We are thrilled to announce these four individuals and initiatives as recipients of the second annual Campus Legacy Awards, presented by the American University School of Public Affairs. After careful deliberation and consideration of the outstanding nominations, NCLC and our Campus Legacy Network board has selected winners with unique contributions to advancing student leadership by example and action. Each honoree showcases the important impact a student leader can make in their community, the country, and the world.
The program will take place 12:30 - 2:00 pm EDT on June 11, 2018, at the Newseum's Knight Conference Center. Space is limited, so book your seat today.
**Student attendees of the 2018 Presidential Leadership Summit are guaranteed entry at no cost.**
2018 Campus Legacy Awards host
Bakari Sellers, Awards Host
Bakari Sellers made history in 2006 when, at just 22 years old, he defeated a 26-year incumbent State Representative to become the youngest member of the South Carolina state legislature and the youngest African American elected official in the nation. In 2014 he was the Democratic Nominee for Lt. Governor in the state of South Carolina.
Earning his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College, where he served as student body president, and his law degree from the University of South Carolina, Sellers has followed in the footsteps of his father, civil rights leader Cleveland Sellers, in his tireless commitment to service taking championing progressive policies to address issues ranging from education and poverty to preventing domestic violence and childhood obesity.
His impressive list accomplishment in addition to having served on President Barack Obama's South Carolina steering committee during the 2008 election, Sellers is widely considered to be a rising star within the Democratic Party and leading voice for his generation. That coupled with his uncommon ability to reach across the aisle and get things done has led to numerous accolades including being named to TIME Magazine’s 40 Under 40 in 2010 as well as 2014 and 20015 “The Root 100” list of the nation’s most influential African-Americans.
He has served as a featured speaker at events for the National Education Association, College Democrats of America National Convention, the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Sellers practices law with the Strom Law Firm, LLC in Columbia, SC and is a Political Commentator at CNN. He is married to Dr. Ellen Rucker-Sellers.
2018 Campus Legacy Awards honorees
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Presidential Legacy Award
The Presidential Legacy Award honors a former student body president who has made a significant impact on their industry. Their remarkable career and commitment to student leadership exemplify the impact that former student leaders have on society.
Governor Dirk Kempthorne was appointed the president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) in November 2010. As president and CEO of ACLI, Governor Kempthorne is the chief representative and spokesman for the U.S. life insurance industry before Congress, the administration, in all state capitals and in the international arena. His efforts help shape public policies that make it easier for families to manage risk and ensure they have protection, long-term savings and guaranteed income-for-life options in retirement.
Governor Kempthorne was born in San Diego, California, but has called Idaho his home state for most of his life. He graduated from the University of Idaho in 1975 where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science and served as student body president. Governor Kempthorne began his commitment to public service in 1985 when he was elected mayor of Boise, Idaho. After serving seven years as mayor, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1992. With Idaho issues close to his heart, he left the Senate after one term and was elected governor of Idaho in 1998. In 2006, Governor Kempthorne returned to Washington, D.C. to serve President George W. Bush as the 49th Secretary of the Interior, charged with resurrecting the department’s tradition of responsible stewardship of public lands. In this role, Governor Kempthorne managed 20 percent of U.S. lands with an annual budget of $18 billion.
In addition to his accomplishments as a public servant, Governor Kempthorne has served as chairman of the National Governors Association and the Western Governors Association, and president of the Council of State Governments. Governor Kempthorne holds an Honorary Doctorate of Administrative Science degree from his alma mater, the University of Idaho. He and his wife, Patricia, also a University of Idaho graduate, have two children, Heather and Jeff, and four grandchildren.
Lauren Aronson, Rising Star Award
The Rising Star Award honors a recently former student body president who demonstrates a promising future in civic leadership and commitment to championing student leadership.
Lauren Aronson has managed communications strategies for some of the most high-profile legislative campaigns in recent years. Before joining FP1’s team as a managing director in March 2018, Lauren was the press secretary for the House Committee on Ways and Means, where she served as a spokeswoman and strategic counselor on tax reform. She also developed and executed messaging for Committee Members and House Republicans on health care, trade, and entitlement reform. Prior to working at Ways and Means, Lauren served as press secretary for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she helped lead the communications effort to overhaul the nation’s K-12 education system.
During her time on Capitol Hill, Lauren was recognized as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” and Newsmax’s “30 Most Influential Republicans Under 30.”
Before working on Capitol Hill, Lauren managed public affairs and crisis issues at Burson-Marsteller and spent two years at the American Enterprise Institute handling media and external affairs. She started her career as a Teach for America Corps Member in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she received her bachelor’s degree from and served as student body president at Tulane University.
The Denver Post, Joseph R. Biden Student Ally Award
The Student Ally Award honors a stakeholder who has significantly empowered student body presidents and advanced student leadership in the past year.
The Denver Post is a daily newspaper and website that has been published in the Denver, Colorado area since 1892. When the University of Colorado Boulder chancellor unilaterally decided to usurp 93% of the student government's financial oversight, the Post covered the following protests and events with the seriousness the situation deserved. Their editorial board issued a column defending students rights, was helped pressure CU to delay the budget decision and discuss options with student leaders.
The outlet provides readers with the most relevant, current news and information about Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. It is the largest news-gathering team of journalists whose goal is to deliver news, stories, and commentary. The Post has conducted aggressive politics coverage over the last couple of years, including stories about the Colorado GOP’s state convention in April and how a decision by the Democratic party impacted Bernie Sanders’ race for president. As their impact grows, they’ve reached over 1 million visitors on their website and continued to receive ongoing recognition for their investigative stories in breaking news and higher education, including regional and national recognition with Emmy Award awards and nominations. The publication received more than 500 state journalism awards in the past 5 years, and nine Pulitzer Prizes since its creation.
March for Our Lives, Student Initiative of the Year
The Student Initiative of the Year Award recognizes a student-led initiative that has exemplified student leadership on a national scale and awarded to a student leader, organization, or SGA that made significant contributions to that initiative.
In February, a gunman killed 17 of their friends and teachers at school and changed the course of their lives, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School led a historic march for gun control, what they called a March for Our Lives. Thousands of students, teachers, and supporters gathered in the nation's capital Saturday for the March for Our Lives rally, organized by survivors of a shooting that left 17 people dead at the Florida high school.
The student-led demonstration in support of tighter gun control that took place on March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C. The event in Washington was one of more than 800 planned in the United States and other major cities worldwide. The rallies drew huge crowds, with some estimates for the crowd size at the main march in Washington, D.C. as high as 800,000. The marches also garnered vocal support from celebrities and politicians alike, with many publicly donating to the March For Our lives GoFundMe campaign, which has raised almost $3.5 million so far. More than 830 demonstrations took place across the globe this weekend, according to Getty Images.
March For Our Lives was created by, inspired by, and led by students of all ethnicities, religions, and sexualities across the country who took action to stop the epidemic of mass shootings. Their mission is to assure that no special interest group or political agenda is more critical than a timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.
Student Body President of the Year
To be announced during the program
Aher her re-election as Student Body President at Florida Gulf Coast University, Jalisa White is ready to continue increasing transparency between the administration and students. We spoke to Jalisa White about her first year and what it means to serve the student body.
NCLC: When elected, you shared that your biggest goal was to increase transparency between the students and administration. How have you been able to accomplish this?
Jalisa White: That was one of my biggest things to accomplish at FGCU since many students felt they were disconnected from the administration. My goal is to put the "student" back in the student body. To accomplish this, I use my role as SGA president and my position with Board of Trustees to discuss students' needs. With my team, I have been able to roll out a video series on the decisions taking place and make sure to be transparent on social media.
NCLC: What was your experience like as Student Body President on your campus and an active member of the University Board of Trustees?
JW: It has been such an incredible experience seeing the behind-the-scenes work taking place. My role requires me to sit in on Board briefings and work with the Vice President of Student Affairs to truly see the inner workings of the university. I am able to advocate for students when on the Board and discuss the restructuring of the university, including issues in academia and graduation rates.
NCLC: In what ways have you been able to increase shared governance between student leaders and the administration?
JW: We link my cabinet with the administration. This open-line of communication allows student leaders to connect with key decision-makers, and also happens to be a great networking tool. I typically act as the main liaison between student leaders and the administration, but FGCU's current admonition is doing an amazing job listening to students in order to meet their needs.
NCLC: You were recently re-elected for the 2018-19 academic year. What to do you hope to accomplish in the new year?
JW: We did have some challenges with transition our previous university president to the new one, but I'm now looking forward to starting building on our work, doing more for students, building campus and community partners.
I'm really excited about the changes coming to the university. We are even creating a new initiative [called] “student success in enrollment management” to help more students graduate within 4 years of attending the university by tracking students' progress and creating new resources. It's important for us to enhance our foundation and give students the best tools to launch them forwards.
NCLC: What were the student government elections like this year? Was there a higher voter turnout?
JW: We had over 2,900 students participate in this year's elections, a higher turnout than the previous year. I like that students are choosing who is going to represent them. It's not a huge amount, but the fact that it was so widespread was good. Students understand the importance of voting and why SGA leadership must step up to make sure everything is done in the best interest for students.
NCLC: Your campus has also dealt with local events impacting the community, including the shooting in Parkland, FL. How has this incident impacted the university?
JW: We have 91 students who happen to be alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, so it greatly affected them and the entire community. We decided to hold a campus-wide vigil and invited members of the community to honor the victims. Because it hit so close to home, we decided to petition for 50 students to travel to DC for the March for Our Lives event on March 24. It's really important that students know a school is a place of learning and not a place of fear.
When we got back from the march, SGA held an open-forum for all who attended and now looking to use this momentum to increase voter registration. I think more people have realized the importance of voting, so our next big initiative will be to host a statewide and university-wide voter registration drive.
NCLC: Have you faced challenges as a leader when accommodating students in the wake of this tragedy?
JW: Every student has dealt with this tragedy differently. Obviously, SGA serves as a resource for students and some students have come into our office who just want someone to talk to. Some students lost friends. That is why it is important that we serve as a resource.
NCLC: What you have learned from your role as SGA President?
JW: If I could pick one big take away, it would be to always serve with a servant's heart. The most successful leader is one who aims to serve the people they represent. Everything that I do is not for me. The glory comes from giving students the best experience possible at this university.
Photo provided courtesy of Jalisa White
Mental health is a widely prioritized issue for student governments nationwide. With a growing number of undergraduate and graduate students living with a mental illness, Mental Health Month (MHM) is a chance to eradicate stigma surrounding these disorders. In honor of MHM, we chose our top five stories of mental illness in higher ed.
UCLA introduced free online mental health screenings last fall for incoming students to identify symptoms of depression and anxiety, an important resource since 40% of college students have experienced a major depressive episode in the last year.
- The university screened an estimated 3,500 students
- The screening helped target resources to 100 students experiencing severe symptoms of depression and anxiety and 600 students experienced minor symptoms
- The next step is to develop a 10-year study of at least to understand the genetic and environmental factors that play into depression
In light of a growing number of college students seeking mental health treatment, a 2015 American College Health Association’s survey resurfaced after discovering higher ed is still struggling to keep up with students’ mental health needs. Almost 54% of students report feeling high levels of stress, 60% feel very lonely, and more than 90% feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
- About 40% of students said it’s hard for them to function due to their depression
- More than 60% of students said they experience anxiety
- Student visitation to college campus counseling centers increased by 30%
Graduate students are six times more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the general population. A 2018 Nature Biotechnology study found that transgender grad student experience depression at the highest rates.
- 43% of women had anxiety and 41% were depressed
- 34% cis men reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 35% showed signs of depression
- Roughly 55% of transgender and gender-nonconforming graduate students were more likely to experience anxiety and depression
- Last month, students at Howard University staged a 9-day sit-in calling for institutional action on, among other things, mental health services. Ultimately, trustees agreed to nearly all student demands, including those to improve mental health on campus. Students demanded a task force to improve the university's Psychiatric and Behavioral Health Services, which currently offers services in child/adolescent and adult outpatient care, emergency psychiatric, and substance abuse.
A January 2018 survey by WebMD/Medscape and JED, an emotional health advocacy group, shed light on the prevalence of stress and anxiety among young adults, pointing out the importance of parents putting more thought into the mental health issues their child may face when going off to college.
- About 45% of parents say their child has been diagnosed or treated for a mental health issue, learning disorder or substance abuse problem.
- 17% of all parents say they considered access to on-campus mental health services when deciding on a school for their child
- Only 28% of parents said they thought about mental health services when shopping for schools
Connect with your graduate student leadership to discuss this issue during MHM and check out resources on mental health advocacy from our friends at Active Minds. They probably have a chapter on your campuses, too.
May is Mental Health Month. We’ve seen colleges and universities take a strong stance in advocating for better campus mental health resources. The urgency of this work is clear. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, and nearly a third of college students, have reported feeling too depressed to function while in school.
This #HighlightWednesday, learn how one campus leader made it her mission to challenge mental health stigma on-and off-campus. Outgoing University of Houston SGA President Winni Zhang is leaving behind a legacy filled with service and advocacy, spending much of her time improving the university’s counseling and treatment offerings.
During her time as SGA President, Winni ran with a platform of bringing “big reforms” to existing mental health resources on campus. At the time of her election, students reported experiencing a 4-6 week waiting period whenever they attempted to meet with a certified clinical expert at the university's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
Feeling students deserved better, Winni decided to write a bill declaring the university in a state of a mental health crisis. What happened next changed the course of campus health and student government responsiveness, as the bill created the space for four new counselors to join the staff in a $430,000 commitment.
Winni also worked with her Provost to add a section about mental health resources on every course syllabi to meet the needs over 80% of college students who felt overwhelmed by all they had to do while in school.
Her quest to continue raising awareness to combat mental health stigma reached an all-time high with the expansion of the “End the Stigma” campaign, collecting 1,100 shirts from different departments, organizations, student donation drives and laying them out on the campus.
“The 1,100 shirts represented the 1,100 students around the nation who die by suicide each year. It was one of the most visible events at the University and it began healthy dialogues on our campus about mental health. That year, CAPS noticed a 32% increase in student usage,” said Zhang.
Prior to becoming president, Winni served as her SGA’s deputy chief of staff and helped implement new procedures for CAPS, including a new “back door” policy that protected students’ privacy in emergency situations and a walk-in consultation service for immediate care. She also pushed the Student Fees Advisory Committee to approve an increased funding to CAPS that would inevitably raise starting salaries and lead to more staff hires.
Winni’s effort to help University of Houston students lead healthier, fuller lives is something that we can all strive to do in our communities.
You can hear more about Winni’s work at this year’s Presidential Leadership Summit as she leads the discussion on mental health treatment on college campuses. Join Winni and fellow student body presidents who will discuss ways to improve campus offerings in mental health services by registering at pls18.org!
American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2013. Linthicum, MD: American College Health Association; 2013
Photo provided courtesy of Winni Zhang
For a long time, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had a mascot known as Chief Illini, who appeared in full stereotypical Native American garb. The university retired the Chief Illiniwek mascot in 2007 due to ongoing protests by Native Americans. Now, more than a decade later, “the chief” continues to have a presence in campus events, including the Homecoming Parade. This year, student leaders resolved to renew protest until Chief Illini was retired for good. In October 2017, Illinois Student Body President Raneem Shamseldin led a protest of the “former” mascot during the annual Homecoming Parade and has kept the pressure on campus officials to take complete action and find a new mascot.
We spoke with Raneem on how this issue set the tone for her presidency and how to navigate tensions between free speech and hate speech.
NCLC: You brought activists and student organizations together to protests the university's former mascot. What inspired this protest?
Raneem Shamseldin: The idea came out of a student government meeting. During the meeting, Native students or allies said they wanted us to do something about the Homecoming Parade and were visibly upset that the university still allowed someone to dress up in red face.Way before then, I sent a letter to the chancellor and the vice chancellor about our concerns, and they said nothing could be done because of free speech. That’s when we decided not to participate in the parade, but to instead participate in a different way. We started organizing the protest and before I knew it, we had 20 organizations on campus express interest in sponsoring us.
NCLC: Why did you organize this protest? How did you do it?
RS: We really wanted to get the message across that racism in any form is not tolerated and that we would fight it by any means necessary, even if that means stopping a parade.
Everything came together within 2 days. I met with the police department, my advisor, the dean of students and the vice chancellor to let them know about the protest.
NCLC: Did you feel like students’ voices were being valued at the time?
RS: At the time, our school had issues that were of more importance to the chancellor besides the former mascot. From a leadership perspective, I do understand, but the mascot should be easily solved.
I believe our voice has become more valued since the protest. The chancellor is now working with other administrators to rewrite policy for the next parade. He’s also started a conversation series where he invited former mascot portrayers and the director for the National Museum of the American Indian to one of our events.
I think the conversation made clear that people don't have bad intentions when they support the mascot, but intentions don't matter if the impact is negative.
NCLC: You later pushed for the removal the chief symbols throughout the university, included in the logo. Did you receive a lot of pushback from fellow student and faculty?
RS: Faculty and staff still had symbol hanging up in their workspaces. I worked on banning it from university buildings, and that’s when the free speech card was pulled. We were asking people who worked for the university to remove it because the University of Illinois owns that property. Since that was counter to the university's values, the university had every right to ask people to remove the logo. We’ve had it removed from over 30 different locations since then. The next step is to now find a new mascot.
NCLC: With the ongoing conversations about free speech, would you say this is more valued on your campus then diversity and inclusion?
RS: People pull the free speech card when they say something isn’t racist or inappropriate. You don't hear anyone using that card when talking about something that's not racist to some degree. We've seen a lot of issues because of free speech. I value free speech, but I do think what people say and do can have consequences.
NCLC: In addition to the mascot, what other issues have you tackled during the presidency?
RS: We formed a sexual assault prevention department. The department focuses on bystander intervention, finds ways to teach students what to do if they're in that situation, and recognizes when an assault is happening. We’ve hosted a few lunch and learns and invited people to talk about how to report something when it happens.
We're also working with the bars right now to put some flyers in all of their bathrooms with facts about intervening. Most assaults start at campus bars and we want to increase prevention rather than reaction.
NCLC: Any tips for future student body presidents looking to eradicate racism on an institutional level?
RS: Campuses are dealing with a lot of difficult issues that are not easy to tackle. You’ll have to go in with all of your heart and make this your number one priority because the changes you make on campus will make things better for the next group of people. If you don't speak up about some of these issues and then you're siding with the oppressor.
To help your institution become more proactive in building inclusive communities, we recommend you look at this blueprint for how institutions can handle hate incidents effectively.
Photo provided courtesy of Raneem Shamseldin
Since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, 320 people have been shot on college campuses. America’s institutions have a long history of violence and mass shootings, according to an investigation by Virginia Tech’s student newspaper. Yet, there has been little policy action to prevent future violence. In the wake of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, student-driven protests have changed public opinion and accelerated more action on gun control laws than we’ve seen in a long time.
Amplifying student voices nationally, Sarah Kenny, outgoing student body president at the University of Virginia, rallied over 80 campus leaders to sign a letter calling on lawmakers to take policy action. We spoke with Sarah about what inspired her to collaborate with fellow student leaders on this issue.
NCLC: You recently issued a letter on behalf of SGA Presidents calling for lawmakers to establish immediate and lasting reforms to end gun violence. What inspired this call to action?
Sarah Kenny: I was pleasantly surprised by the extensive images of student marches across the nation, and I wanted to make sure that we continue that conversation and translate that kind of powerful imagery into something that lawmakers could substantively work with.
We have a unique set of safety issues on college campuses. I can recall my high school required us to check out with the security guards every time we walked through the doors. We were in regulated, little blocks where our location was known at every moment of the day. That's not the experience at the university level. With the increased rate of campus visitors and ongoing controversial debates surrounds sociopolitical issues, students more susceptible to acts of violence.
NCLC: How important was it for you to bring campus leaders together to address this issue?
SK: I think our country is open the voices of young people more so at this political moment than I've ever seen in my lifetime. We have a powerful argument to present to policymakers, a message from the next generation saying "we are the next group entering your company and institutions. These are the ideas that we represent.”
We can demonstrate that it's not just a localized fear phenomenon, but that it’s an issue of extreme gravity for student leaders.
NCLC: The public debate about gun violence grew after the events in Parkland, FL, and higher ed is catching up. How have you discussed this issue with your campus?
SK: When I began to send out information about the idea of leading a walkout, I received some very positive reactions from our administration and our university’s provost. Students also responded positively to comprehensive, common sense gun reform. I did, however, receive some pushback on the issue. I was completing an opportunity to memorialize the students who we lost at Parkland with a political agenda inspired by the Parkland students themselves, but that there was a desire to see this as a separate issue. I don't believe you can separate the personal and political on this issue. If we want to stop holding memorials for students dying, that has to also translate into policy.
NCLC: For students and faculty who pushed back, how did you meet them halfway?
SK: It comes down to presenting your stance and conviction. Leadership is about making hard calls from time and remaining open to conversations and opportunities for collaboration. As long as you're friendly and open to that dialogue, people will be able to respect your decision whether they agree with it or not.
NCLC: As a student leader, you have tackled hate speech, gun violence, and racism. How has your campus community responded to your advocacy efforts?
SK: Racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacist activity and ideology have been very prevalent on our campus, and I have been pleased with the counter racist and white supremacy efforts taking place at the university. I think there has been great attention, at many levels of our university, to look at our structures that perpetuate white supremacy and enable racist-based hate. I think our student body struggled a lot with being a public university and wanted a firmer policy that prevented hate speech.
It's still a conversation that UVA is trying to navigate. We are a public institution that is being targeted as a place for provocation by some extreme ideological actors. We're trying to figure out what other institutions have figured out and how to define what this public square is.
NCLC: How do you plan to continue this work after graduation?
SK: I plan to publish a book in the next year about my experience on everything from the campus events that mirrored the dynamics of the 2016 presidential election, the death of UVA undergrad Otto Warmbier, the "unite the right" invasion, the #metoo movement, the issue of Israel and Palestine, free speech, and race and equity issues. I will also be doing transpartisan work to bridge the political divide and get individuals talking to one another.
NCLC: What is advice would you give to student leaders who want to address campus and social issues?
SK: Prepare for attack and controversy. If you're making a change, then you're going to get pushback. There's a cost that comes with rocking the boat on social issues, but I think it's much worth doing. I also advise you to build a network of students with whom you agree and disagree. Think about what an issue could look like in five years, ten years and fifty years. Set up the person who's going to follow you so that they can continue building on your work.
Photo provided courtesy of Sarah Kenny
This March, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey appointed Northern Arizona University (NAU) Student Body President Lauren L’Ecuyer to the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees NAU, University of Arizona, and Arizona State University. The Board allows only one student to join the governing body to help supervise, coordinate, manage and regulate the university system for two years. Now, Lauren is looking forward to continuing that passion by representing more than 180,000 Arizona public university students. We spoke to Lauren about the new role and what it meant to represent the student voice on a system decision-making level.
NCLC: How does it feel to be a Student Body President on your campus and student regent on the Arizona Board of Regents?
Lauren L’Ecuyer: It was an incredible honor to be elected as the Student Body President almost a year ago and I am reminded of what a great opportunity it is each and every day to serve the students of NAU. The tasks I have each day change, and the roles I play in the position range from the manager to the policy writer to the facilitator of conversations. The role has brought me more joy this year than I could have ever imagined it would.
Being appointed to the Board of Regents as the Student Regent is a different experience to be appointed instead of elected. The pressure is just as high, but the process is much different. Having the opportunity to interview with the Governor and meet with the Arizona Senators today, is extremely special. I know the next two years will be full of learning experiences and exciting new opportunities.
NCLC: How did this opportunity with Arizona Board of Regents come to be?
LL: When it came time for NAU to select the Student Regent, I had no intention of putting my name in the pool of applicants, however as the process moved along, I was encouraged by some professors to take the opportunity. I eventually decided that being a Student Regent encompasses what I am passionate about. It is the combination of the things that I enjoy: the people who I am serving and a location that I love.
NCLC: How did your institution’s administration advocate for your new position with the Board?
LL: I had multiple conversations with our administration, and they were always extremely supportive of my decision to apply. Being the Student Body President has given me an opportunity to form relationships with the administration, so naturally, we were able to have these conversations frequently. My professors were the ones who really encouraged me to apply since they knew my personality and interests.
NCLC: How do you plan to represent state university students in this role?
LL: I have a year as a non-voting member, and I plan to use that time to educate myself on the Board, the issues at hand, and the scope of the work to be done. I have been fortunate enough to develop a small understanding of what the Board does and see them at work in general sessions, but I know there’s much more detail and specific work to learn. I can come in with a bunch of solutions, but I am reliant on the relationship building with the students at each campus and the discussions we can foster on campus.
NCLC: How will student voices be heard through your new position and how do you plan to present their concerns to the Board?
LL: I plan to develop a way for students to immediately voice concerns, comments or questions with student regents. I am planning trips to each of the Universities to work with the student governments on top priorities and issues that are occurring at their campuses and working to on a plan to educate all stakeholders on the reasoning for decisions at the University and the Board level. I think miscommunication often stems from a lack of good information, and I hope to be the person that bridges that gap for all stakeholders.
NCLC: What issues are most concerning to students within Arizona’s university system?
LL: I would say students are concerned about the rising rate of tuition and fees. Unfortunately, this is a commonality in all states, not just Arizona. We’ve seen significant cuts each year to the funding of our Universities by the legislature. I think we will see this conversation continue and develop over time, and hopefully, we can come to a creative solution for how to keep both the state and public higher education working.
NCLC: What tips do you have for other student leaders interested in working at the state level of higher ed?
LL: I would encourage student leaders to get involved and listen as much as possible. Working with the student government gave me a look into what the Arizona Board of Regents does, and developed my passion for the work they do. I did my homework, learned about the issues at hand, about the complexities of the issues they are dealing with, and listened. Listening to the cues and the things that these incredibly brilliant people are discussing is helpful to find the context.
NCLC: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring Student Body Presidents?
LL: I would advise aspiring Student Body Presidents to create a vision, whether that be how you want your office to run, what services you want to provide, or a campus-wide change you want to implement. See that vision, see it clearly, and dedicate yourself in full to achieving it.
I would also advise you to throw inhibitions aside when running, when developing this vision, and when acting as the President. There is no time for nervousness, no time for fear of the future, no time for slacking. Instead, trade that fear of the unknown for the adrenaline of what your vision could look like in real life, and trade the procrastination gene you might have a go-getter attitude!
In fall 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama era Title IX guidance. Shortly after, she issued interim guidelines in advance of a formal notice-and-comment process to rewrite federal rules. This post is intended to get you up to speed on how to elevate student voice as education officials decide the future of Title IX enforcement.
Background on Title IX
Title IX is a hugely consequential gender equity education law enacted in 1972. It is intended to protect students from sex discrimination. For a long time, it was closely associated with equal opportunity to participate in athletics. The courts have ruled that sexual assault and harassment are also forms of sex discrimination, obligating schools to take responsibility for preventing and quickly addressing any such issues on campus. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing Title IX policy.
Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the Department of Education established guidance for how colleges should implement Title IX, clarifying the Department’s enforcement role. The best-known guidance came in 2011 in a “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL) that detailed how the Department interpreted schools’ obligations under Title IX, enforce the policies, and support schools’ policy implementation.
What was in the interim guidelines?
The interim guidelines generally weaken students’ rights by giving colleges the option to deviate from well-researched best practices that were enforced under the Obama era guidance. Perhaps most notable is that they promote myths that (1) false accusations are rampant and (2) complainants and respondents have unequal rights in Title IX hearings under previous rules.
What is notice-and-comment?
When Congress passes a law, federal agencies are often left to interpret any ambiguity and determine policies to implement and enforce the law. When any policies are to be established as legally binding regulation, they undergo a rulemaking process. Most agencies use notice-and-comment as their rule-making process. Basically, the agency issues a proposed version of the regulation, provides the public time to comment on the proposed regulation, then issues a final version based on the comments.
It must be a publicly accountable process. For example, say the Department proposed a rule requiring every student wear orange shoelaces, and 100,000 comments come in opposing that rule while 5,000 come in supporting that rule. If the Department’s final rule still had the orange shoelace policy included, it would have to substantively justify why it went against the public’s comments and may still be subject to legal action for not being responsive.
We expect the Department of Education to release its proposed Title IX rules soon, prompting a comment period.
What can you do?
Since there is no proposed rule yet, there is nothing to react to. We recommend the following actions in advance of the notice-and-comment process:
Submit a memo to NCLC responding to our recent Request for Information on Title IX. It will be a good way to collect and summarize what is important about Title IX on your campus.
Plan a week of action for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April), educating your campus about the importance of Title IX as a gender equity law.
Identify leaders on your campus who can help champion the comment period when it starts so your campus’ student perspectives are considered during the process.
In December 2017, Rice University's Student Body President Justin Onwenu led a national campaign against scholarship displacement, a practice in which institutions reduce financial aid awards by the amount of a student’s scholarship so they may redistribute the funds to other students. Maryland was the first state to outlaw this practice, preventing the state’s public colleges from cutting students’ financial aid package. We spoke to Justin on how this issue was brought to his attention, and why now is the time to be engaged in higher education policy.
NCLC: You led a national campaign against scholarship displacement. Why is this topic so important to you?
Justin Onwenu: This was something that I was made aware of when coming to college. I had family members, parents, and grandparents, telling me to look into private scholarships. I got Pell Grants, but there were still a lot of gaps that needed to be filled from a funding perspective. I was talking to students who were already in college and something they brought up was that there was no point in searching for scholarships. They said, “if you received a private scholarship from a company, your school is just going to be notified of that and they're going to deduct the funding that they were going to give you.” So no matter how much support you got from outside organizations, your school would not make pay the same amount of funding that they would have otherwise.
NCLC: How did you become involved with advocating for this movement?
JO: When I realized this wasn’t just a problem at my school or something students anecdotally have heard of. This is actually a policy problem. That's when I ended up writing an article about this issue, which was later published by the New York Times. It was really exciting!
I had students reaching out to me saying they didn't know this was something every student knew about, but they also expressed not having an opportunity to address it.
NCLC: How were you able to get the story published?
JO: I think people got the impression that I called the New York Times asking for a favor, but it really was just grunt work, emailing and calling day after day. I sent the article that summer and because there was something new coming out of the government every week, it kept getting pushed back. The New York Times has a higher ed section, so I reached out to the editor every week. She would say "call me next week,” so I would call next week.
NCLC: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced when getting your message across?
JO: The challenge has been higher education as a whole. There are a lot of issues regarding DACA, plus there's a lot of talk about tuition-free college, loan restructuring and discharging, and sexual assault policy. It's very good that people are talking about higher education policy right now but that makes it a lot more difficult when touching on very specific policies. The big challenge is trying to make sure people know about this policy and ensuring people know this is something we should advocate for in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
For my campus, the largest challenge has been to make sure people are thinking outside of themselves and advocating for people outside of the community.
NCLC: You were on Capitol Hill recently talking about this issue with members of Congress. How was your experience?
JO: That was my first visit on the Hill. It was informative, in terms of learning how slow everything moves.There are so many congressmen and senators, and each person has a different agenda. My biggest takeaway is that showing up is half the battle. Going to the office and speaking to a staffer brings new levels of engagement that says to lawmakers "this is something that is important and needs support."
NCLC: Did you experience any challenges during your visit to the Hill?
JO: As a novice, it was hard to tell which staffers were just nodding along and which ones really believed in our efforts. Overall, making a change in any form is a lot harder than people think it will be, but also a lot easier. I think it was it was a lot easier to get involved, but it's the first step on a very long road.
I think another main take away is that lawmakers work for us. Most times, we view lawmakers as inaccessible but they are paid by taxpayers. That person you are going to talk to represents you and your district. That alone made me more comfortable in challenging the status quo and also being able to say there's a policy that is unfair and undermines public-private cooperation.
NCLC: What do you hope to see in the future for scholarship affordability?
JO: I think there is an opportunity to make substantial improvements through policy. I'm hoping that students become less cynical and become more involved in higher education policy. The main focus right now is trying to find that go-to member of Congress or Senator that will push hard for scholarship reform and an amendment on the reauthorization for a scholarship displacement ban.
NCLC: What tips do you have for other student leaders interested in doing this work?
JO: I don't think there's been a better time to be a student leader who is engaged on a policy level. Things are picking up and we're gaining momentum in terms of how strong of a force students can be for creating change.
Check out Justin’s op-ed in the New York Times, "The Catch-22 of Applying for Private Scholarships" here.
Photos provided courtesy of Justin Onwenu.
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.