Two Ohio State students in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs represent the more than 50,000 students in the University District as members of the University Area Commission: Zaida Jenkins and Ben McKinley.
Jenkins, a fourth-year in public management, leadership and policy and public policy and management, and McKinley, a third-year graduate in public policy and management, said they were selected by the Undergraduate Student Government and the Council of Graduate Students to represent the student population. As student members of the UAC, they said they keep problems brought up by their peers in mind when recommending or voting during commission meetings.
Jenkins’ said her first term on the commission was in the fall semester, and she currently serves on the zoning committee to vote on cases around the district.
“I just really enjoy local government. That’s where I see my career going in the next five to 10 years,” Jenkins said. “[Joining] was a no-brainer for me given that the commission is directly integrated into the city of Columbus and its legislative process.”
Jenkins said her roles outside of the meetings involve preparing for discussions and monitoring emails to review any received suggestions and problems.
“Specifically with zoning, if I’m not super familiar with the exact property, I’ll go for a walk or go for a drive and just check it out and see what’s over there, so I have a better understanding of the property we’re discussing,” Jenkins said.
With recent attention to zoning cases in the commission with two proposals for housing to tear down campus bars, the Bier Stube and The Little Bar , Jenkins said she encourages students to voice opinions or share concerns with her.
On top of bringing such projects up in class and in USG to discuss with students, Jenkins said she uses social media in her spare time to reach people with opinions she might have not yet heard. Still, representing the whole undergraduate population can be challenging.
“It’s really hard to get people to care sometimes, and to care enough to share their opinions with me is a whole other process,” Jenkins said.
McKinley said he joined the commission in 2021 and has found prioritizing issues of different groups difficult depending on the circumstance.
“A lot of the issues that graduate students have are a lot of the same ones that undergraduates have as well, especially when it comes to concerns about safety and accessibility,” McKinley said. “We want to talk about the fact that utility rates are going up and that will impact both graduate students and undergraduate students.”
McKinley also works full-time for Ohio State’s Office of Student Life as an administrative coordinator where he said he talks to students living in or moving to the off-campus area to gather concerns. He said most other concerns come from discussions within the Council of Graduate Students.
“I’ve taken a couple of city and regional planning classes, so I always want to think about accessibility when it comes to mixed-use neighborhoods, walking areas, bike paths — making a safer environment for those and encouraging further development of those accessibility areas,” McKinley said.
Though McKinley said he and Jenkins sometimes disagree on considerations for cases to be heard by the commission, they both agreed it’s difficult to work within the bounds of the commission.
Jenkins said the zoning committee recommends granting variances for topics such as height and parking to developers. She said these decisions cannot be affected by personal wants for affordability and ease for students if it works within the city code of Columbus.
“I’ve held a few different hats. I’ve been the city intern, and I understand that process, and now I’m a commission member, but I’ve also been the person organizing protests,” Jenkins said. “I get there’s different lanes that you have to be in when you’re working on different projects. Something [difficult] for me as I’ve been in this role was getting to the understanding of what I’m charged to do and that is to look at the variances and consider the things that are laid out in code.”
Jenkins said she thinks it is important for students to participate in the process and voice their concerns for projects, especially if they relate to what the commissioners consider when they vote.
McKinley similarly said he encourages students to come to commission meetings and see issues or offer potential solutions, especially for students.
“I always tell people that they are public meetings to go and see local politics at work and local choices being made,” McKinley said. “The concerns that are happening, we’re talking about and issues that come up.”
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