This past week, Furman held its elections for executive positions in our Student Government Association (SGA). Every year we hold two elections, only for student body positions, like Student Body President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Then, we host another election for class positions. Usually this includes titles like Freshman Class President, Sophomore Class President, etc. But we voted as a student body to change that to be more like a student senate, where instead of specific class offices, we have class representatives. This is a part of making our SGA more representative of the diversity on campus.
This summer I decided I wanted to run for Student Body President. I’d been a part of many different clubs on campus, I’ve been a leader in multiple student organizations, and I’ve been an advocate for lots of positive change on campus. I wanted to run because I didn’t see many representatives from communities on campus like mine and I felt like the changes I really wanted to see on campus weren’t being advocated for.
But, I found out about a month ago that I wasn’t able to run for Student Body President (SBP). According to a clause in the SGA Constitution, only students who had previously served in SGA could run for SBP. I felt super discouraged by this and I wanted to fight it! I felt like I’d proven myself as a leader on campus in many different ways and I felt like I’d be a good representative for the student body.
I had two options: petition the student body to get rid of the clause or wait for SGA to go through the motions of voting to get rid of the clause. I quickly learned that members of SGA were not in support of changing the clause. And even if they were able to get enough members to vote on it, it might not be able to be changed before the executive elections.
So, I petitioned the student body. I wrote a petition and shared it with as many people as I could. I proposed changing the SGA clause to be more inclusive of student leaders outside of SGA and proposed a formal transition of power. I wrote in our student newspaper, the Paladin, and did an interview with FUNC, our student news channel.
In less than two days, I had enough signatures (over 300) to move to a student body vote. I completely circumnavigated SGA and the long process of waiting for them to vote. I needed at least 20% of the student body to vote in what we called a referendum and I needed the majority to vote in favor of the proposed changes. After two days of encouraging students to vote, the referendum passed allowing me and hundreds of other student leaders across campus became eligible to run for student body president.
This was a huge win for diversity and inclusion, and it was a huge up-hill battle win for me. But I still had to run a campaign and win an election.
A week and a half ago, I recorded a short speech announcing my candidacy for Student Body President. I introduced myself to the student body and outlined my goals as SBP. Then, I began to campaign.
My campaign centered around three values: community, inclusion, and belonging. Three things that I’ve been working hard to advocate for over my three years at Furman. I wrote documents that outlined my plans for SGA and exactly how I envisioned implementing them. For a week, I made TikToks that introduced myself as a candidate: who I am, what I’ve done on campus, my plans for SGA and Furman, and more.
I made interactive stories (my favorite was a bingo board that students could post on their instagram stories) so students could share what plans they supported. I held a handful of Zooms where students could come talk to me, learn about me, and share what things they really wanted to see next year. My main goal was to be as creative as possible when sharing information about how I wanted to push for positive change next year.
Though the week was super intense, I had a lot of fun getting to know some of the other candidates. We even went to Walmart to grab supplies to make posters together and spent an evening designing signs and banners together. There were a couple days where we tabled near each other and got to celebrate the courage it took to put ourselves out there.
In the end, the worst and best part of the week was waiting for the results after the voting poll closed. The minutes after the poll closed felt like hours, but seeing an email titled “CONGRATULATIONS” made all the stress melt away.
Now, I’m the incoming Student Body President. I have a lot of time to continue dreaming of all the ways I want to implement positive change next year, and I also have a lot to learn about student government on the way. I’m so excited to serve our campus community and I look forward to a fun and inclusive year.
What I learned from this experience is that students from all across campus have immense power to implement change. You don’t need to be a student representative to be able to make important change. And especially if your SGA representatives are telling you that they won’t support the change you want to see, then you should go for it! Petition, mobilize other students, and push for a better campus.
If I had listened to all the students who told me that I would never change the SGA constitution or that I should just settle for a lower position than Student Body President, I wouldn’t be the next SBP. When you know something is right, don’t be afraid to fight for it. -Asha