Meet the new president, vice president of UND Student Government

First all-female ticket since 1996 share goals in two-part Q&A

Faith Wahl (left) was elected president of UND Student Government for the 2022-23 school year, along with Morgan Mastrud as vice president. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Only the third all-female executive team in UND history — the others were in 1990-91 and 1996-97 — will represent the University’s nearly 14,000 students for the 2022-23 school year. Sworn in May 4, President Faith Wahl and Vice President Morgan Mastrud already are busy at work.

They recently took time out between finals to sit down with UND Special Projects Editor Janelle Vonasek to share some of their thoughts and plans for the Student Body.

First off, let’s get to know a tiny bit more about them. Wahl, a native of Bismarck, will be a senior majoring in Business Management and Interdisciplinary Health Studies. She previously served two years as a senator in Student Government. She also served with the North Dakota Student Association, a statewide higher education lobbying organization comprised of delegates from the state’s 11 public institutions. She is a member of the Kappa Delta sorority.

Mastrud is a Fargo native who will be a senior majoring in Spanish and Biology (Pre-Medicine). She is a member of the UND Honors Program and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. She’s already served two years with Student Government — one year as a senator and another as chief of staff.

What follows is the first of two Q&A articles with the student leaders. Stay tuned next week for the second installment.

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Q. Your campaign materials mention your work with the North Dakota Student Association. What is that and what does it do?

Wahl: The organization really gave me experience working on collective higher education lobbying, especially during the legislative session. Then, in the off years, we really work to find what we can agree on as 11 institutions and advocate in higher education — whether that’s funding or different policies. We share ideas about what’s going on at each school and how we can support and help each other. It’s a collective voice to advocate for higher education.

Q. You also say that your ticket stands for putting students first and making broad campus connections, as well as advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion. Can you tell us how you intend to infuse that in everyday life on campus?

Wahl: In terms of putting students first, I think we’re really committed to representing the student voice in all areas of campus. We’re talking about policies and procedures, going to events and supporting students in all of their different endeavors. Does that mean agreeing with administration and the UND community every time? Probably not. There are going to be times when the student voice maybe goes against some of that. But I think we’re committed to making sure that we’re constantly hearing the student voice and then representing that well.

Morgan and I share a pretty strong leadership philosophy that involves a lot of listening because we know we don’t have every single answer. We’re focused on different committees and going to different events. We want to meet students where they’re at so we can understand what needs they have and what gaps may need to be filled. Then, we can work to help fill those gaps.

Mastrud: During our campaign, we pushed really hard to go meet the different student organizations — I think upwards of 130 organizations — face to face. I think we attended 78 meetings in person. And then we made a video and connected with students virtually if we weren’t able to do it in person. We were able to hear so many great ideas by reaching out that way. Last year, I also was able to serve on the first Student Government committee for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. We formed a task force, set some goals and planned some projects to help implement those policies and values into Student Government. Our administration now would like to bring in more input from other organizations so we can hear more voices, different perspectives and opinions.

We are committed to staying involved and want to continue to attend some of the great events planned by Student Diversity & Inclusion. We’re just kind of educating ourselves on everything that’s out there so we’re knowledgeable and can bring those perspectives to the table.

Q. Staying in tune with everything on campus sounds like a full-time job. How do you balance all of the work with your studies?

Wahl: Yeah, I think in some ways, it really is (laughter). Part of what helps us is that there’s a scholarship involved, so that kind of helps compensate for a lot of the time you put in. We both strategically placed our credit loads to give us a little more academic ease next year. But honestly, we’re both so passionate about this and so committed that even though it probably is close to a full-time job, it’s so worth it. Plus, we’ve had an extremely strong team behind us. Just with our campaign, we never could have imagined doing this without them. They were phenomenal, and we’ll never be able to thank them enough.

Mastrud: Yeah, we had more than 200 volunteers sign up and help us on Election Day. They were running the logistics and helping us keep our sanity through the whole process. As far as the job, though, it’s nice because we have offices in the Memorial Union. We can be in there working on homework and still have students come in and talk to us. We can handle what needs to get done as far as our positions and kind of juggle some other things. We want to have an open-door policy so students feel comfortable coming in to chat with us.

Wahl: I think we’re also probably going to set up some office hours that are consistent every week, so there’s some continuity for students.

Q. Let’s jump to some of the thoughts that went into your campaign platform. Can you explain the background behind your “We Are More” slogan?

Wahl: I guess there are two components to our overall platform. There’s the MORE acronym, which Morgan can expound on, and the “We Are More” slogan that you mentioned. That really encompasses this student-focused idea that if we’re all connected — and everyone is educated about what’s going on, and all students feel like they belong and have a voice — that we all can do more together. Student Government just serves as a strong liaison. Together, we can bridge more gaps in the campus and the community.

The “we” isn’t the two of us, but rather the whole Student Body. We’re not just focusing on only certain groups on campus or targeting only certain areas. Instead, we want to make sure every single student feels welcome and has the opportunity to succeed.

Mastrud: The MORE from “We Are More” represents the four main values and tenets that we used in our campaign and will continue to follow in our administration. “M” is for mental health. “O” is for opportunities. “R,” resources. And “E” for empower.

When we were formulating this, we definitely wanted to make sure that those values and tenets were something we actually could back up. So, speaking of our previous experiences on campus, one thing we did toward mental health was through the Student Fee Advisory Committee, where we got to allocate $50,000 for the new aviation-focused psychologist.

We also got the free Wellness Center parking for students. Parking is a big thing we always heard a lot about, so we wanted to incorporate that. As far as new resources, we just approved funding to put a new outlet in the Memorial Union’s Food for Thought Food Pantry so we can get refrigeration in there to provide students more autonomy in their food choices, as well as provide some healthier options.

And then with “empower,” we just want to make sure we’re going to those organizations, making those direct lines of communication and continuing to get younger and new student leaders involved in the process.

UND Student Body President Faith Wahl (left) and Student Body Vice President Morgan Mastrud go over plans in one of their offices inside the UND Memorial Union on Wednesday. The student leaders say they want to keep an open door for all students who want to stop by and share their concerns or ideas. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Q. College is hard, and it’s not uncommon for students to feel those mental health pressures. What other specific ideas do you have to reach out to students when they might need that support?

Mastrud: I think one thing a lot of students might lack is just awareness of what resources already are available on campus or in the community. Something we’ll implement this fall is the Green Bandana Project. It’s a nationwide initiative that’s student-led and basically involves free mental health first aid training sessions for students.

After students complete the training, they’ll get a green bandana to put on their backpack, and that signifies to anyone on campus that “Hey, I’m trained in these resources. I’m not a licensed psychologist, but I can direct you to people who can help you.” It allows us to educate our student peers and make that peer support stronger on campus. We plan to implement that into freshmen orientation and market it in other ways this fall. UND Athletics is doing it right now, but we want to spread it throughout campus.

Wahl: From a statewide perspective, I’ve worked with the North Dakota Student Association to get the project started on every campus in North Dakota. This will ensure some continuity for students who might be transferring or taking classes at different institutions. No matter where they go, they will have that source of stability they can count on.

We’re also proud of the strong working relationship Student Government has built with the UND Counseling Center. They are very student-focused, and we’ve worked with them on exploring ways to target existing peer support groups. So maybe that involves training for our resident assistants, Athletics, Greek life, undergraduate students or med students.

After some conversations with Student Government, another thing they’ve recently started to do is expand their counseling hours into the evening. This gives our students more flexibility to schedule appointments after work or classes. So, we’re really excited about that, too.

Q. Your platform also mentions a 24-hour crisis line. How would this be different from the app used on campus now?

Wahl: Right now, we have something called FirstLink, which is a national hotline where people will answer and walk you through whatever crisis you might be experiencing at the time. We’re now talking to the Counseling Center — and it’s still in the works, so we’re not exactly sure what direction it’s going to take — but it would be more of a UND-specific crisis line. If somebody called in, they would be connected to someone in the Grand Forks area who is familiar with the available resources here. They would be more familiar with our culture, our schedules and UND structure, so they’d just be able to respond in a more specific way than is possible on a national hotline.

Q. As always, parking makes the Top 10 list of student concerns. What are you doing to address that?

Mastrud: Student Government actually did a tabling event for student outreach this year, and almost half of the responses we got were parking feedback. Even when we went to student organizations, we always asked students, “Hey, what feedback do you have? What would you want to see change on campus?” And the first thing we always heard is parking. We had to start saying, “Besides parking.” Students are not fans of the ticketing system. They don’t feel like we have enough spaces on campus, but I feel like parking is an issue on every campus. We got the free parking at the Wellness Center, so that’s at least one step in the right direction.

Wahl: One initiative we want to work on as far as parking is implementing some sort of warning system. We don’t believe that a student, especially during their first couple of weeks on campus, should be slapped with a $20 or $40 ticket the first time they park in the wrong spot. So, we’re hoping to establish a warning system that helps students not only financially but also educates them so they understand where they can and cannot park. It doesn’t end up a $40 mistake every time. They might get a warning, then a $10 ticket and a $20. The fourth time would be a $40 ticket, at which time they probably should know where they cannot park.

It’s based off the city parking model in Fargo, and it really just focuses more on safety and enforcement versus punishing students for parking in the wrong spot, when it really is a mistake, they just don’t know or they’re running late for class.

Mastrud: I think increasing transparency and communication is a big thing, too. For example, the parking signs right now say Parking Services run from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but it’s actually until 4 p.m. People don’t know that they technically can park for free after 4 p.m. It’s kind of all about making sure students are aware of things like that. And then with construction, sometimes lots and roads are blocked off, and you can’t even park there. So, I know there’s a new UND app that’s coming out. So, trying to find methods and modes to make that information more accessible at a faster rate. So students can know, “Oh, I can’t park there today. This is happening on campus today.”

Q. What new academic-related opportunities are you thinking about for students?

Wahl: We are working on establishing a rotation system between the Memorial Union and Chester Fritz Library so that one or the other would have extended hours during finals week. We’d like to expand by two hours to give students a little bit more of an opportunity to study and more flexibility with their schedules. We’d try to make it consistent for fall and spring semesters, so students always would know.

Q. Back to the food insecurities you talked about earlier … do you think students are aware of how prevalent this might be on campus. In what ways do you plan to address that?

Mastrud: I don’t think a lot of people even know that we have a food pantry in the Memorial Union. It is relatively newer, and it’s kind of tucked away, so I think it’s good to advertise those resources. That way, if you’re experiencing food insecurity, you know what resources are available and how to find them.

Q. So what more can Student Government do to get the word out on what is available, especially when the new items are added?

Wahl: We have a couple of different mechanisms we want to work on as far as advertising or marketing. We really want to revamp our social media to better connect with students. That’s the day and age we’re in, but we haven’t utilized it a ton this year. We want to be more active and get more student followers.

A second idea or partnership we’re looking to build is with the Dakota Student. It’s called “SG In Three,” and it would be a podcast where we hop on weekly or every other week. For three minutes, we’d just talk about what’s happening on campus and invite different guests to come on. It would connect students, get them caught up on everything and take just three minutes of their day. And then, knock on wood, we’re hoping the MyUND student portal will be ready to go in August. We’re really excited to use that new interface to connect with students.

Q. You have a lot of action plans, but how do you empower other students to get involved?

Mastrud: There hadn’t been a contested or in-person election for two years, so I think having an in-person election this year with two teams running really helped get the Student Government name out there. People were educating themselves on what it is and what it does. Speaking as a former member of the Association of Residence Halls my freshman year, I think it’s really important to work with those younger leaders — get into those residence halls, go to the orientation events, the student organization fairs — and provide them with opportunities to get involved the second they step onto campus.

I know there’s a lot of students who are very involved in high school, and then they get to the University and don’t really know how to find those leadership opportunities they might be seeking. We want to invite those younger leaders to the table because they have a lot of great ideas and perspectives.

Wahl: We recognize that we don’t have all the answers. And so part of empowering people is physically bringing them to the table and helping them to know that their voices are heard and understood. So, we have plans for different committees related to diversity, equity, inclusion, the American Indian Center, connecting different student organizations, a transportation committee and others. We want to connect different organizations and bring those student leaders into a room.

I think the second part of it is recognizing that we’re able to empower students outside Student Government as well. We don’t need every single student to come into Student Government or be super passionate about it. But we want them to feel comfortable stepping up to lead in whatever area they’re passionate about or excited about — whether that’s in the classroom, at work or in athletics. Everyone has the opportunity to be a leader and step up in their own way. Our role in that is just to support them and be a model along the way.

Mastrud: I also think it’s important to note that not every student wants to be involved with Student Government, but it’s still our duty to provide them with the resources and education to know what’s available on campus in case something does spark their interest. We want them to be informed.