Mantella swears in new 2021 GV student senators

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GVL / Audrey Whitaker

Audrey Whitaker and Zack Goodrow

Grand Valley State University Student Senate met for the first general assembly of the fall semester. GVSU president Philomena Mantella joined the meeting as a guest speaker to swear in new senators.

“Typically our first meeting of the year we will always have the university president swear in our new folks,” Student Senate President Autumn Muller said. “It’s really exciting to have her come in and give us some words of encouragement for the upcoming semester.”

Muller said there are 16 new senators, as well as 13 open positions.

Following the swearing-in, where student senators vow to support and defend the constitution of the student senate and the interests of the student body, Mantella spoke about the importance and challenges of leadership at GVSU.

“You will find that we have diverse opinions, passion, purpose, missions, majors, all an array of beautiful but different points of view,” Mantella said. “You are not only leading our student voice, but you’re participating in the governance of this university, along with our colleagues, and the University Academic Senate and our administrative associations and groups.”

Mantella encouraged Student Senators to work collaboratively with university administration as well as other student leaders.

“The leaders of the university administration, as well as the University family, are a place where you can go for common conversation,” Mantella said. “We also have invited the Senate leadership to the President’s Council to hear and have conversations across all the leadership levels of the institution.”

As leaders and GVSU students, Mantella asked Student Senators to model civil discourse for the GVSU community.

“We as a country need to understand how to have different points of view, and we need to model it as an educational institution and the leadership of an educational institution, how to respect different voices, how to ask questions, how to diverge and to converge,” said Mantella.

One of these new Student Senators, junior Ben Biermacher, thought the fall 2021 semester was a perfect opportunity to join. Like many GVSU students last year, Biermacher felt idle and wanted to be more involved in campus activities. 

“Last year I felt very stagnant in what I was doing,” Biermacher said. “I felt mundane and that I needed more to do. I’ve always felt I’ve had the capacity to do more and be a leader on campus. This was the perfect opportunity to do that.” 

Biermacher, along with his fellow Senators, wants to be transparent with the GVSU student population. The Senate wants the bridge between university and students communication to be clearer. 

“I want to give the students a voice on campus,” Biermacher said. “Last year I felt so frustrated with what the university was doing. Everyday it felt like we were getting another email or newsletter with bad news. I felt underprivileged in that way and we weren’t informed enough. That’s something I want to change.” 

For Biermacher, this transparency is extremely important for first and second-year students.  

“This year I feel that students haven’t had the true Grand Valley experience since they’ve been stuck in their dorm or apartment,” Biermacher said. “This year is a fantastic opportunity to experience what this campus has to offer with all the diversity and type of people here. I want people to see what wonderful and beautiful campus we have and I think that went underappreciated last year.” 

Sophomore Elizabeth Kalafut has goals for younger GVSU students as well. Her objectives as a new Student Senator are focused on mental health. She is the Chair of the Mental Health Awareness Committee. Her goal is to make sure GVSU students take advantage of the programs GVSU offers them. 

“No matter what one is going through, we have so many resources on campus that can help,” Kalafut said. “Whether it is the counseling center, one of our many on-campus resources, an off-campus resource, a RA, a boss, a professor, a friend, or even a classmate.”

Kalafut wants to assure students that these organizations can help students of every variety.  She said she is looking forward to working with organizations on campus, as well as her fellow senators, to ensure all Lakers have access to the resources they need at GVSU.