Last fall, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos rescinded Obama era Title IX guidance and issued an "interim" set of guidance until the department could come up with proposed federal rules. That process is expected to kick off in March and will provide students the opportunity to weigh in on the final version of the rules. We're pretty concerned about what may come from that process, but there are rays of hope all around the country.
Yesterday, the Minnesota State University Board of Trustees became the latest system to adopt a uniform affirmative consent policy. The unanimous vote on February 21st sets a clear standard for Minnesota State's 37 institutions and came after a big push from students across the system to improve policy and education programs. Students United, which represents the student governments of the system's seven universities, led the charge. We caught up with the Chair of Students United, Faiçal Rayani, to learn more about their successful advocacy and tips for other systems.
NCLC: What's your background? How did you end up becoming Students United Chair?
Faiçal Rayani: I am an international student at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I am a senior, my major is Information Technology. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, my father is from Tunisia and my mother is from Syria. I got into student leadership as a residence association representative and found my passion for public service. After many failures, I was elected as a student senator for 3 years in a row, the vice president of the international student association, the vice president of the residence hall association, student body president and finally now as State Chair of students United representing all university students in the Minnesota state system. I also started my own data science student organization at MSU, Mankato that has a strong 100+ members.
NCLC: Why is this issue a priority for you? How did you get involved?
FR: As an international student born and raised in Saudi Arabia I was unaware of the lack of consent and bystander intervention education in the United States. I attended a consent seminar my freshman year and was alarmed by the number of students that did not understand the meaning of consent. When I was elected as State Chair, I decided to have a focused approach. I gathered the board to identify and tackle a maximum of three major issues or objectives and affirmative consent made the list as a high priority for Students United this year.
NCLC: What were/are your goals and what was/is your game plan for getting there?
FR: We started by working on the universities individually and that gathered support from university presidents, student government and Title IX coordinators on our individual seven state universities. We were simultaneously lobbying with the system office to change and improve the policy while continuing the conversation with all other stakeholders such as the IFO and the board of trustees. Our plan was to have a uniform and collaborative effort at all levels of the Minnesota State System.
NCLC: What have been the biggest challenges during this effort?
FR: A challenge at first was passing a uniform policy through all seven state university student governments. It was difficult to identify language that all students agreed on. It was also difficult to coordinate the motion passing since it hinged entirely on student support and passion for the issue on that particular campus. It was also challenging to rally all the stakeholders behind the idea of affirmative consent and educating them on the need for the policy in the system.
NCLC: What has the response been from students on your campus and across the system?
FR: We have received overwhelming support from our students. Our delegation of 41 voting members that attend our conference voted unanimously to expedite the adoption of affirmative consent. Our board unanimously passed it, followed by all seven state university student governments unanimously passing it. Today, Feb. 21, 2018, the board of trustees of Minnesota State also unanimously passed the policy. This change has long been overdue to combat the epidemic of sexual assault.
NCLC: What are your tips for other student leaders on how they can be successful on this issue?
- Collaborate uniformly - Our greatest strength was that we involved ALL stakeholders in the discussions. This allowed us to take control of the dialogue and centralize the discussion while also buying in support.
- Build relationships - We already had established great relationships with the faculty association, the student governments, university presidents, Title IX officers and chief diversity officers. My advice is to never burn a bridge and keep a respectful relationship with all stakeholders if at all possible.
- Rally student support - Campaigning with students early on regarding the policy allowed us to obtain student support early in the process. This led to students advocating on this issue on their individual campuses.
- Be knowledgeable - As student leaders, we spent the time to learn this issue and know how to answer the tough questions.
At the beginning of the semester, President Trump announced the end of the DACA program, allowing Congress six months to save the program and the 800,000 young people who are currently part of it. One of those students is Daysi Bedolla, who is currently student body president at Eastern Oregon University. She has been active in advocating for undocumented students rights for years and has looked to student government as an important platform to expand and elevate that advocacy. She recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to share her story with Members of Congress. We caught up with Daysi recently as she reflected on where the issue has been and where it is going next.
NCLC: How did you become involved in advocacy around DACA?
Daysi Bedolla: I went to DC to take action [in November] because I am a DACA recipient. That encouraged me to advocate for others and myself. Our goal is to raise awareness about we’re doing. There is a lot of stigma against DACA and undocumented folks. A lot of what I’m doing is for everyone surrounding me to benefit. I care deeply to make sure that others have the opportunity to go to college. It’s difficult to find scholarships and support. I want to make sure all people have access to higher education.
NCLC: What were your big takeaways from the DC trip?
DB: I was involved [in DACA advocacy] prior to the D.C. action. I went to a meeting organizing advocates from Oregon, trying to get a local member of Congress to support DACA. We have not yet succeeded there. Making noise in D.C. was very intentionally, there are all these people in the same boat – I have often felt like a voice for this DACA community and for once it didn’t feel like I was doing it alone. Walking next to the people going through the same thing I’m going through, it felt super powerful and encouraging to see Senators take the Senate with us and hold signs during marches. We didn’t get the results we wanted yet, which is [Speaker of the House] Paul Ryan saying something to us.
NCLC: What has the response been within the campus community?
DB: Before I was SGA president, I was president of a club called United Undocumented Students. It’s been a transition from that position to SGA president – I spoke with my advisors beforehand to make sure I was balanced in my approach on DACA. They challenged me to ask “would I act this strongly for any other cause?” My answer was yes. I am up for fighting for racial justice and equality. I haven’t heard anything bad from the administration so I guess that’s a good thing. Due to the work on DACA last year, I think we are primed for success on campus and within the community.
NCLC: What was your pathway from DACA advocacy to becoming student body president?
DB: I started United Undocumented Students on campus two years ago because of a conference I attended called “Oregon Students of Color.” I joined a coalition meeting with undocumented students. From there, we decided to go back to our campuses and make some change. I proposed starting a club for undocumented students and allies. The first year was in the spring term 2016; we set up a safe space and network with other Oregon and Washington institutions. Our first endeavor was [voter] registration drives in partnership with the SGA. We joined local initiatives and national initiatives. I was already doing some of that work and working at multicultural affairs center.
I met a lot of people during my time in those roles. I talked to a lot of advisors; I decided in the spring term and was encouraged to do it. Being an advocate for human rights is my passion. It has been difficult; I gave up the club to do student government. My mother advises, “it doesn’t matter what I do as long as true to myself and advocating for students,” which is my passion. Talking to my counselor, I asked the same question and received the same answer. I had a huge group of friends to help me run [for SGA president]. I wanted to make change and bring a lot of people together. The multicultural center was really helpful, and we ultimately were successful!
NCLC: How do you feel about where things are and where they are going?
DB: I don’t know how I feel right now. Within my work as student body president, I am working on mental health. There is a stigma of leaders needing help. Something I’ve been doing is going to see my therapist – it keeps me living. But I also have a really good support system. It is always in the back of my mind, but it’s not constant. I try to stay neutral and keep it in focus when possible. I have applied to go up to D.C. for the advocacy work after classes have finished. I am also organizing senator calls and rallies locally. We are seeking more support. I will be doing more of that work during winter break.
We are showing that youth can move mountains. Everything seems uncertain – I’ll just continue to do what I do, which is advocate for folks and for myself. Maybe why I don’t think about [legislation not passing] is because my brother is a DACA student and currently in high school. There are students like him that might not be able to make it to college if something doesn’t happen. We have to appeal more to the emotions [of lawmakers]. Even if it doesn’t pass in the next months, we’ll keep pushing. DACA is used by politicians; yes, it is made political. It won’t keep me from advocating for students.
NCLC: What tips do you have for other student leaders interested in doing this work?
- Ask undocumented students on your campus what they need. it is especially important to go out of your way to ask and interact with undocumented students – maybe open a safe space for undocumented students if there isn’t a campus club. Example, we have an advocate group alongside our club, students sign up if they want to talk or if they don’t feel safe, etc. This is an initiative we started last year.
- Provide undocumented students platforms to speak up and share their voice.
- Advocate for policy change. It is vital to organize call drives to Congress, launch campaigns, and educate people on what DACA recipients do, what DACA recipients want. We aren’t criminals, but rather contributing, valuable parts of America.
NCLC: Is there anything else you feel would be important for us to include that student body leaders should know?
DB: Just to encourage a greater call for allies! It’s important to call on allies to lend their support and take action with us. The action is a big piece. If there isn’t action we will unfortunately not move forward. In D.C., we had a lot of allies, [and] the numbers increase when we have them. It’s important to not just say we support but take action locally and in Washington D.C.
Photos provided courtesy of Daysi Bedolla.
[Updated on November 14, 2017, to include changes and information about Senate version]
Tax reform was a major promise from President Trump and Members of Congress from both parties during the 2016 campaign. That promise has now taken shape as the 429-page Tax Cut & Jobs Act. The next step is for the House Ways and Means Committee to do a four-day markup, which is a formal process for considering amendments to legislation.
What does this have to do with colleges?
Tax policy has a huge influence on higher education policy, affecting how students pay for college and how institutions make investments, among other things. There is a lot to unpack in the current GOP proposal. Here are four big items you should be aware of:
Ending the student loan interest deduction | When you take out a federal student loan, you have the initial amount of the loan plus the interest on that loan. The current provision allows you to deduct the payments you make on the interest on your student loans (up to $2,500) when paying your taxes. The proposed policy would end this deduction.
Eliminating tax credits | Students and families paying for tuition can take advantage of a few different tax credits, depending on how long the student has been in school. These include the American Opportunity Tax Credit (up to $5,000 per year), Lifetime Learning Credit (up to $2,000 per year), and the Hope Scholarship Credit (up to $1,500 per year). The proposed policy would eliminate the Lifetime Learning Credit and Hope Scholarship Credit. The future of the American Opportunity Tax Credit is a little murky, as a separate provision could limit access to the credit. Ultimately, the proposed policy would limit or eliminate the credits students and families use, depending on how long students are in school.
Taxing “waived tuition” | This largely affects graduate and doctoral students, but it is worth knowing about. A form of financial aid that many institutions use is tuition remission. Essentially, a college will say a student does not have to pay some or all of their tuition, typically in exchange for their contribution to research or responsibilities on campus. The proposed policy would require students to report the value of the waived tuition as income. So if you make $20k per year during a part-time job and your institution waives the $40k annual tuition, the proposed law would tax you as if you earn $60k annually.
Tax on university endowment investments | Universities raise a lot of money for important programs like scholarship and faculty recruitment and retention. Universities do this through traditional fundraising (if you are an alum, you get hit up for money a lot) and making investments. The proposed policy would establish a 1.4% tax on income that private universities generate through investments. While it only targets institutions with uber-large endowments, the higher ed community is concerned about the precedent and long-term pressure to raise additional funds to offset the loss of income in order to maintain important programs.
What does the Senate have to say about this?
The Senate released their version of the bill on Friday, November 10th. The Senate version is generally better for higher education in comparison to the House version. You can find a quick breakdown below comparing the key parts of the plans, but the Senate bill introduces a new issue:
- Royalty taxes | Most institutions are nonprofit organizations, which means the money they earn is usually not subject to taxes. Institutions own their own branding and can license out usage of that branding for commercial purposes. That's how you get all the t-shirts, magnets, and mugs in the campus bookshop. The institution generates revenue each time those items are purchased through royalties. The Senate bill would treat that revenue as "unrelated business income" and tax it as if the institution were a for-profit corporation.
Here is a quick overview of the key differences:
|Higher ed tax credits||Leaves them alone||Eliminates all but one|
|Student loan interest deduction||Leaves it alone||Eliminates it|
|Endowment tax||Taxes them||Taxes them|
|Tuition waivers||Leaves them alone||Taxes as income|
|Logo royalties||Taxes as unrelated income||Not included|
Why does this matter?
The U.S. tax code is pretty messy, and both parties tend to support cleaning up the seemingly endless list of deductions and credits and loopholes. It is not much of a surprise that some items that affect higher education would be included in a tax reform proposal. In and of itself, that is not a big problem. Actually, much of the higher education community agrees that higher education tax credits are not well targeted as a form of student aid and could be eliminated in order to significantly invest in the Pell grant program. The major hangup is that the savings that the Tax Cut & Jobs Act eliminates these benefits without reinvesting the savings back into better targeted higher education programs.
If you are interested in getting involved with this issue, reach out to NCLC at email@example.com. We'll connect you with some awesome partner organizations who are working on this issue.
Since 2010, a former student body president has been leading New Jersey as governor. But opinion polls--and the general news--show that Governor Chris Christie faces increasing scrutiny over various decisions, gaffes, and confrontations with constituents. But behind the public controversy is a state government that shapes students’ lives every day.
Today, the state will elect a new governor and campuses around the state are jumping in to shape the state’s future.
We spoke to the student body presidents at Rutgers University and Caldwell University to learn how student leaders are navigating the election. The two institutions couldn’t be more different. Rutgers is a major research institution, newly admitted to the Big Ten Conference, and sits as the state’s biggest public institution with more than 65,000 students. Caldwell, on the other hand, Caldwell is a private Catholic institution with about 2,000 students.
The backdrop to the 2017 election, of course, is the rancor and vitriol of the 2016 election. That has affected these campuses differently. Evan Covello, Rutgers student body president, thinks 2016 has made Rutgers students more active, but the stakes of state policy are the real motivation for students to be involved.
“What’s made it interesting is the fact that we’ve had years of a governor who hasn’t really done much for higher education,” Covello said. “Even people who haven’t been involved in state government in the past have gotten more engaged in reaction to that.”
Lindsey Hogan, Caldwell student body president, feels her student body has reacted differently.
“From what it seems from the involvement in [the 2016 election], is that we have a very high Democratic student rate on campus,” Hogan said. “Following last year’s election a lot of people weren’t happy with the outcome and I think that kind of steered them away from trying to really focus on this election, which is unfortunate.”
Bringing people together
Both presidents see their role as facilitator and making sure everyone feels they can participate, particularly given the heavily partisan political environment.
“I think that as student government and my job as president, I think that the most important thing to focus on is to make sure that everyone is comfortable and everyone is knowledgeable of the resources that they have provided for them,” said Hogan. Caldwell’s student government has worked to better empower politically active student organizations, like the Socio-political Society, have the resources they need to engage students in the election.
“Caldwell is really close-knit so all of our student clubs and organizations really tie into the academic departments that they’re involved in … I think that student government [is] the liaison that ties together the students and the faculty and the staff and all of the resources on campus,” Hogan said.
Similarly, Covello has sought to use student government as a way to support other organizations doing voter engagement work. Early on, he convened a civic engagement task force, comprised of politically affiliated student organizations.
“My job is to help bridge that gap between the awareness about the election and some of the barriers that could come up between [students] and voting,” Covello said.
Working Working with Administrators
At both institutions, the student governments have worked with their university administrations to support voter education and registration efforts. At Rutgers, RU Voting has provided a central venue for students to access information and resources about voting. It’s a university-driven initiative that has helped student leaders drive students to central information. They are even planning to provide shuttles to students to get to their polling locations, according to Covello.
Hogan cited some 2016 election programming as particularly reflective of how the Caldwell administration works with students.
“Last year when we had those open forums, we had the president of the university there, we had the VP student life, we had counseling services, and they all actively participated in the conversation as well,” Hogan said. “It was really nice to see everyone kind of engage in a civil conversation no matter what their role was on campus.”
Both campuses has a unique set of challenges, but Rutgers faces a particularly tough one: geography. The New Brunswick campus is large and sprawling, covering two jurisdictions. Depending on where a student lives on campus, they may have a totally different polling location and slate of local candidates.
“If you live in one dorm, your voting location could be somewhere totally different than someone who lives in the building across from you on campus,” Covello said.
This is part of why Covello has focused so much energy on making sure everyone who is trying to get students to the polls is equipped with the right information through RU Voting.
Even in off-off-year elections, student leaders are committed to ensuring students are a part of the process with the information and resources to be informed voters. In New Jersey, Rutgers and Caldwell provide an interesting roadmap for institutions of all sizes.
The key: be a resource to a diverse set of student groups.
As Covello said, “The number one thing is the university really needs to work in unison in terms of getting students out to vote and getting participation up. I think it’s important for Rutgers but really anywhere that faculty and student orgs are on the same page about information about basic things like polling locations.”
We will see what comes from the 2017 elections, but Covello is already looking to the future. He has advocated for election days to be recognized as university holidays so that students are able to miss class in order to vote.
Statement on Announcement About Federal Title IX Enforcement
Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced her intention to rescind and use a public comment process to rewrite the Obama Administration’s policies and guidance on Title IX enforcement. A 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and subsequent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education reshaped how colleges and universities understand and implement their obligation to prevent gender-based discrimination under Title IX. Under current policy, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) opened more than 300 investigations into potential institutional failures to properly protect students’ rights under Title IX. While campus sexual assault is significantly under-reported, national and institutional studies consistently find that roughly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men experience sexual assault during their time as undergraduates. LGBT students and students of color are at greater risk.
Andy MacCracken, NCLC Executive Director and Cofounder, issued the following statement:
“I believe survivors. NCLC believes survivors.
Secretary DeVos’s remarks were based on the common myth that there is an epidemic of false accusations of sexual assault. There is not. Every study shows that false sexual assault reports are as rare as every other violent crime category. Suggesting otherwise is wildly irresponsible.
I agree with the Secretary that we must ensure effective and fair campus proceedings, and that’s exactly why we should build on the Obama Administration’s guidelines rather than start over. The guidelines pursue consistency, fidelity, and transparency at every institution and include thorough implementation suggestions using evidence-based best practices. If institutions follow them well, students know what to expect from the process. Higher education is slow to change. Without pressure from OCR, students--especially survivors--are left with the full burden of improving proceedings and policy campus by campus.
As we move into a new academic year, uncertainty about the future of federal policy is dangerous. Title IX is still the law, and institutions are obligated to implement best practices to prevent sexual assault and hold perpetrators accountable.
I urge all student leaders to participate in the public comments process Secretary DeVos announced and redouble efforts to improve campus policy and culture. NCLC will work closely with our student leaders to ensure their input and voices are heard by policymakers and federal leadership.”
On behalf of the National Campus Leadership Council, NCLC's Executive Director Andy MacCracken released the following statement:
"Student body presidents from around the country released a joint statement today condemning the acts of hate and violence by White supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, this weekend. NCLC reaffirms the statement and strongly encourages all student body leaders to join in and amplify that much-needed solidarity. What we are seeing is not normal. We must rebuild the broken national discourse, and we must all urgently rise to do what is required of us to start that process in our own campus communities and beyond. As we move into a new academic year, NCLC will do its part to stand with and support students leading these efforts nationwide, campus by campus."
Since 2012, NCLC has connected and trained thousands of student leaders. Our Presidential Leadership Summit has attracted student body presidents from nearly all fifty states.
Today, we’re launching the Campus Impact Conference--or CampusCon for short--to help student leaders at every level build a better campus.
We created this conference to equip your organization’s cabinet with serious training to make your term a resounding success. Designed for student government teams and student leaders from any campus organization, CampusCon will feature engaging speakers, rich educational content, and opportunity to create lasting partnerships and friendships.
Join us in Denver this fall to develop networks, gain expertise, and create a plan for action.
October 20-22, 2017
$339 per student
Early rates end August 15th
Browse our website here to learn more — and as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. We can’t wait to see you!
What issues did you run on last year? Are there any projects that you plan on spending your time on during the summer in preparation for the start of the academic year?
Seeking reelection for a second term, my Vice President and I campaigned on a few objectives: continue eliciting on-campus interaction; continue our campus enhancement initiatives; expand the role of student government; and provide optimal transparency and outreach.
Our executive board has spent the summer diligently crafting and preparing action plans to effectively execute the aforementioned campaign platform. At the forefront is the establishment of five student-led subcommittees to our executive board. Our student body does not have a student senate; instead, our student body has two elected representatives and six appointed members – amounting to eight executive board members. This initiative is the underlying foundation of expanding the role of government by engaging students in the capacity to represent the student body. It is my hope that through this initiative, a student senate will transpire in the future.
Additional initiatives not mentioned in the campaign platform are “dead week” reform and sponsoring an abroad academic summer program. As for “dead week” reform, I have hosted numerous conversations on this topic. Students inform me that the current system is not conducive to optimal performance during finals week and that their letter grade may not accurately reflect learning and retention. As for our sponsored abroad academic summer program, I will continue efforts to provide an opportunity for members of our student body to become immersed abroad in a foreign culture. The intent is to provide global awareness and vocational outcomes to students through educational studies and service opportunities.
Are you proud of anything in particular that you have achieved thus far?
I am extremely proud of the success with both of our campus enhancement and eliciting on-campus interaction initiatives.
I have presided over the creation of 13 clubs and organizations, as well as the reactivation of three. Clubs and Organizations at Grand View have increased from 27 to 43 – equating to a 59% increase of on-campus involvement. I also designate a portion of the student government budget to a campus enhancement initiative. This initiative provides funding to various projects that encourage recreational activities and enhance overall student life for our student body. In my first term, the comprehensive amount of funding provided to the campus enhancement initiative by our executive board was more than the previous four semesters combined by preceding administrations.
In addition to enhancing student life, these two initiatives are used to appeal to prospective students while on a campus visit. When prospective students attend to visit and take campus tours, I believe our efforts as a student government may help distinguish Grand View University from other institutions and effectively contribute to recruiting the next generation of Vikings.
What do you think makes your student body unique?
I believe the overall size and student demographics distinguish Grand View University. Grand View offers a high-quality education to a diverse student body of 2,000 students in a career-oriented, well-rounded liberal arts curriculum. With regard to our student demographics – nearly 300 out-of-state students represent 38 states and territories; there are approximately 45 international students from 23 different countries; and the College for Professional and Adult Learning serves over 400 students during the evening hours. With 41 majors, 29 minors, 5 graduate programs, and an array of certificate programs, Grand View creates a community of learners where differing perspectives are welcome in a diverse and changing world. The increasing inclusive environment supports students from all walks of life, geographies, religions, and ethnicities.
Growing up in small town Iowa, I was not exposed to this type of diversity. Grand View has provided me with an environment that encourages students to engage with fellow students and members of the community. Through this type of dialogue, we learn that we have more in common than we differ. I, personally, keep in touch with a few international students who recently graduated, and a few of my closest friends are from Illinois, Minnesota, and Georgia. The exposure has enhanced my global awareness while providing me with new perspectives.
What has surprised you the most about serving in this leadership role thus far?
As the student body president, I have discovered that this role requires the incumbent to be an effective listener. When communicating with students, an individual’s ego may obstruct a conversation – thus preventing any common ground from being established. As humans, we are inclined to be reserved towards topics that we cannot relate to or to those topics that fall outside of our comfort zone. If I am attempting to persuade an individual on a particular initiative, I must first preserve and maintain a calm state of mind while seeking to understand the person from his or her point of view. As an elected representative, when I seek to understand, I am better able to follow along with the conversation and consider the perspectives from another person’s point of view.
Additionally, there is a great deal of sacrifice while serving as student body president. At the forefront of each president’s agenda is transparency; however, there is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes unnoticed into effectively running a student government association. Classes may often be missed in order to attend important meetings; e-mails become a primary source of communication; weekends are often designated time for catching up on studies;and 2:00 a.m. becomes a considerable bedtime. When a person is passionate about making a difference, he or she will devote the time and stop at nothing to accomplish it. In my case, it is serving the student body to the best of my ability. I am thankful for my family and have grown more appreciative of my friends for their perpetual support, understanding, and commitment to me with my endeavor.
How would you describe your leadership style? Do you have a political figure or person you look up to?
My leadership style is a blend of participative and transformational. These are two practical application styles of leadership, which I believe encourages dialogue and collaboration. I value input from each executive board member and student, and I also attempt to boost the team morale. I rely on communication and use it as a medium to enhance productivity and efficiency. This blend of styles instills a feeling that each person contributes to the decision-making process.
I look up to my advisor, Dr. Jay Prescott. As the Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Prescott oversees student life and the overall success and development of students at Grand View University. Dr. Prescott has become a close mentor of mine, as I have developed a strong, working relationship with him. As a mentor, Dr. Prescott inspires me to discern my vocation while pursuing my passions and interests. I credit Dr. Prescott’s guidance to my growth in leadership and ability to effectively engage within our community. Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Prescott has an open-door policy and willingly makes time for me each day as I frequently visit him. I aspire to become the servant leader Dr. Prescott not only demonstrates to me, but to our entire campus community.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring student body presidents?
As student body president, it is important to know that you cannot accomplish everything on your own. It is important to seek out individuals who are equally passionate about making a difference and to appoint them to represent the student body alongside you. It is also important to become familiar with university faculty, staff, and administration members. Although there will be times in which you feel no support from any of these three groups, I can honestly say that they take a keen interest in your professional development and do in fact take into consideration your input and proposals. I am truly grateful for the assistance that I have received from members of the faculty, staff, and administration at Grand View University. Without their support, our student government would not be as effective in representing the student body.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing your student body and higher education generally?
One of the biggest challenges facing my student body is a lack of engagement. I often promote that a college education is not exclusive to your first job; it is an education that will perpetuate with you for the rest of your life. Being engaged on campus has provided me the opportunity to grow as a person; the skills I have obtained and experiences encountered are continuously preparing me for the future. Campus organizations and student leadership are integral parts of education at a private liberal arts university by virtue of their ability to engage students outside of the classroom. In my opinion, you have to make yourself vulnerable and learn to take a risk. Instead of avoiding risks, we should learn to embrace them. Taking risks ultimately denotes confidence and helps you stand out as a leader.
NCLC: What issues did you run on last year? Are there any projects that you plan on spending your time on during the summer in preparation for the start of the academic year?
AS: My running mate and I ran on a platform comprised of two categories of projects – short term projects, which we called “Initiatives”, and long term projects, which we called “Advocacy.” Our platform was built to represent the reality of concurrency in governing, wherein you have to do programming and short term work alongside investing energy in the wonkier policy and advocacy work that extends beyond your term.
One of the most difficult aspects of this position is managing competing interests of the people that you represent. I represent 45,000 students, each of whom has different lived experiences and expectations of their elected representatives. Among the various issues that we will take on over the next year as representatives, I personally am most invested in our campus climate and student health and wellness. Campus climate is a difficult issue to tackle, and sometimes student government is not the best vehicle through which to take on certain aspects of campus climate, but we’re working to figure out what are the areas in which the representative body can be an effective and powerful institution. Similarly, students’ health is of utmost importance, and it is certainly a representative body’s job to protect, promote, and streamline the resources – both existing and needed – for students to maintain their wellness.
NCLC: What do you think makes your student body unique?
AS: I am consistently humbled by the spirit of activism and advocacy on our campus, no matter the issue or the angle. The University of Michigan has a long and vibrant history of student activism, and it has been a crucial driving force of progress both on campus and across the country. Michigan students are unapologetic and effective advocates who fight for what they believe in, even after they leave campus. You can always tell a Michigan student apart from the crowd because of their drive to leave the world better than they found it.
NCLC: What has surprised you the most about serving in this leadership role thus far?
AS: I’m surprised by the breadth of work this organization does, and my respect for the people who comprise it continues to grow. When the days get long and the work seems endless, I have found it prudent to remember that I am never having the longest day in my organization. There are so many incredible students and staff working on issues ranging from textbook affordability to mental health resources to advocating for a sanctuary campus. I thought I knew most of the work that happened in the organization, but have been humbled time and time again by the sheer number of passion projects happening through Central Student Government.
NCLC: What challenges did you face running for the position of student body president?
AS: I struggled more than I let on to most people, which is something I’ve tried to reflect on a bit over the last couple of months. As someone who has struggled with mental health in college, like so many students, having to run at the top of the ticket while managing a full course load and a part time job definitely exacerbated the stress. On top of that, mine and Nadine’s candidacy definitely displeased some pretty vocal people, and I learned a little something about demonstrating grace in the face of bigotry and discrimination.
NCLC: Both you and your vice president are two women of color. Given the trends in gender parity, what drove you to run a dual-female ticket? What advice do you have for other young women aspiring to serve in public office?
AS: As my parents can definitely attest, nothing motivates me quite like being told that something cannot be done. Nadine and I were told by so many people that on a campus like ours, running two women - let alone two women of color - was a losing start. Luckily, Nadine and I have gotten used to being told ‘no’ at this point in our lives and we decided that it was time to show people who didn’t think it was possible that they were wrong. We ran together because we each wanted a partner in this work who understands the challenges we have faced. We wanted to show people - the supporters, the nay-sayers, and everyone in between - that no matter what you look like or where you come from, you can represent the University of Michigan student body.
I have three pieces of advice for young women aspiring to serve in public office, given to me from other women in public office who know way more than I do.
First, build a team of hard-working, smart, passionate, and dedicated people around you. No one does this alone, and to get elected, you’ll need good people around you who will stand by you through the good and difficult times. I was incredibly fortunate to not only have a wonderful running mate, but to also have the greatest team of people running as representatives and working to run our campaign. Show your appreciation for these people, too - they’re often doing this work for free because they care about you and what you stand for.
My second piece of advice is to rely on women who have been there before. There are so many incredible women who have experience in leadership and large-scale projects - ask for their advice, lean on them, and make sure that when you’re in a position to do so for another young woman that you pay forward the support you received from women before you.
My third piece of advice is to be fearless. Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something, don’t let doubt cloud your confidence. You’ll feel some degree of self-doubt every day - that’s normal, and frankly, the doubt only grows once you’re actually elected. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll take risks that will sometimes pay off and sometimes implode. But, know that people have put their faith in you for a reason. You are qualified. You are going to do an excellent job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
NCLC: How would you describe your leadership style? Do you have a political figure or person you look up to?
AS: I would describe my leadership style as facilitative with an eye on the long-term outcome. I greatly admire Ella Baker, a well-known facilitative leader of the Civil Rights movement. Ella Baker was an expert in inspiring and mentoring young leaders, with a keen eye for unrecognized talent and passion. I try to embody her leadership style because it’s important to remember that your own time in office or leadership is short in the grand scheme of things. The success and longevity of your hard work will depend on good and talented people continuing it, so it’s important to invest energy and mentorship in those people early on.
NCLC: When it comes to solving problems, whether it is an internal student government issue or a public facing issue, what’s your strategy?
AS: Every problem is different. I’m a generally straight-forward person, so my typical approach to interpersonal problem-solving is direct confrontation with the assumption of good intent on all sides and aiming for a constructive outcome. However, when the situation does not necessarily fit that approach, I can step back and come at something from the side. You can’t solve every problem in the same way, and understanding that from the start makes dealing with those problems a little bit easier.
NCLC: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring student body presidents?
AS: Be sure that you want to be student body president for the right reasons. This is not a glamorous position, there’s little to no money involved, the hours are long and difficult, and at any given time, someone is harshly criticizing you. And when the difficult moments are particularly long, you’ll have to have the spirit of your service to remind yourself of why you ran for this position. Be sure that you feel a call to serve, be sure that you care deeply about bettering your campus. If you know those two things, then you know you’re doing this for the right reasons.
NCLC: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing your student body and higher education generally?
AS: The biggest challenge facing the University of Michigan student body, in my opinion, is its disparity in experience for students from low-income backgrounds and/or those of minority identities. 99.9% of people - students, administrators, faculty, staff, you name it - are working toward building the best University possible with the best intent in mind and heart. And yet, there is a noticeable and clear disparity in experience for low-income and minority students. College can be financially and emotionally challenging, and is often disproportionately so for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Working to change the campus climate from the inside of an institution can be tedious, and the biggest challenge our student body is facing is how to struggle toward a better campus without recreating the problems that already exist in the process. The good news is that thousands of good people are working day in and day out to make that progress, and I’m not alone in my optimism about the direction in which the University is moving.
Nationally, higher education faces the continued effects of weak investment in early education. Disparities in quality of education don’t start in college, they start in preschool and kindergarten. And in order for higher education to effectively take on those disparities, which intensify as the educational track lengthens, state budgets need to allocate more money for underfunded public education, especially in elementary and middle schools.
Photo credit: The Michigan Daily
What issues did you run on last year? Are there any projects that you plan on spending your time on during the summer in preparation for the start of the academic year?
As President, I promised to advance student health, advocate equality, increase idea sharing, promote events, and enrich the cultural experience. Together, we will help Everyone Belong in the Aggie Family.
The aforementioned campaign platform will be accomplished, in part, through the implementation of UMatter at USU. UMatter is a university-wide prevention initiative to promote the physical, emotional and mental well-being of students. It will pull together existing campus programs and services into a comprehensive, branded structure to ensure consistent prevention strategies and messaging to the USU community.
Though CAPS, SAAVI, Student Health and Wellness, and programs such as Access and Diversity all offer outreach and programming to help students in crisis, many students are not sure where to access services and help at USU. There is an opportunity to use campus resources more efficiently in order to better serve our student population, ultimately ensuring they graduate and become productive citizens.
UMatter would provide a central online location and messaging for all USU’s efforts aimed at students dealing with sexual violence and partner violence, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health concerns and suicide, and bias/harassment and online bullying.
What do you think makes your student body unique?
With over 80 nationalities represented on campus, our student body benefits from a variety of cultures and thoughts. Some of my closest college friends are from Saudi Arabia, China, Germany and the Dominican Republic. I believe this diversity of opinion enhances the overall learning experience for students, regardless of their nationality. It also develops empathy for individuals from other countries.
Despite the benefits, challenges arise when majority interests take precedence over minority rights. For this reason, I decided to run for USUSA President to advocate for the minority groups while still serving the majority. This next year, I will strive to help Everyone Belong at Utah State University.
What has surprised you the most about serving in this leadership role thus far?
University administration is surprisingly supportive of the actions taken by student body officers. This is true as long as these actions are based on student needs and the proposed solutions are well developed. Unfortunately, there are times when the role of student body president will feel like the loneliest job in the world. Other students may not understand the hard work and late nights you dedicate on their behalf. For this reason, it is essential you work now to develop genuine relationships with your university administration. Develop a support network. This will allow you to serve effectively as president.
How would you describe your leadership style? Do you have a person you look up to?
My leadership style is diplomatic. Interpersonal harmony allows team members a greater chance at group success and personal satisfaction. It is also a practical leadership style for group success. As a leader, I emphasize community, conflict resolution, and continuous improvement. I accomplish this by creating a fun and social environment that is value driven.
Tyler Tolson, former student body president at USU, is my role model because of his charisma and passion for people. I admire his magnetic personality and ability to tell stories. Through his stories, Tyler connects people and creates learning opportunities. What is most impressive about my role model is his ability to give back to the Utah State University. Even as CEO of Denik, Tyler chooses to share his time with students by returning to campus to help us succeed.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring student body presidents?
Remember these four words: Fortune Favors the Bold.
As student body president, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. It is essential you represent the students’ voice and involve them in every step of the process. The students are the reason our position exists. Remember that a title means nothing. The people you serve will make the greatest. Above all, have fun this year!
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing your student body and higher education generally?
One of the biggest challenges facing institutions of higher education in Utah is unity before the state legislature. The challenges and opportunities at each state institution are unique. Therefore, it is often difficult to rally behind a common goal if it does not satisfy the needs of all constituents. If the Utah Student Association can develop a unified message before the next legislative session, it will have a greater chance at obtaining funding for the chosen goal.