Student senate guest speakers go over safety initiatives, racial equity

GVL/ Sheila Babbitt
Students listen to the guest speaker at the Student Senate meeting on October 26th, 2017

GVL/ Sheila Babbitt Students listen to the guest speaker at the Student Senate meeting on October 26th, 2017

Karina Lloyd

The Grand Valley State University student senate met at the general assembly Thursday, Oct. 26, to discuss their current agenda and engage in discussion with guest speakers, Adam Elenbaas, Allendale Charter Township supervisor, and Stacy Stout, assistant to the city manager of Grand Rapids.

Elenbaas was elected into office last November and has been working to help better the community of Allendale ever since. 

“I’ve been working on our side of the street, so to speak, to help students be safe and secure as they go from on campus to off campus,” Elenbaas said. “I have regular interactions with the police on campus (and) the police off campus making sure we have patrols in place, (jobs) like that.”

His discussion of his duties as township supervisor led to a conversation with student senate about what was being done to help prevent the heightened number of sexual assaults in Allendale.

Earlier in October, there was a report of a sexual assault near Lodge Lane, close to The Lodge apartments. When questioned on what he was doing about the poor lighting situation on that road, Elenbaas responded, “I have a contract with The Lodge to have street lights installed, and they’ll be going in … before Veterans Day.”

“The sidewalk that is in place is on the east side of the road, (and) the streetlights will be going up on the east side of the road, so there isn’t a need to walk to the other side of the road at this point,” he said. “There will be some development that happens on the other side of the road, but as of now, there is no need to be on the other side of the road.”

Despite efforts to help ensure students’ safety, Elenbaas still encourages students to do what they can to not put themselves in harm’s way by being situationally aware.

The second guest speaker, Stout, came to speak to the student senate about her role as assistant to the city manager of Grand Rapids and how to work toward an effective and inclusive government. 

Stout received two of her degrees at GVSU and worked in the Office of Multicultural Affairs immediately after receiving her undergraduate degree. After seven years of working with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan’s youth program, she began her current job as assistant to the city manager of Grand Rapids. 

She began her talk by addressing the racial equity work being done at the local level. 

“Race matters in societies,” Stout said. “We know it’s a social construct, but we live in a highly racialized society. If you were to map it out, Grand Rapids alone, we are still a segregated community. … Although we have made progress, you can look at any measure of success, income, education, health, health access. … Along with all those success measures, there are inequities.”

In Stout’s work, she looks at the structure and policies in place in local government to help advance racial equity. In her speech, Stout shared that equity is accomplished when someone’s race and ethnicity, in a statistical sense, does not influence one’s success. 

“To help do this, you have to have targeted strategies for those that are worse off, positioned (further) away from opportunity, and move beyond servers and change policy,” Stout said. “You’re not going to change hearts all the time. … In our work, I’m not trying to change hearts. I’m trying to change behavior, and if that changes hearts at the end of the day, great.” 

The city of Grand Rapids works with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) program to help address the issue of systemic racism head-on from the state, local and executive level. This program questions what policy or program the government is trying to achieve and the results they are looking to attain. To do this, they look at who will be affected, who will benefit and who will be hurt by the policy. 

Stout is part of the two-year cohort, the Racial Equity Now Cohort, that was recently put in place to help achieve racial equity. They look at how to engage the city and how to represent the different voices of community through different programs.  

Her talk launched a discussion with student senate about how to spread this knowledge within the GVSU community, how she helps teach others about “allyship” and the different grants she’s working on to achieve equity.

“We had two really great speakers come in today that we’ve never had come in before,” said Jonathan Bowman,  student senate president. “Normally, we just have university people come in, and so I think it was really important to work with our community members, so we were really happy to have those two members come in today.”

Student senate general assemblies take place every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center Pere Marquette Room.