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
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 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.
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.
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.