Madison, WI

University of Wisconsin-Madison student leader is on a mission to fight food insecurity and rising students costs

Maggie Degnan

By Maggie Degnan

Lennox Owino serves as the Vice Chair of the Associated Students of Madison at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Lennox, an actuarial science and finance major in the School of Business, hails from Nairobi, Kenya. He has made it his mission to “act as a voice for [his] fellow students.” He proves his dedication to this mission by bringing awareness to food insecurity on campus and the costs of applying as an incoming student to the university.

Associated Students of Madison (ASM) is the official student governance body of UW-Madison. Its roles are divided into three categories: direct action, governance, and service.

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ASM Vice Chair Lennox Owino (left) and NewsBreak journalist Maggie Degnan (right)Maggie Degnan

Owino got his start with ASM his freshman year (2019-2020) as an intern. After this, he was elected to represent students in the College of Arts and Sciences. Shortly after switching his majors, Owino was elected representative of students in the school of business at UW-Madison. Needless to say, Owino has been dedicated to ASM throughout his academic career at the university.

“Last year, due to the pandemic, the UW system introduced an application process whereby if you're applying to schools in the system, you don't have to pay an application fee. This wasn't extended to UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee, so I'll be working on getting that policy to cover UW-Madison as well. For a school with a statute such as UW-Madison, we attract applicants from different social classes from different groups all around the world. And these groups include low-income and international students for whom paying the application fee might be a huge problem. So I'll be working on getting that application fee waiver to be automatically applied to students applying to UW-Madison as well.”

In addition to this initiative, Owino said he wants to expand UW’s student food pantry, “The Open Seat.” The Open Seat works to “alleviate the stresses of food insecurity by providing friendly and accessible sources of food for students.”

“Currently The Open Seat is under the purview of ASM and we get to distribute food to students and campus members who are in need of food aid. If we had an Open Seat, for example, on the Lakeshore side of campus, then perhaps people who are in the Lakeshore dorms don’t have to come all the way to East Campus Mall to get food aid.”

The Open Seat only has one physical location on campus. According to Owino, the goal is to expand so that the pantry is not only under purview of ASM, but rather the administration as a whole to support more students in need of food.

“Getting to open other locations all around campus means that, as I mentioned, [students] wouldn’t have to come all the way to East Campus Mall to get food relief. I think that would be quite great,” he said.

When asked about whether he believes food insecurity to be a prominent issue at the university, Owino said “It is a prominent issue, but the thing is you cannot expect someone who is suffering with food insecurity to come out and tell everyone. For these people, getting food is a very big challenge, but so is seeking help. Making more locations for Open Seat would be something quite beneficial to them.”

“As a low-income student myself, I do know what that's like coming into a school that expects you to pay a lot of money just to exist. So speaking from experience, I know that getting food can be a very big challenge to many students.” Owino also stated that based on the number of students who come to the weekly food pantry, it is obvious food insecurity is a problem faced by many students on campus.

When asked about his particular passions as a member of ASM, Owino said “We do not have very many international students in ASM. Being one of the very few, I want to continue working and speaking on behalf of international students, and also students who in the past have been underserved and underrepresented in ASM.”

Owino emphasized that anyone who reads this profile should feel free to reach out to ASM if they have any issues they feel ASM should work on. “Student representatives are here to act as your voice, not to act on their own accord. So feel free to reach out to me or any person in ASM.”

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Wooden plaque outside of ASM's main office in the Student Activity Center on East Campus MallMaggie Degnan

Lennox Owino and the rest of ASM’s members began the new season in April, and more information about their campaigns will become available as the new school year approaches.

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UW-Madison student majoring in Journalism and Spanish with a certificate in Public Policy. Articles provided will have a special focus on government, racial inequities, student and community leaders and other local matters in the city of Madison. Soon to be Badger Herald State News Associate in Fall 2021.

Madison, WI
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