The new Student Senate president, Nasser Katende Katamba, has stepped into the role at a difficult moment. Owing to the lockdown and remote learning, it has become harder for the Senate to fulfill its role of engaging and advocating for students. Nasser spoke to The Excalibur on how he and the Senate are trying to make sure all students can access the assistance they need.
MC Excalibur: What led you to become Senate president?
Nasser: Well, I’m originally from Uganda. I’m currently pursuing a pre-nursing degree and a general studies integrated degree. I’ve been in the United States for three and a half years now.
When I came to America, I felt like this was a possibility for me to be able to pursue what I really wanted to do in life, which was helping other people. I was involved from an early age with the Red Cross and I really picked up a lot of interests from there. My family is from a diplomatic background, so that’s also something that makes me get more involved, especially in politics. Those are just some of the small passions I have.
As soon as I joined Montgomery College, I joined several clubs, including the Model UN Club and iLead,which sharpened my leadership skills. I first got involved in the student senate when I represented my country at the Multicultural Fair, and I met many student senators, who encouraged me to join the student senate. I learned a lot and received a lot of love and guidance, and then I was able to run for president of the student senate. And now here I am.
MCE: Explain a little bit what your duties as student president are, and what your day or week looks like.
NKK: My duty is to represent the Student Senate as a whole and give them guidance and leadership. I also sometimes represent Montgomery College, for example before the Montgomery County Council, where I advocate for more funds so for any resources that need it. Another duty of the president is to preside over the closed and open meetings of the student senate. With the open meetings, we allow other students from the student body to air their concerns. The Senate is a platform for students to come, voice their concerns, and then we are able to represent the students better and try to resolve their issues.
To answer what my day really looks like: I always check the senate email and social media to know about anything that is happening. I’m always getting information to share with fellow students. I also like to exercise, because during remote learning I am under quite a lot of stress. I spend a lot of time with family members, which is very important. It’s a very busy schedule!
MCE: How are you and the Senate representing students at this difficult role at this time? What does student representation and outreach look like right now?
NKK: Our situation right now is something very new, and we’re still adjusting. When it comes to addressing student concerns, we’ve found it very challenging, because now there’s barely any contact with the students. In our open meetings, the numbers of students attending have fallen a lot. Sometimes it’s just the Senate members in there.
One of the strategies that we’ve come up with is to increase our use of social media. Many students use Instagram. We now use Instagram Live, where after every Senate meeting two senators explain what we discussed in the meeting. Students have an opportunity to ask questions, and the senators respond. We also now have a virtual suggestion box, where students can email the student senate if they can’t make it to a live meeting.
Yet you find that there are still people who are still not able to engage, and one of the other strategies we’ve come up with is to try and add more incentives, like having more free giveaways.Those are some of the new s
trategies that we’ve come up with to engage more students.
MCE: Are there any particular issues that the senate is focusing on right now? Campaigns or awareness or changes that they’re hoping to introduce?
NKK: Right now the senate has been focused on creating more awareness of MC’s resources for students. We’re trying to use social media, emails, and text messaging to reach students.
We have also tried to put more emphasis on students getting to know the academic resources available to them, like the writing centers, math center, science center. Too many students aren’t using these resources right now. The learning centers are now making videos to help students. In addition, the college libraries are now helping students to access e-books and any other kind of resources they can to help with class assignments.
MCE: What other resources or knowledge should students be taking advantage of at this time?
NKK: The college can provide so much help for students that need financial assistance, students that need help with groceries or with paying utility bills. For example, the MC CARES Fund assistance program caters to every category of student. If students need help with rent, utility bills, affording textbooks, or tuition, the MC assistance program can provide needs-based assistance.the libraries are all still there for the students, and they enable students to get more engaged within the school.
The SHaW Center also has many different resources. It has resources and advice to do with stress, and there is a mental health hotline to help students going through a difficult time. There are so many different programs available, and everything is totally private and confidential. There are also Zumba classes, physical activities, and cooking classes. The SHaW Center has done a really tremendous job in responding to the pandemic. They have the peer-to-peer programs. For instance, recently with the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that happened, they came up with all these different initiatives for students to be involved within the process of fighting systemic racism. So the peer-to-peer mentors are able to involve and engage the students, because It’s all students, peer-to-peer, so it’s students engaging with other students. That way you find it very easy for students to listen to other students or respond and engage.
MCE: What is the best way for students to have their voices heard at MC right now?
NKK: The first way is to follow us on social media, through social media platforms like Instagram. We have an Instagram page for the Student Senate, and Student Senate combined with the Office of Student Life, so they can be able to find almost all resources posted there on our web page.
We’re all in this together. We’re all trying our best to see that we do the most to make sure we curb this pandemic. I believe it’s all about all of us coming together to get rid of this pandemic. It has really been challenging but, I believe we can get through this together.