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Pdg Muhamiriza chosen as new Student Body Vice President

Mon, 2017-02-13 16:00

By: Julie Pike, Staff Writer

Freshman student and political science major Pdg Muhamiriza will be taking on the role of student body vice president and will work alongside Student Body President Humza Khan. Muhamiriza stated that he was involved with the student senate only two weeks before he came into his new position.

“As soon as the former vice president stepped down and they took a vote, I talked to a few friends among the senate and they thought I fit the criteria,” Muhamiriza said. “The process was relatively quick and easy.”

Muhamiriza is in his second semester at USM. He came to Maine from his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He stated that after his time at USM, he hopes to go to law school in the future and pursue a career in law.

Muhamarizia got involved with student government because it fell into his area of interest and had come into his new role ready with projects he wants to get started. He expressed interest in starting a debate club on campus, and a diversity club as well, which he is working with the chief of staff on the student senate to create.

The student senate has been faced difficult problems over the past year, but Muhamiriza believes only the negatives were being focused on, and the good work the senate was doing was being cast aside.

“People usually don’t notice the good, they only notice the bad,” he stated. “When negative things happened in the senate, people assumed they weren’t doing a good job. But when the senators are doing a good job, people don’t talk about it.”

As far as how the student senate can improve, Muhamiriza has his own ideas to bring to the table.

“I’m hoping to build an atmosphere of trust among students, so that we can try to be prepared in advance of whatever might happen in the future,” Muhamiriza stated. “In the last month and in the last year there was a lot going on and people didn’t expect that sort of chaos to happen. We should try to avoid that in advance and try to work with every group, despite any differing opinions.”

Muhamiriza knew that taking on the position of student body vice president came with important responsibilities.

“You need to be able to listen to people’s thoughts and try to be as transparent as possible,” Muhamiriza said. “You need to be loyal to the president and not take the job only for the pay but as someone who is willing to bring something to the table.”

Muhamiriza expressed a desire to be committed to his job, and he believes that is one of the biggest qualities needed to be a part of student government.

“It’s all about commitment, if I can do my job right and try to be as innovative and creative as possible, I think that will be my contribution to the senate,” he stated.

Muhamirzia stated that as far as he knew the student senate acted in a constitutional manner when they dismissed the last student body vice president, Madison Raymond.

“They did whatever they did in a constitutional way and that’s all there was. If it was done right and constitutionally that’s all that matters,” Muhamiriza said.

For now, Muhamiriza is focusing on the future and on putting time and effort into his role as student body vice president.

President Cummings addresses the Student Senate on Lockman: “You have a choice”

Mon, 2017-02-13 15:59

By: Julie Pike, Staff Writer

President Glenn Cummings was a guest speaker at the student senate meeting on Friday, Feb. 10. He spoke to the senators about the upcoming event at USM, a talk by Maine Rep. Lawrence Lockman titled Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis.

Students at USM have pushed for the event to be cancelled in a Facebook post by the group Students of #USMfuture. Cummings decided not to cancel the event and stated that he doesn’t want the administration dictating what students can and can’t hear.

Cummings explained that Lockman has every right to speak at USM, as the First Amendment allows him to do so. He was invited to speak on campus by the student organization Young Americans for Freedom.

“Larry Lockman is a mosquito,” Cummings stated. “He’s just there to irritate us and see if we will act like he acts.”

In his conversation with the student senate, Cummings thanked the senators for handling the issue well.

“I want to recognize that you guys are classy people,” Cummings stated. “You guys understand why freedom of speech makes a difference and you stood by your decision to not shut this down.”

Cummings focused on the rights outlined in the First Amendment during his discussion with the student senate.

“Welcome to the greatest country on earth, you have the right to act exactly like Rep. Lockman,” Cummings said. “Along with that you also have the choice not to.”

Student Senator Aaron Pierce brought up concerns about having extra security at the event. On Feb. 1, a violent protest broke out at the University of California, Berkeley, where Milo Yannopoulos was scheduled to speak. Yannopoulos is a right-wing commentator who writes for Breitbart News. The protests caused $100,000 worth of damages.

Cummings stated that the university will be increasing the amount of police officers at the event as well as having other police on call. Cummings spoke to Portland Chief of Police Michael Sauschuck about having police close to the campus during the event.

Cummings made it clear at the meeting that if Lockman suggests violence or harassment in his talk, the event will be immediately shut down and he will be taken away. Cummings stated that it goes the other way too, however, and if people come into Lockman’s lecture and conduct themselves in such a way as to silence Lockman, they will face the same consequences.

“He is testing you, the students, that’s what this is about,” Cummings stated. “He knows he’s got an ignorant agenda. Nobody thinks he’s got any great wisdom to add to the world. He just wants to provoke you. He wants to provoke people to make himself look better.”

Members of the student senate had their own thoughts to add about the upcoming event and what the role of the student senate is during these situations.

“This is not what we agree with and this is not what we support, but by going to this event and possibly provoking violence, we’re not getting anything done,” stated Senator Shaman Kirkland. “If we were to have students not come to the event or to protest it, he would look like the person that he is, a person that doesn’t have power and a person that’s just trying to disrupt the university.”

Kirkland proposed the idea that Cummings should suggest that students not attend the event in a Monday Missives email. Cummings responseded that his job is to remain unbiased, but if there was an alternative event presented by a student organization, he stated that he would be happy to mention it.

“I’d love to wake up on Friday morning to the headline ‘Larry Came, No One Showed,’” Cummings said.

While Cummings’ expressed his stance on the matter, he ultimately left it up to the student senate to decide how they will move forward. He reiterated the fact that everyone has their right to freedom of speech.

“We don’t have the right to preach violence or the right to shut him down,” Cummings said. “He does get the chance to say his words and we cannot shut him down. However, you have the right to not participate.”

The overall agreement of the student senate was to not take a side. Student Senator Pierce stated that the student senate should remain supportive of every student.

“We are supposed to appear impartial no matter what and allow everybody the right to speak,” stated Senator Dylan Reynolds, who was inducted at the meeting as the Assistant to the Student Body Vice President.

Lockman’s talk will take place on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Wishcamper Center. President Cummings and the student senate hope the event will be peaceful.

President Cummings talks openly about issues with SGA: His thoughts on discrimination, President Trump, and campus gossip

Mon, 2017-02-06 12:56

By Krysteana Scribner, Editor-in-chief

What can you tell me about Madison’s decision to tell the general public about your confidential conversation?

Humza and Madison came to me to talk about the state budget. They wanted to know if they could be helpful for supporting a strong budget request, and it was terrific. In the context of that, there is a little piece of background information, and I wanted them to be confidential but make them aware. I said, “don’t even talk about it on Facebook,” because they had come to me with their own time and effort and I trusted them with it.

I was very clear. The nature of that information was more politicized by the individual who heard it. It wasn’t political in the way Madison was hearing it. It was a different issue how other states might interpret opposed to anything related to gender equity. Within a very short amount of time, maybe hours, Madison didn’t feel like they couldn’t honor that.

Did Governor Lepage withhold funding from the UMaine system because of LGBTQ discrimination?

It looks like he didn’t actually do that.

What was the reason that you chose to keep this confidential statement secret?

Because I was keeping someone else’s confidential information.

Madison claims they were demoted because of LGBTQ discrimination and stated that the administration played a part in this. Is that true?

I had no idea they had been removed from their position until I was contacted by the Free Press, actually. I think it’s totally inappropriate for the University to have any involvement to decide whether a senator should stay on the senate. It is a decision that should be on the senate. I do not have the jurisdiction. They represent the student body, so it is inappropriate for the administration. I was disappointed in Madison, I can’t deny that, but I had made it clear that I wanted to continue to meet with the both of them.

What is your thought on the political climate at Universities in today’s day and age?

Universities are being asked to live up to their highest ideals because they are being challenged – such as freedom of expression, diversity, our commitment to the students we represent and the community. The present political climate puts some of our students in danger of things like deportation, in danger of being denied an education and there is a role for us in the university to express their concerns.

At the same time, we are a place of freedom of expression, so there are people who don’t necessarily agree with the president and policies and yet there are individuals who strongly do. Both of those have to be held to the rights of free speech and free expression – and academic expression as well, that allows them to exist within the dialogue, the interaction of the university.

I had heard that USM had considered the possibility of deeming itself a sanctuary school. If this is true, how would the university go about this and what steps need to be taken to make that happen?

We looked very carefully at sanctuary, but that standard is something outside our jurisdiction, because it implies that we can protect students from things we absolutely, legally cannot do. So, many universities have said there is a better way to do this. We talk about it as supporting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), but we have not made a formal vote on that – the Board of Trustees is still deciding where to go with that I felt obligated to lay out a very clear affirmation of our core values; inclusion, diversity, respect for all, and the sanctity of education. That is the approach web are taking.

Can faculty and staff speak openly to the press without fear of repercussion?

Of course, I would hope people don’t feel that way. Faculty members are held to a very important standards of intellectual accountability because they have to be peer reviewed, and their thoughts and views have to be tested in the marketplace of ideas and their legitimacy. The university has a deep obligation to protect their freedom. There are lines that cannot be crossed, not in the case of faculty, but if one advocates for violence and physical harm to people that no one would want to cross. If you are perceived to insight violence, those behaviors and actions cannot be acceptable. Barring that, we want this free exchange of ideas.

 

What are your thoughts on the recent discrimination cases that have come to light over the past 6-8 months at USM? How does our University handle these kinds of situations? How do you determine what is considered as a hate crime?

We have a student conduct review to determine our course of action. Or, in the instance of harassment in the fall, we sent it directly to the District Attorney’s office, because we believed  that it had the potential to be tried as a hate crime. We have the ability to do both. We have pretty strong procedures, but we need to get stronger in training and understanding. Lots of folks on the university level, all of us quite frankly, need to learn more about the complexities of these issues. Just like you noted, where does the line cross between hate crimes and harassment? There may be ambiguity in some cases, but we will always have accountability for those students or community members who have experiences such as these.

There have been various instances of hate crimes both from students within the multicultural center harassing Caucasian students and students from the multicultural center experiencing discrimination on campus. What do you believe all of this aggressive behavior is born from?

I think some of the responses are understandable, because when you are threatened, your life is threatened, it is very difficult to find those better angels of our nature and respond in a strong but still respectful way and civil way. It’s very hard, we could easily get caught up in righteous rage, and it is a high standard. What we are seeing in these attacks are the seeming cultural or political permission based on what they’re seeing on TV and perhaps even in tweets. Social media becomes a place to engage in hateful acts, and perhaps not even see them as hateful acts, but rather as norms of the new world order, so to speak.

Controversial conservative speaker to visit Portland campus

Mon, 2017-02-06 12:46

By Johnna Ossie, News Editor

On January 25, 2017, Paul Lepage held the first town hall meeting of the year at Biddeford Middle School, consequently it was also the first town hall meeting since the governor made “racially charged” remarks about people of color coming to Maine to deal drugs. An article written by Moshe Marvit from The Century Foundation said it best: “a well informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy.” So in order to inform myself, I layered up in warm clothes and drove out to the meeting.

Lepage took the first few minutes of the meeting to discuss his goals with the new budget. He stated that he wants to “do no harm” with the proposal, and states that two of the referenda that were on the ballot this past election are doing just the opposite.

The governor stated that the new minimum wage was not helping, but hurting the state. He stated that 358,000 elderly people, who live on fixed incomes, that don’t get an increase in payments, are now facing an increase in their cost of living, because businesses are now having to pay their employees nine dollars an hour instead of seven-fifty. Kids were another concern of his, mentioning that businesses would be less likely to hire children that don’t have any developed work skills. In December, Lepage had stated that the Department of Labor would stall the legislation three weeks past the original date it was supposed to go into effect. During the question portion, a constituent voiced her concerns about it, stating that she thought it was offensive that the governor implied that Maine people were “too stupid” to vote the right way. The governor channelled his inner Donald Trump, interrupting the woman as she asked the governor to respect the will of Maine voters. “Government officials should not be in the business of cherry picking which election results to follow.” says Justin Chenette-D Saco, a senator in the legislature. Like myself, he believes that the voting process should be respected by all members of government, regardless of whether they approve of the results.

       Donna Bailey-D Saco also explains that when a government official disagrees with what the people voted for, they need to offer a solution and evidence, of their wishes being better than what the people voted for, and that no one, including the governor had done so. “When the people pass a referendum, as they did with the minimum wage referendum, anyone who proposes going against that mandate, against the unequivocal will of the people, has a heavy burden to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that their idea is better than the people’s law. I have not heard any idea, including the Governor’s, that has risen to that level. Default always goes to the people.”

Lepage also went after question two, calling the 3% surcharge a “misnomer” and “a bill of goods that was sold to the Maine people(and it was) totally erroneous.” He went on to say that there was “so much money for education that we don’t know where to spend it.” The problem he stated was that the money doesn’t go towards classrooms or teachers , but to administration and to some extent, union bosses. He lamented that we have some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, but as one constituent pointed out later on, his new budget eliminates cost of living increases in the pensions of retired public servants, of which teachers fall under.

Lepage was also very critical of news media, implying that the media is dishonest and unreliable by saying to one constituent “you must be reading newspapers sir” after the gentlemen asked why the governor opposed a new casino being built in Maine. None of this is surprising to me, since during the election season, the governor stated that he and Donald Trump are “cut from the same cloth”, and like his counterpart, he’s attempted time and time again to discredit the media when they don’t report what he wants them to.

     After the meeting finished, I caught up with Sarah Rawlings, a graduate of the Public Policy and Management program at the Muskie School of Public Service, who, despite being interrupted by the governor, his press secretary, and members of the audience, gave a powerful statement about Lepage’s refusal to expand MaineCare, an action, or, rather inaction, that would cut over 20,000 of the state’s most vulnerable population from the program, while leaving some out in the cold when it comes to subsidies for purchasing insurance under the ACA. Lepage’s response was that when the minimum wage passes, that those people would be eligible for subsidies. According to the proposed budget, a family of three could earn no more than 40% of the federal poverty line to qualify for MaineCare. To see the breakdown in numbers: the federal poverty level for a family of three is $20,160/year. Because of Lepage’s budget, said family could earn no more than $8,064/year. I’ll say it again. NO MORE than $8064/year. Rawlings said it best. “This is insanity”.

    Throughout the meeting, Lepage, and members of his staff, admonished members of the audience for being “disrespectful”. But one of the traits that his supporters love about him is that he “tells it like it is”, it’s evident that he doesn’t value the same trait in his constituents. Even though the meeting went off the rails pretty fast, I hope to go to more, and at best, get my own questions answered, or at least watch another hilarious train wreck.

     The governor’s office declined to comment.

Young Americans for Freedom? Conservative students on campus fear backlash for holding beliefs that contradict Liberal values

Mon, 2017-02-06 12:43

By Sarah Tewksbury, Free Press Staff

On January 25, 2017, Paul Lepage held the first town hall meeting of the year at Biddeford Middle School, consequently it was also the first town hall meeting since the governor made “racially charged” remarks about people of color coming to Maine to deal drugs. An article written by Moshe Marvit from The Century Foundation said it best: “a well informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy.” So in order to inform myself, I layered up in warm clothes and drove out to the meeting.

Lepage took the first few minutes of the meeting to discuss his goals with the new budget. He stated that he wants to “do no harm” with the proposal, and states that two of the referenda that were on the ballot this past election are doing just the opposite.

The governor stated that the new minimum wage was not helping, but hurting the state. He stated that 358,000 elderly people, who live on fixed incomes, that don’t get an increase in payments, are now facing an increase in their cost of living, because businesses are now having to pay their employees nine dollars an hour instead of seven-fifty. Kids were another concern of his, mentioning that businesses would be less likely to hire children that don’t have any developed work skills. In December, Lepage had stated that the Department of Labor would stall the legislation three weeks past the original date it was supposed to go into effect. During the question portion, a constituent voiced her concerns about it, stating that she thought it was offensive that the governor implied that Maine people were “too stupid” to vote the right way. The governor channelled his inner Donald Trump, interrupting the woman as she asked the governor to respect the will of Maine voters. “Government officials should not be in the business of cherry picking which election results to follow.” says Justin Chenette-D Saco, a senator in the legislature. Like myself, he believes that the voting process should be respected by all members of government, regardless of whether they approve of the results.

       Donna Bailey-D Saco also explains that when a government official disagrees with what the people voted for, they need to offer a solution and evidence, of their wishes being better than what the people voted for, and that no one, including the governor had done so. “When the people pass a referendum, as they did with the minimum wage referendum, anyone who proposes going against that mandate, against the unequivocal will of the people, has a heavy burden to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that their idea is better than the people’s law. I have not heard any idea, including the Governor’s, that has risen to that level. Default always goes to the people.”

Lepage also went after question two, calling the 3% surcharge a “misnomer” and “a bill of goods that was sold to the Maine people(and it was) totally erroneous.” He went on to say that there was “so much money for education that we don’t know where to spend it.” The problem he stated was that the money doesn’t go towards classrooms or teachers , but to administration and to some extent, union bosses. He lamented that we have some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, but as one constituent pointed out later on, his new budget eliminates cost of living increases in the pensions of retired public servants, of which teachers fall under.

Lepage was also very critical of news media, implying that the media is dishonest and unreliable by saying to one constituent “you must be reading newspapers sir” after the gentlemen asked why the governor opposed a new casino being built in Maine. None of this is surprising to me, since during the election season, the governor stated that he and Donald Trump are “cut from the same cloth”, and like his counterpart, he’s attempted time and time again to discredit the media when they don’t report what he wants them to.

     After the meeting finished, I caught up with Sarah Rawlings, a graduate of the Public Policy and Management program at the Muskie School of Public Service, who, despite being interrupted by the governor, his press secretary, and members of the audience, gave a powerful statement about Lepage’s refusal to expand MaineCare, an action, or, rather inaction, that would cut over 20,000 of the state’s most vulnerable population from the program, while leaving some out in the cold when it comes to subsidies for purchasing insurance under the ACA. Lepage’s response was that when the minimum wage passes, that those people would be eligible for subsidies. According to the proposed budget, a family of three could earn no more than 40% of the federal poverty line to qualify for MaineCare. To see the breakdown in numbers: the federal poverty level for a family of three is $20,160/year. Because of Lepage’s budget, said family could earn no more than $8,064/year. I’ll say it again. NO MORE than $8064/year. Rawlings said it best. “This is insanity”.

    Throughout the meeting, Lepage, and members of his staff, admonished members of the audience for being “disrespectful”. But one of the traits that his supporters love about him is that he “tells it like it is”, it’s evident that he doesn’t value the same trait in his constituents. Even though the meeting went off the rails pretty fast, I hope to go to more, and at best, get my own questions answered, or at least watch another hilarious train wreck.

     The governor’s office declined to comment.

Sexual assault prevention training on campus

Fri, 2017-02-03 16:25

By: River Plouffe Vogel, Free Press Staff

The University of Southern Maine hopes to provide fair, safe and equal education to all students. Protecting as well educating the student body is one way to do that. USM offers students to take an online sexual assault prevention training course, which is required of all university employees and students.

The online trainings are created by a group called Student Success, which works with the university in creating training modules that best fit the student body. Student Success has access to MaineStreet, where they post who has completed the trainings. Currently, however, there is no penalty if a student does not complete the trainings.

The 2016 Annual Safety Report from the university lists that there were five “forcible sexual offenses” in the residence halls in Gorham in 2015. Sarah Holmes, assistant dean of students and Deputy Title IX coordinator, said the numbers may be higher, as sexual assault often goes unreported.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five college women will be sexually assaulted on campus, as well as one in sixteen for men. Ninety percent of sexual assaults are reported by the victims. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of eighteen.

Sexaul assault’s prevalence and impact on so many college communities has caused controversy at many universities, especially within the last year after a list of those charged with Title IX violations was released by the Department of Education. Many high profile schools, including Harvard College, Harvard Law School and Sarah Lawrence College, made the list.

USM has stated that “all USM community members are required to complete the [sexual assault prevention training] course.” Holmes explained that all incoming first year students, most student athletes, any students involved in fraternity or sorority life and many other student groups receive the sexual assault prevention training  in person.

Holmes went on to explain how the university is continuing to expand its outreach and to open  avenues for dialogue, with the hopes that more students will become active in educating members of the USM community when it comes to speaking out about sexual violence. These trainings are also offered throughout the year by Sarah and other staff members.

The video takes an hour to complete and gives the viewer first-hand accounts of sexual assault, solutions to difficult situations and also includes information and knowledge surrounding the topics of sexual assault. Some of the material can elicit past memories of experiences in the viewer, and the video warns the viewer beforehand if there might be something triggering or too difficult to watch.

Jeffrey Ahlquist, treasurer of the student senate, member of a USM fraternity and an RA on the Gorham campus, explained why he believes it’s important for students to take this training:

“Especially on campus, these issues can be very real to many people and only by educating ourselves can we help to face and solve them. The videos do a great job of giving the student’s real life examples and providing real life solutions.”

NGOs worlwide respond after Trump reinstates Mexico City Policy

Fri, 2017-02-03 16:25

By: Johnna Ossie, Free Press News Editor

Just days into office, newly installed President Donald Trump reinstated a policy that bans international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) receiving U.S. funding from providing abortion services, as well as from providing education or counseling to those seeking their services. The Mexico City Policy, often referred to as the global gag rule, hasn’t been in place since former President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The policy was reinstated almost immediately by President Trump.

Democratic and Republican presidents have been going back and forth over this policy for some time. The Mexico City Policy was first created by Ronald Reagan in 1984, was repealed under the Clinton administration, reinstated by the Bush administration and later repealed by the Obama administration. Outside of party lines, health care workers worry women’s lives are on the line.

Unsafe abortions are one of the top five leading causes of maternal death worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 47,000 women die from complications of unsafe abortions each year. The Mexico City Policy would largely affect at-risk women living in some of the most impoverished parts of the world. Health care providers worldwide say a lack of funding for medical NGOs will affect thousands of international providers and their ability to give adequate care to women in many countries across the globe.

Doctors Without Borders (DWB)/Médecins Sans Frontières issued a statement on Wednesday, saying, “Where safe abortion care is not available, women and girls will put their lives at risk. When left with no safe options, they will resort to abortions carried out by untrained people or in environments lacking minimal medical standards.”

NGOs are unable to use foreign aid to pay for abortions, which has been the case since 1973 with the passing of the Helms amendment. The Mexico City Policy forbids NGOs from using not just international aid but also their own private funding to perform or provide information about abortions if they want to continue to receive U.S. aid. The loss of U.S. aid could threaten the entire organization.

Trump has stated he believes abortion should be banned in the United States. Trump drew criticism after comments made in an interview with Chris Matthews during his campaign, in which he stated that abortion should be banned, and that women should be punished for having abortions.

The Mexico City Policy would largely affect at-risk women living in some of the most impoverished parts of the world.

Thousands of anti-abortions supporters gathered in D.C. on Friday for an annual event called March for Life, which has taken place every year since the legalization of abortion in 1973. Mike Pence became the first sitting vice president to speak at the event in the decades it has been running. Trump tweeted that the anti-choice marchers have his full support, a stark contrast to his tweet regarding the Women’s March on Washington, which garnered the support of millions across the globe, to which he wrote “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”

Emma Donnelly, USM sophomore and president of the student group Huskies for Reproductive Health, believes that the global gag rule will not prevent women from getting abortions.

“The global gag rule will cause more abortions than it will prevent,” she said. “These abortions will be deadly, but if a woman does not want to be pregnant, she will do whatever it takes. I do not think they understand what it means to be forced to carry out a pregnancy for nine months and then give birth. The United States is supposed to be a world leader and protect other nations, yet we seem to be doing the exact opposite.” 

New program homes to connect faculty and staff

Fri, 2017-02-03 16:10

By: Julie Pike, Free Press Staff

The University of Southern Maine will be implementing a program called, “Informing U@USM,” which is set to begin in February. These classes, which are focused on bringing the USM community closer together, will teach a broad range of topics to employees from financial wellness, cultural resources on campus, physical wellness and much more.

The Informing U@USM sessions were developed with the collaboration of the USM Human Resources team and the classified and professional staff senates.

“We had the hope of helping people feel more connected to the community,” stated Ashley Collins, the Director of Prior Learning Assessment. “It gives the faculty and staff at USM the opportunity to network and be well.”

The next several months of sessions are planned ahead with different themes each month. The sessions will be dependent on feedback from faculty and staff. The first events will kick off in February with Financial Wellness month. A full list of the scheduled sessions can be found on the campus human resources services page on the USM website.

“Informing U@USM is really about connecting the USM faculty and staff with one another and with the resources that are available to them,” stated Natalie Jones, Vice President of Human Resources. “A big part of it is about building up the USM community, with a focus on faculty and staff.”

The sessions will take place on a mix of all three campuses at USM. They are available at no cost for faculty and staff.

“This is where faculty and staff can come together and realize that we’ve all got a lot in common and we all have the same investment,” stated Heather Dilios, the Accommodation Coordinator in the Disability Services Center.

“People are coming up with their own topics, they have their own specialities, things they want to get out to the community,” said Meghan Schratz from Human Resources and the coordinator of Informing U@USM. “Faculty and staff at USM are wanting to share their resources with others.”

These sessions are a big step forward for the faculty and staff at USM, who experienced tough layoffs in the last couple years. The goal of the workshops is to rebuild the strong community the employees at USM once had.

“The transitions that USM went through over the past five years sort of naturally dismantled the community,” stated Dilios. “One of our goals was to re-establish that community and start rebuilding those divisions that naturally occurred between staff and faculty.”

Student Government strives for transparency, although confusion around process still stands

Sun, 2017-01-22 20:35

By Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer

The USM Student Government Association (SGA) is determined to hit the ground running and work hard in the coming months of the 2017 semester, though not without challenges. The enthusiasm among the members of the SGA is met with low interest among nonparticipating undergraduate students. Even more, most students who have no ties to the SGA have no knowledge of what the function of the group is—and generally do not care.

Some students on the Portland campus went said they felt that the students who care enough to participate in the SGA should be trusted to do their jobs well and without question. However, without the participation of outsiders, who are not affiliated with the SGA, students allow for a complete allocation of power to a small group of students.

The Student Senate, the Student Body President, the Student Body Vice President and the student cabinet comprise the SGA, whose purpose is to act as a board of representatives for the students of USM and advocate for student issues and interests. Commuters, residents and at-large students sit on the SGA, and currently, there are vacant senate seats that still need to be filled.

In November 2016, scandal rocked the student senate when a student wrote offensive anti-Islamic graffiti on surfaces in the office.  Though the student was not a member of the group, some Student Senators did not react appropriately to the incident and were eventually asked to resign. An emotionally charged meeting followed the incident and cast the SGA in a negative light.

Due to the graffiti incident and the attempt to cover it up by some of the Senators, the question of the SGA’s transparency has been raised. Students and faculty have questioned the openness of the organization and whether or not the SGA engages in practices that exclude members of the USM community. Last minute changes to the location and time of meetings, for instance, in the fall semester made people skeptical about how much non-SGA student participation is truly wanted by current members of the SGA.

In an attempt to make more students aware of meeting times, at the beginning of the 2017 semester, the SGA published a list of meeting dates, times and locations on both its USM affiliated website and Facebook page, USM Student Government.

Another question that has been raised is the availability of information from and access to students affiliated with the SGA. Most of this confusion comes from non-SGA students not being aware of where to find information they are looking for. Not only is information about what the SGA is currently working on readily available on its Facebook page, but also each Student Senator is required to have office hours each week, in an attempt to promote better relations with non-SGA students.

On top of that, Student Body President Muhammad “Humza” Khan is working to ensure that there is a free and steady flow of information to students. Through Facebook and Twitter, Khan communicates about upcoming events and updates. Partnering with WMPG and Gorham Community Cable Access Television Channel, Khan produces bi-weekly updates, called Cabinet’s Corner, on his work as Student Body President and the work of the SGA. Archives and up-to-date recordings can be found easily on both SoundCloud and YouTube.

Though the social media accounts for the SGA are kept up to date and meant to aid the SGA in maintaining transparency, the USM website for the SGA does not provide current information. Documents related to the SGA, such as its constitution, can be found on the website. However, the list of members is outdated and inaccurate. The Google Drive that houses minutes from SGA meetings and documents are also outdated, as minutes can be found for meetings as current as September 2016, but none after that.

 

At the Student Senate’s first meeting of 2017, held on Jan. 20, where attendance from individuals outside of the SGA was nonexistent, The tight group of SGA students worked together to discuss the business of the day and future meetings. Among the issues discussed, the first was the business of interviewing and voting on the admittance of two new senators, Dylan Reynolds and Hamdi Ahmed.

Advocating for her acceptance to the student senate, Ahmed said she wants to be able to “encourage respect among all students, regardless of their backgrounds.” Though she was hopeful for the future, she did bring up why she had not applied to the Senate before: because of a fear of underrepresentation and lack of inclusion among previous Senators.

During the dialogue, current Senator Fatuma Awale spoke to Ahmed’s concerns, saying that just because Ahmed felt comfortable to join the group now “that does not mean that those negative parts of the senate are completely gone.”

Among other issues brought up at the meeting was the Board of Student Organization’s (BSO) participation in the SGA. According to the SGA’s constitution, BSO members are required to appear at student senate meetings. However, they have not been fulfilling that requirement.

During the meeting, Student Body Vice President Madison Raymond commented, “The BSO has failed to show up to a majority of meetings. If they fail to continue to appear, we should consider changing the structure of the constitution because they are technically under us.”

The SGA has a lot of ground to cover to change the USM community’s perception of the organization o, but the members of the organization are prepared to work to dismantle that negative perception and to become more inclusive. Though they encourage other students to attend the meetings and have an active participation in the group, it will be up to students to decide what outside involvement looks like.

The implications of eliminating Obamacare

Sun, 2017-01-22 20:34

Last Friday, President Donald Trump signed his first executive order, which included a set of instructions for the federal government to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. This decision, which was a staple of his 2016 Republican Presidential campaign, has become a large topic of debate and discussion across the United States.

In light of recent events, many USM students stated that the repeal of Obamacare would be a dangerous first move by Trump. Yet, in order to grasp a better understanding of the topic at hand, it is important to look at both the pros and cons of Obamacare, as well as analyze the implications of repealing and replacing it.

Currently, the executive order signed by Trump doesn’t necessarily change anything, but it does shed light on his determination to follow-up on his campaign promise to eliminate what he considers “the burdens of Obamacare.” The current health care law includes various legal requirements and has provided billions of dollars in health coverage to millions of Americans. The dismantling of Obamacare, then, cannot be repealed with an act of Congress.

According to the Obamacare Facts website, which lists the various pros and cons of Obamacare, as well as updates on Trump’s repeal process, tens of millions of uninsured people gained access to affordable and high-quality health insurance because of Obamacare’s expansion.

The site goes on to explain that, while the repeal of Obamacare is certain and the Republican process has already begun, there is still no official replacement on the table for discussion. Last week, Counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway stated that Republicans plan to turn control of Medicaid over to the states as part of the replacement plan, but this decision doesn’t come without controversy.

According to an article by the Bangor Daily News (BDN) published on Jan. 22, the Affordable Care Act has reduced the number of uninsured from 41 million to 29 million, including 22,000 in Maine, since it was passed in 2010. To eliminate this health policy writes BDN staff writer Nick Sambides, which would lead to an annual loss of $300 million dollars per year, and could cause an “utter collapse of the hospital system in Maine” if the replacement isn’t “reasonable.”

“What is [Trump] going to replace Obamacare with, and how?” stated Aaron Nielson, a senior media studies major at USM. “It seems to be  less about the people and more about asserting power and tarnishing the former administration’s legacy.” Nielson further explained that, while the process is complicated, healthcare for the masses seems like a step in the right direction for the United States.

However, Obamacare doesn’t come without its flaws, as many insurance premiums have skyrocketed since the inception of the healthcare plan. But that doesn’t mean a repeal process will make the costs go down. An article published by CNN in early January writes that the repeal process of Obamacare alone will potentially cost $350 billion over the next ten years.

Student Body President Humza Khan stressed that Trump’s plan for repealing the Affordable Care Act seems to be motivated by the desire to erase Obama’s legacy. He stated that this decision is not an attempt to reduce the cost of healthcare, and to repeal and replace will be detrimental to the millions of people who currently rely on it.

“This futile attempt to erase President Obama’s legacy is really not something the President should be focusing on. There are many issues that Americans are facing that need his attention,” Khan said. “On the other hand, Republicans should focus on how to fix or improve upon the current legislation and not attempt to strip millions of Americans of their healthcare. Improving the current legislation is better than removing and then replacing.”

According to an editorial published by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, the proposal currently being discussed by the GOP would “eliminate the requirement that insurers offer comprehensive policies,” which would result in insurers having the ability to “sell cheaper plans that exclude the coverage of costly treatments,” such as maternity care or serious surgeries. Costs of treatments, then, would be pushed on the people who desperately need them, but cannot afford them.

“The incoming administration is very dangerous for not only women but for people of color, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants and people with disabilities,” said Samantha Torr, a sophomore women and gender studies major. “Putting healthcare on the line without any sort of replacement is extremely irresponsible and dangerous for a lot of people. Organizations that are federally funded, such as Planned Parenthood, are necessary for many folks to have safe and accessible health care.”

As of Sunday, Jan. 22, Conway stated in an interview broadcast that health care coverage will continue to be provided after Obamacare is repealed.

“This is something that Donald Trump can do in pretty short order. And people instead of being, you know, reflexively negative and congenitally — critical should really stop and look at the difference he can make for many people,” she stated.

What is that difference President Trump can make, one may ask? Only time will tell.

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