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Student Senate President Sophie Barnes Works to Tackle Campus Period Poverty

April 23, 2021
A YCP student posing in front of the campus fountain in a pink dress and blue jean jacket

Sophia “Sophie” Barnes ’22 is the incoming Student Senate President at York College of Pennsylvania. She has big goals to tackle in her year as president, including period poverty and grading systems.

As she prepares for her senior year and upcoming term as Student Senate President, Sophia “Sophie” Barnes ’22 has three main goals on her mind: eliminating period poverty, implementing a universal grading system, and improving connection with student athletes.

Since joining Student Senate as a first-year student, the Literary and Textual Studies major has relished the opportunity to serve her fellow classmates.

“Student Senate is a place where you can really make an impact as a student,” she says. “You don’t have to wonder ‘what if?’ You can make a plan, present ideas, and create visible change for the campus community.”

Barnes first got involved in student government as a high school student, but notes that at a college, students can often have a greater impact. As a first-year student, she watched Student Senate implement a no smoking, no tobacco policy on campus. That’s when she realized Student Senate was about “doing real- life things.”

Eliminating period poverty

This past year, Barnes brought an idea to Student Senate: What if students had access to free menstrual hygiene products? Working with a company called Aunt Flow, which provides period products and donates a portion of proceeds to communities that cannot afford period products, Barnes was able to roll out access to free tampons and pads in three York College bathrooms.

Barnes first learned about the program at a Student Senate Conference, where students from the University of South Dakota talked about their own implementation of free menstrual products on campus. Toilet paper is free, so why shouldn’t period products also be free and accessible, Barnes wondered.

“We’re college students. We’re adults,” Barnes said. “We can talk about this issue and be serious about it.” Student Senate is paying for the rollout of the first three machines with surplus funds from a year without events. The first three machines will be in the Main Level Student Union bathroom, the Main Level Library bathroom, and the Main Level Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center bathroom.

Her goal for next school year is to market the program and measure if students are using the machines. If they are, Barnes says, she hopes to get to a point where it could be rolled out campus-wide, even in dorms.

Universal grading system

Next on her list is to work with faculty to create a universal grading system, meaning all professors use the same grading scale. Currently, she says, a student can receive a 90 in one class and that would count as a 4.0, while it takes getting a 93 in another class to get a 4.0.

“Personally, it’s frustrating,” she says. “Those three points can be a lot, and having a universal system makes more equitable classrooms. Having a baseline would ease a lot of frustrations.”

Barnes recognizes tackling this goal will require a lot of communication and work with leadership across the campus, but she’s excited to work on something that can create a lasting impact on the academic side of college life.

Connecting with athletics

It’s uncommon to have a student athlete serve on Student Senate, Barnes says. Busy schedules and meetings that previously took place at the end of the day meant most athletes were at practices and couldn’t make the Student Senate meetings.

The first step in helping to fix that was changing the meeting times. Student Senate now meets in the morning to accommodate most team practice times so that student athletes can be more active in student government.

“Based on our meeting times, we were unintentionally excluding a large student population,” Barnes says. “We want to be here for our student athletes. If they have an issue, they should be able to come to Student Senate, but they also should have an opportunity to be active in that decision-making.”

Barnes also wants student athletes to feel like the rest of the student body is there to support them. She hopes some of this can be accomplished by having Senators attend games and practices, in addition to building communication.

Returning to a stronger York College

When she returns for her senior year and her presidency, Barnes hopes to find a stronger, kinder York College. The lessons of the pandemic taught her that it takes a community working together to get through the tough times. She hopes there is no “return to normal” for her and her peers. Instead, she wants to be inspired by the new sense of community that York College can offer.

“I think a stronger York College would look like a more welcome campus, where we all show compassion for where people are in life and embrace them as they are,” she says. “I’m excited to see the collaborations and new ideas we generate together.”