Student health organization disgruntled over lack of recognition for work on smoke-free movement

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By Eugene Kim, Contributor

Eta Sigma Gamma (ESG), a public health student organization at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, believes its efforts toward a smoke-free campus have been largely ignored by Student Government.

ESG president Corey Kinnan claims his organization has been advocating for a smoke-free campus policy before there was a campus-wide discussion, and now, is having credit taken from them by Student Government.

“I just feel like our student group has not gotten any recognition even from the university,” Kinnan said.“We haven’t been recognized as an organization that’s been a catalyst for the change. I think that maybe I’ve pissed off too many people.”

ESG officially launched their Smoke-Free UNO campaign on Feb. 7, 2014 with a Facebook page. Since then, they have conducted independent research; hosted a cigarette butt cleanup with Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition; reached out to the Douglas County Health Department, Tobacco Free Nebraska and the Wellness Council of the Midlands; and sponsored an online petition at Change.org.

“From day one, I’ve tried to be transparent about what we were doing, and maintain a great relationship with the university, and trying not to do anything that would cause a rift,” Kinnan said.

However, that’s exactly what happened after Kinnan was interviewed about the petition by local news outlets regarding the February dorm fire incident and ESG’s online petition.

“I actually got in trouble because I was trying to be too nice about our relationship with UNO,” Kinnan said. “When I was getting interviewed they were like, ‘What kind of support have you gotten from UNO?’ And I kind of lied and said,‘We’ve been working with Student Government and are trying to do this as a partnership,’ and actually, I got in trouble. That’s where it kind of started with Jordan [Koch]. She told me that specifically I cannot say that we are working with Student Government because they have not taken a stance on this. I wanted a partnership. You know, how can we do this together? It’s a common goal. And I was told that we cannot do this together.”

Jordan Koch, the current student body president, reiterated Student Government policy in regards to partnerships with other student organizations, and disagreed about sharing common goals.

“We couldn’t take a stance until we got the facts and figures in our hands for the whole student body, and we made sure to get the voices for both smokers and non-smokers alike,” Koch said. “And we did end up taking a stance on it after all of our research was completed as shown in our resolution. I never came into this process thinking the campus would be smoke-free. I wanted to do as much research as I could, survey the student body, find out what the student body wanted, and then go from there, and bring those facts and figures to the administration.”

The research referenced by Koch is a collection of focus groups that the Student Government hosted, aimed toward surveying the student body opinion.

“We worked with the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs to create and set up the questions for the focus groups, as well as who we would do the focus groups on,” Koch said. “We wanted to make sure that the focus groups we did do would have both smokers and non-smokers.”

Yet Kinnan claims the information gathered from those Student Government focus groups was far from complete or conclusive, and used inappropriately.

“I can tell you that their focus groups were only about 30 people total, and one of their focus groups only had one person. That’s not really good research at all,” Kinnan said. “I guess we had to be happy with the result that they were going to be moving forward with wanting to be smoke-free.”

Kinnan said Student Government passed their own policy based off no research from opinions of the student body. However, Koch argued the small focus groups were most effective at assessing the views of the student body.

“We didn’t want more than 10individuals at each of the focus groups, because otherwise the opinions would be lost,” Koch said. “In the most successful focus groups, you can’t have more than 10 students. I think that we did the best that we could. With focus groups you can’t really represent a total campus population but through our campus survey that we did on our election ballot, it seemed like there was support for the idea.”

When asked for a copy of the focus group results, Koch declined access, stating it was only to be provided to the administration, not the public.

Kinnan also accuses Koch of stealing credit from the ESG organization in regards to their contributions for pushing for a smoke-free campus, citing a lack of due diligence from different media outlets covering the topic.

“I don’t know what [Koch] is thinking,” Kinnan said. “I don’t want to say anything too negative, but it’s like somebody wants it for their resume only. I feel like as students we need to do things together.”

Koch refuted Kinnan’s accusation by concluding, “Student government represents all students so we had to make sure that we got the voices of all students, not just the specific side that he was supporting. We couldn’t work directly with that organization [ESG] because they supported things a certain way and we can’t have our opinions be swayed. We had to do our own research for what students wanted.”
Photo courtesy of Eta Sigma Gamma  Eta Sigma Gamma is a public health student organization at UNO, who has advocated for a smoke-free campus long before the dorm fire
Photo courtesy of Eta Sigma Gamma
Eta Sigma Gamma is a public health student organization at UNO, who has advocated for a smoke-free campus long before the dorm fire

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