OUR VIEW: The Daily News’ point-by-point analysis of Elevate’s year in office

<p>(Left to Right) Elevate slate members Cassidy Mattingly, secretary, Cameron DeBlasio, vice president, Aiden Medellin, president, and David Sinclair, treasurer, stand before the All-Slate Debate Feb. 18, 2019, in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center ball room. Elevate was the Student Government Association slate for the 2019-20 academic year. <strong>Scott Fleener, DN File</strong></p>

(Left to Right) Elevate slate members Cassidy Mattingly, secretary, Cameron DeBlasio, vice president, Aiden Medellin, president, and David Sinclair, treasurer, stand before the All-Slate Debate Feb. 18, 2019, in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center ball room. Elevate was the Student Government Association slate for the 2019-20 academic year. Scott Fleener, DN File

Editor’s note: To avoid conflict of interest, Daily News Design Editor Elliott DeRose has recused himself from the analysis of Elevate as he also acted as a designer for SGA. 

When campaigning to become the 2019-20 Student Government Association (SGA) executive slate, Elevate promised to complete 15 platform points.

SGA President Aiden Medellin said his slate has completed 12 of their 15 platform points and that they were not going to complete the remaining three points by the end of their term.

Based on previous reporting and interviews with the slate members, The Daily News has reached its conclusions on the completion of Elevate’s platform points:


Saturday stadium bus: Completed

What they said: Elevate slate members wanted to add a Saturday stadium bus route to allow students to access their vehicles on Saturdays when there were no football games and shuttles to the games. They originally planned for the bus to run from 5-11 p.m., but later changed their planned time frame.

Medellin said for five Saturdays between September and November the bus ran from 12-4 p.m. He said 71 people rode the bus on Sept. 21, but ridership numbers decreased to 12 people on Sept. 28 and did not see any higher numbers Oct. 12, Nov. 2 or Nov. 9. Medellin said the slate members decided to discontinue the Saturday stadium bus after Nov. 9.

“It would have cost us a significant amount of money to keep this program, which for the past three months only had at most 12 people coming out and utilizing it,” Medellin said. “We decided that it wasn’t fiscally responsible to keep spending that money.”

What we found: Sue Weller, former director of facilities business services and transportation, who was the original contact for the stadium bus and additional blue loop platform points, retired in January. She directed The Daily News to Kris Shroyer, director of systems administration and bus operations.

Because the Saturday stadium bus is seperate from the established routes of the shuttle system, Shroyer said he does not have specific information about how the stadium bus was implemented and discontinued. He said none of his office’s current staff were involved in conversations about the stadium bus.

“Departments can request bus services for university activities,” he said.

According to invoices provided by Stacey Myers, coordinator for the Office of Student Life, SGA paid a total of $1,078 for the five buses.


Additional Blue Loop bus: Not completed

What they said: The slate members wanted to convert a red loop bus into a blue loop bus to accommodate off-campus students. A trial run for the additional blue loop bus took place in February 2019, according to a previous Daily News article, prior to Elevate being elected in March 2019.

Medellin said a second blue loop bus was available at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, but because other university bus loops were receiving more ridership, transportation services decided to go back to providing only one blue loop for most of the day.

“If there isn’t ridership at certain times, they’ll take those buses and shift them around … so they can put them where there’s more people that need to ride the buses,” Medellin said. “There were obviously still complaints from students about not having enough blue loop buses, but that’s when Sue [Weller] told me that ridership was not very high and there was higher ridership everywhere else.”

What we found: Elevate originally met with Weller regarding the implementation of an additional blue loop. Shroyer said a second blue loop is provided to students during times of high demand.

“The number of buses on any route will fluctuate based on the demand of a particular day and time,” Shroyer said. “We continually evaluate ridership on all routes and make decisions accordingly.”


Expedite counseling sessions: Not completed

What they said: Medellin said in his State of the Senate addresses September 2019 and February 2020 that the counseling center was operating well in the fall semester, but due to historically high requests for counseling services, Elevate slate members had to adjust this platform point.

Medellin and Vice President Cameron DeBlasio created an ad-hoc Counseling Center committee formerly chaired by SGA senator Marcus Jennings, a junior political science and criminal justice major. Medellin and Jennings said they met with William Betts, separately in the fall 2019 semester.

Jennings said the counseling ad-hoc committee looked for alternatives to group counseling sessions after Betts presented to the senate on Nov. 6, 2019. He said the current chair of the counseling ad-hoc committee James Schwer is interested in TalkSpace, a virtual therapy platform that provides students with third-party therapists who are licensed but separate from Ball State’s Counseling Center. 

What we found: Betts said he met with Medellin three times in 2019. He said the Counseling Center has been working to meet student needs for three years and that the Board of Trustees approved funding for two more positions at the Counseling Center in 2017. 

“However the Counseling Center has been unable to fill all of the open staff positions, so the Counseling Center continues to struggle to keep up with the need for services,” Betts said. “The Counseling Center appreciates the support of Elevate. Over the last three years the Counseling Center has worked to expand access to services. Our efforts to expand services are driven by the needs of students.”

Jennings said while this platform point was not completed as the slate had hoped, he thinks progress was made.

“Elevate and the Counseling Center Ad-hoc have made great strides toward completing the platform point and I think that it should be considered a success on their part,” he said.


Monthly invites to outside organizations: Completed

What they said: Mattingly said 13 organizations have spoken to SGA in the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters. Medellin said a goal of this platform point was to increase SGA outreach, and that he and his slate members have also individually visited other student organizations.

“That was just a platform point to get people to come to SGA,” Medellin said. “That doesn’t include the many organizations that we’ve gone and seen personally or together.”

What we found: Apart from the months of March and April, SGA hosted other student organizations at its meetings during both semesters.

Ever since Ball State moved in-person classes online and cancelled all in-person events for the semester, SGA has held virtual meetings over the Webex video conference platform. However, no outside student organizations were present during these virtual meetings.


Weekly social media updates: Completed

What they said: Medellin said Mattingly wanted to increase the slate’s transparency with the student body after they were elected. To achieve this, the Elevate slate has been publishing weekly social media updates summarizing its weekly senate meetings.

Each week, Medellin said Elevate’s press secretary Zach Neitzel and media director Elliott DeRose worked together with Medellin and chief of staff Connor Sanburn to decide what information to put in social media graphics. Medellin said he wasn’t sure what affect these updates have had on students.

“I’m not quite sure how much more you can reach out to students, if students want to know what’s going on, they can easily look at [the updates],” Medellin said.

He said there weren’t a lot of likes and retweets on these SGA posts and most of the retweets were from the SGA slate members and senators.

“I think a lot of students still viewed it, but all that matters is there is a history and you can look and see every week there is a weekly update of what happened in senate,” Medellin said.

What we found: Based on SGA’s Twitter page, they did not have an update for the week of March 9-13, but they did retweet a statement from President Geoffrey Mearns about the university moving to online classes on March 11. This was the week after spring break, but they did have a meeting on March 11.

Other than that week, SGA has consistently published updates on senate business, and released statements regarding major campus news.


Map App improvements: Not completed

What they said: Slate members said they wanted to provide updates to the Ball State Map App to provide high-speed usage and accurate bus route times.

A survey in February 2020 by SGA and Ball State’s Digital Corps found students would like the app to show testing lab availability and indoor mapping. Medellin said his slate members have also been interested in expanding Map App availability to students with disabilities.

“After we got that [survey] data is when they could start working, but even then Digital Corps expressed to us that the coding that they used for the Map App is kind of outdated,” Medellin said. “What they could do is do a complete overhaul and implement a new code and then create a new app, which would take a long time, or they could go back through the old coding and try basically fixing the holes and whatnot, but that would also take time.”

He said this is one of the points that won’t be completed during the slate’s term, but one that his slate has had a lot of progress completing.

“Everyone needs to keep in mind when it comes to platform points, you have to be ambitious,” Medellin said.

What we found: Brandon Smith, director of the academic project support office at Digital Corps, said Elevate’s survey helped the Digital Corps gauge what students currently use the Map App for and what updates they would like to see in the app.

Smith previously said the Map App relies on TransLoc Rider to provide bus route times, so Digital Corps cannot directly make any changes, but could work with Elevate to update the Map App for student users.

“It was an encouraging experience to work with SGA on this process,” he said. “In addition to being great to work with, they helped my department realize there is still interest and need for the Map App on campus.”

Smith said he does not know when the new coding development by the Digital Corps team will be completed.

“In addition to the current pandemic situation impacting the entire campus, the app itself will require some significant development by the Digital Corps’ team of designers and coders,” he said. “While the content in the app is updated frequently, the underlying code powering the platform is not updated as often. We are currently evaluating the requested improvements and the effort they will take to complete.”


Weekly meal allotment: Not completed

What they said: Elevate brought up three dining platform points during their campaign and DeBlasio said they met with dining administrators after being elected.

Elevate slate members wanted to provide on-campus students with a more flexible time period to use meal swipes, hoping to eliminate the two time periods students can use: one meal swipe from 6:45-11 a.m. and two from 11:01 a.m.-12 a.m.

Of the three dining platform points, DeBlasio said he thinks changing the meal allotment may be the most achievable point, though maybe not in the way Elevate was interested. He said after he and Medellin met with administrators, changing meal allotments seemed like a realistic goal.

“It sounded to me like if and when they do bring in an outside contractor to help them assess what they’re doing and what they could be changing, the meal allotment could be adjusted again in the near future,” DeBlasio said. “I feel more confident that that is perhaps the point that could be accomplished, certainly not within a year, probably not within two or three years, but it’s something we brought to their attention.”

What we found: DJ Cleveland, marketing and communication specialist for Ball State Dining, previously told The Daily News that allowing students to use their meal swipes any time of day would cause issues with menu planning.

Director of Dining Services Karen Adkins said dining administrators “fully investigate” any suggestions from students before implementing new policies.


24/7 convenience store: Not completed

What they said:

Elevate slate members wanted to introduce a 24/7 convenience store, specifically selling non-perishable items.

Their plan was not to open a new convenience store but to expand the hours of an existing convenience store location on campus.

When the Daily News reviewed this point prior to the 2019 SGA election, Cleveland said the overnight store would incur significant costs to keep the store open later.

“In regards to opening late-night options, we are always having conversations about trends in student purchasing and needs across campus,” Cleveland said in an email. “While data does not currently support the need of an overnight option, we will continue to monitor if trends start pushing in that direction.”

Security was also a concern. Medellin said Adkins told him she was concerned that workers going to and from their late shifts in a 24/7 store would be unsafe.

“She's more focused on safety, and I couldn't quite grasp that idea,” Medellin said. “I understood the general idea, but she says it's late at night, you have workers going out and moving around. I had quick replies to that but I didn't use them. I mean there's Charlie’s Charter and I'm pretty sure we have a buddy system.”

What we found: Adkins said implementing a 24/7 convenience store would involve raising the cost of meal plans for students and increasing the cost of individual food items in the dining locations.

“As you may or may not know, Dining Services is an auxiliary service, meaning entirely self-supporting through sales (primarily consisting of student meal plans) without a designated university budget,” Adkins said in an email. “Any additional expenses associated with food and beverage such as services, supplies and labor can create a deficit. It is the responsibility of Business and Auxiliary Services and Ball State University Dining to research all requests and inquiries.”

The point was not completed, with Medellin noting that he believed Dining was difficult to work with.

“I hate not having relationships with faculty and administrators and I feel like the relationship that students have with Dining is just not what it could be,” Medellin said.


Green to-go containers: Not completed

What they said: Elevate slate members said they wanted to spread the use of biodegradable food containers across more dining halls.

One dining hall offered biodegradable food containers during Elevate’s 2019 campaign and currently, in all other dining halls, recyclable packaging is offered. After slate members realized biodegradable packaging was offered, they changed their approach to marketing this option.

“The student body as a whole might not necessarily be aware of the fact that some of the to-go containers that they have already in Dining Services are biodegradable,” DeBlasio said.

He said the slate members and students need to look at the situation in a proactive manner — trying to help students understand more about recyclable and biodegradable containers — versus in a reactive manner — where they throw them in the recycling bin.

“Now all of that is completely contaminated and that blue bag is going to be thrown in the trash,” DeBlasio said.

What we found: When The Daily News initially reviewed Elevate’s platform point, there was one dining hall on campus that used biodegradable individual food containers.

Cleveland said recyclable to-go containers were already available in all dining locations at the time Elevate introduced their platform point.

“In fact, we go so far as to offer to-go bags, cutlery, packaging and napkins in all units that [are] completely recyclable,” he said. “There is one non-recyclable option that is in use in a single concept on campus, specifically to aid in portion control and reducing food waste, but the remainder are what most would define as ‘green.’”

He said the fact that there are multiple types of “green” containers also may have caused some confusion. The to-go containers on campus are already made of biodegradable, recycled materials.

“Medellin and his team expressed their interest in the possibility of reusable ‘green’ to-go containers, sharing information they had gathered, and this happened to be something we at Dining Services were looking into,” Cleveland said in an email. “We are currently investigating all of it to see if it makes sense for Ball State. As for the other to-go containers, we have used our current disposable iteration for quite some time.”


Big entertainment at Emens: Not completed

What they said:

Elevate slate members previously said the slate was interested in bringing big-name entertainment to Emens Auditorium, citing Jesse McCartney’s 2017 appearance at Ball State as an example.

They were interested in providing discounted tickets for the act they would bring in, with $5,000 in the budget allocated for the entertainment and a survey going out for students to pick the act. Slate members said they intended to keep the tickets to no more than $10 each.

At the time, Kristi Chambers, assistant director of marketing and communications at Emens, said it could cost “anywhere from $5,000 to $120,000.”

What we found:

Medellin said the original plan for this point was to have Hoodie Allen perform at Emens, and that SGA had allocated $5,000 from their budget to pay into the performer’s $30,000 contract.

He said the slate was in talks with several Greek Life organizations to secure the remaining $25,000 funding from the each organizations’ Student Organization Funding (SOF) money, but when the Zero Tolerance Policy passed in December, the fraternities pulled their funding and the event was cancelled.

“Funding for the concert would not have come from any of the organization's own budgets, instead we were directing them to utilize the Student Organization Fund (SOF), because they are organizations and can request from that fund,” Medellin wrote in an email. “The plan was to ask five different organizations to request $5,000 dollars adding up to $25,000. If you add SGA's allocation and the $25,000 from the SOF, it would have added up to $30,000 - the price of Hoodie Allen's contract agreement.”

Included among the organizations that agreed to fund the concert were the Interfraternity Council, Ball State’s Reserve Officer Training Corps and Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, Medellin said. Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity and the Panhellenic Association declined to help with funding.

Medellin also said the plan was to sell tickets to the concert for less than $25 apiece. However, as SGA was unable to secure the funding for the concert, the ticket price was never set.

“I think everybody can put two and two together. I think that SGA and a lot of different individuals and organizations within Greek Life had a deal, and then all of a sudden this bill gets passed, which I had nothing to do with,” Medellin said. “You don't get a record amount of people in the gallery when things are going right.”

The Zero Tolerance Policy legislation, if implemented, would penalize Greek Life organizations whose members commit sexual assault or hazing. The legislation was passed by the SGA senate, 25-18, with one abstention.

At a later date in the school year, Director of Sports Facilities Gonzalo Barajas informed the slate members that Lil Dicky would be coming to campus to perform and asked if SGA wanted to help with the concert, including funding ticket sales.

Medellin said SGA would have used the $5,000 allocated for the Hoodie Allen concert to purchase tickets and sell them to students at a reduced price.

“The reason we wanted to sell them for $15 instead of just giving them away was to ensure that students wouldn't just take them and not go or re-sell them for profit,” Medellin wrote in an email. “Students would have saved $25 from buying their tickets from SGA.”

However, due to statewide restrictions on event gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all plans for bringing in performers like Lil Dicky for large events and concerts were cancelled.


Black Friday bookstore event: Somewhat completed

What they said:

The slate members intended to host the Black Friday bookstore event the week before Thanksgiving to offer discounts on items from the T.I.S. College Bookstore and the University Bookstore.

Pam Suminski, general manager of T.I.S., expressed interest in the event, saying the bookstore would be open to discussion. Slate members said they would negotiate prices between the on-campus bookstore and T.I.S. for the event.

However, SGA hosted only one Black Friday Bookstore event Nov. 22 with University Bookstore.

What we found:

Medellin said the Black Friday bookstore event at University Bookstore went “swimmingly well,” and that he thought it had a positive impact on the students and offices. Bookstore products were discounted, and hot chocolate and cookies were given to attendees for free.

“I think it kind of just gave everybody some holiday cheer and whatnot, got everybody excited for Christmas,” Medellin said. “So, it was one of those things that you do and it makes you feel good on the inside, it makes your heart all warm and whatnot, so it was definitely one of my favorite things to be a part of this year.”

He said the University Bookstore reported an increase in sales, and this Black Friday event was the most successful one they’ve ever hosted. SGA also saw an increase in followers on their social media accounts, Medellin said. The Daily News was not able to verify either claims.


Peer mentor program: Somewhat completed

What they said:

Elevate intended to implement a program where freshmen are mentored by upperclassmen in career and academic matters, with the aim of running the program along the KEY Careers program, a student success program for incoming students.

In the mentorship program, upperclassmen volunteers would work with freshmen, while department advisers would run the program.

What we found: 

Mattingly said she worked with Laura Helms, executive director of academic services, to launch the program called Cardinal Fledgelings.

Mattingly said the program held its first meeting Feb. 3, but no one came to the meeting. 

“We had a lot of mentors sign up, but it was the lack of mentees,” she said.

Mattingly said the absence of turnout was likely due to the program launching in the spring semester, when there are a relatively low number of new students to participate in the program.

She said Dylan Lewandowski, SGA’s incoming president pro tempore, has expressed interest in continuing the project next semester.

Lewandowski said he will discuss the possibility of changing the Cardinal Fledglings program with Bold and Elevate slate members.

“As the president pro tempore-elect I would like to see the Cardinal Fledglings program executed differently this fall,” he said in a text message. “With the help of the other officers, I think that this has the potential to be very successful for the class of 2024!”


Commuter Living Learning Community (LLC) access: Not completed

What they said:

The slate members said they wanted to give off-campus students access to Living Learning Communities (LLC). 

Chris Wilkey, assistant director of marketing and communications for Ball State Housing, said in addition to the LLCs, their resources could also be found on campus — an “added perk” to the residents of LLCs.

“Students who are on campus … are actually paying for the living learning spaces,” Wilkey said in a previous Daily News article. “There is a little bit of a difference between an academic building and a living learning community space.”

What we found:

Wilkey said the slate did not approach him about implementing a commuter LLC, instead reaching out to him about instituting a LLC for undecided majors. However, he said Ball State already had a LLC for undecided majors that was largely unsuccessful.

“We informed [the slate] that we used to have one — the Discover LLC — for about five years,” he said in an email. “Despite our best effort, it failed to meet outcomes and expectations largely because undecided students reported not wanting to be associated with being ‘undecided/undeclared.’”

Medellin said the slate planned to tackle the problem of the exclusivity of the LLCs by having the departments and colleges pay for their students to use the services.

“One of the proposed things was that commuters that wanted to use the amenities [that] are in those Living Learning Communities could identify that and then their department heads and college heads would pay a certain fee per student to the residence halls,” he said. “The reason why there's difficulty giving those commuters access is because they don't live in the residence halls, they don't pay the fees. They don’t live in the residence halls so they shouldn't have access to those amenities.”

While this point remains unfinished, Medellin hopes incoming SGA President Connor Sanburn will take up the point going forward in the next academic year.


Sexual Assault Monologue event: Affected by COVID-19

What they said:

Elevate slate members said the event would have been run similar to Spectrum’s Queer Monologues — encouraging open discussion among students about their experiences with sexual assault.

In a Daily News article, graduate assistant victim advocate Abby Clifton said the Office of Victim Services was interested in forming a partnership with any students working on similar programs.

What we found:

The event was scheduled for April 8, but was postponed due to Ball State’s responses to COVID-19.

Medellin said he felt the event would have made sense to take place in April for sexual assault awareness month. He said having the event be a safe space for both men and women was something he wanted to focus on.

SGA senator Lauren Kamykowski intends to host the event in the fall and is currently working with the Office of Victim Services, he said.


Expanding gender-inclusive housing: Not Completed

What they said: 

Elevate’s original estimates for improving awareness for gender-inclusive housing placed the price of this point at about $300.

Slate members said they would not be adding additional housing as Wilkey said the 60 spaces in the original gender-inclusive housing pilot were “not close to capacity” in a previous Daily News article and that further promotion of the housing was unnecessary.

Medellin said the Residence Hall Association (RHA) was “hard to reach” because of the number of students the organization serves on a daily basis.

He also said a focus of the promotion was to inform students about the purpose of gender-inclusive housing.

“It's supposed to be utilized by non gender-conforming students who want to feel safe and in a certain location in a certain residence because maybe they don't feel so comfortable, so safe, so accepted in different locations in different residence halls on Ball State's campus,” Medellin said.

What we found:

Wilkey maintained that the gender-inclusive housing did not need additional promotion, though he did work with SGA senators on increasing the promotion of the service. 

“It is promoted on the website, through email, through our housing application, a flyer with Spectrum, mentioned in admissions materials and presentations and through social media,” he said.

Medellin said the $300 allocated for the point had not been spent, and that Spectrum would be working with SGA next year on marketing the housing option.

John Lynch and Grace McCormick contributed to this story.

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