Northwestern hosts delegates from Big Ten schools at conference

Olivia Exstrum, Campus Editor

Northwestern hosted the Association of Big Ten Students winter conference over the weekend, drawing student delegates from Big Ten universities to discuss issues including mental health, sexual assault and campus inclusion. A record 92 delegates attended, with representatives from all 14 Big Ten schools.

Kevin Harris, vice president of community relations for Associated Student Government, said the schools are chosen to host based on the order they joined the Big Ten. He said NU was originally supposed to host the summer conference, but switched places with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln because the August date didn’t work with the quarter system.

Last year was the first time NU attended the conference in a “number of years,” Harris said.

“Being the only private school in the Big Ten … made the topics not always totally relevant to us,” the Weinberg junior said. “We definitely don’t interact with state governments as much in terms of funding.” 

Harris said NU plans to continue attending the conference. This was the second year all 14 schools have attended the conference.

“We’re working toward making a more collaborative and inclusive environment and community, and that’s what’s kind of grown over the past year,” said Teresa Bitner, executive director of ABTS and a junior at Michigan State University. “We’ve gotten to get all 14 schools together and focus on the networking.”

During the conference, delegates participated in idea sharing workshops, attended breakout sessions and listened to keynote speakers, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Barbara McFadden Allen, executive director of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. Half of the delegates also toured the Big Ten Network studios, while the other half visited Big Ten Conference headquarters.

In addition to the annual winter conference, there is a smaller summer conference and a conference in Washington, D.C., in April.

On the last day of the winter conference, delegates introduced, passed and voted on legislation they will present at the April conference — Big Ten on the Hill. Harris said the delegates discussed legislation regarding the college ratings system and educational resources and passed an official platform to take to the capital. Delegates will meet with their state legislators at the conference, as well as the U.S. Department of Education.

“Part of this is not only collaborating on campus issues or even student government and administration interactions, but the legislative aspect as well,” Harris said. “We’re preparing students to go to D.C. and lobby their representatives and lobby their senators.”

NU had 10 delegates at the conference, as well as a planning team of seven. The other schools in attendance brought between four and eight students each. Because the University and ASG did not fund the conference, delegates had to pay a fee to attend. Schools are not required to attend the conference.

Medill sophomore Fai Nur is on ASG’s accessibility and inclusion committee and attended the conference. Nur said she enjoyed attending a breakout session with Lesley-Ann Brown-Hendersondirector of Campus Inclusion and Community, because it related to what Nur does in ASG.

“She talked about trying to make campus more financially accessible for low-income students, first-generation students, minority students,” Nur said. “It was about how not to throw money at problems. … To fix problems, we need to be engaged with the community we’re trying to help.”

Nur said although NU is private and smaller than the other schools in the Big Ten, the schools all face similar problems, such as providing scholarships for students doing unpaid internships.

Weinberg freshman Archit Baskaran, who attended the conference and is on ASG’s community relations committee, said the conference allows students to learn from other schools and take those ideas back to their own campuses.

“It allows us to discuss issues we’re taking part in,” he said. “We can see exactly the steps we’re doing to address them, feed off each other’s ideas and create a community between all of us, so that we don’t have individual bubbles that we exist in.”

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