they’re resilient.
“I think every one of us is rising to the challenge.”