Fostering a welcoming environment, building relationships and improving mental health services are just some of the goals of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Student Body President, Sophia Spina.
Spina and running mate Alexandra Colella took over the positions from Nicholas Fitzgerald and Tyler Silverwood. Spina is majoring in psychology and has been involved with the Student Senate since her freshman year when she was the third-floor representative for Christensen Hall.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with all the different types of admin, faculty, and groups of students to get a good perspective on what everybody wants to see changed or how people think about things. I think having me as an outlet, people being able to come to me to give their perspective and me, bringing it to other places of higher importance is valuable to people,” said Spina. “It’s really nice being trusted by both sides and creating relationships within each.”
Spina also values the “warm and welcoming” environment and relationships she’s built within the Student Senate. She pointed to the additional procedures defining harassment that were added to the senate’s bylaws to prevent a repeat of the spring 2020 senate investigation. The investigation was in response to allegations of a “hostile climate toward women Senators” and general misconduct among members. This situation is also why Spina values transparency between the presidency, senate and student body.
“Between everybody and senate, we all have really good connections and networking to almost every wing of the student body,” explained Spina. Most senators are part of residence hall councils, Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL), or other student organizations which gives them an inside perspective. She also hopes to increase transparency by adding more information to the UNH student body president’s Instagram. For now, she recommends students look to the senate’s Instagram account.
One issue that Spina has been working on is improving the relationship between students and the campus police and Durham Police Department. Spina, along with Judicial Affairs Chair Emily Dennison, has been organizing a Police Advisory Committee every Friday so students can ask questions and learn more about policing in the community.
“I feel like some people have views on things [like policing] that aren’t correct because they don’t have the knowledge to back it up and having the resources to be able to teach that to the students so people can have a better understanding has been very important,” she said.
Spina, who is also a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, has also been trying to bridge the gap between FSL and the student senate. She feels like there is a disconnect between academics and FSL, for example, with sorority recruitment being available online while classes are not.
Spina also came into office with a focus on mental health advocacy after the loss of a friend last year due to suicide. This incident made her realize she could use her position in student government to make a difference. In addition to spreading awareness about UNH’s Psychological and Counseling Services (PACS) and other mental health services, Spina hopes to set up wellness events later in the semester.
“I think COVID was a time where everybody was kind of at their worst,” she said. “Being able to be out in-person again has made us realize that we were struggling so much in quarantine without interactions with everybody. So, it’s made people more open about how they are struggling because everybody was going through the same thing.”
Spina is also working to increase awareness about the Beauregard Center’s services to promote diversity and looking into reopening Stillings. She encourages students who have any thoughts or concerns to contact the senate.
“There are no limits to how far we’ll go to make sure everybody’s happy,” said Spina.