Jalyn Howard and Kendrick Dawson, the student body president and vice president, make up the first ever all-black ticket to win Appalachian’s student election.
Howard said they aim to use their unique experiences to bring about real change.
“If we’re traditional SGA, then it doesn’t really make any difference that we were the first black ticket ever,” Howard said. “It doesn’t matter if we don’t do things differently.”
Howard and Dawson want to increase the visibility of SGA. They want everyone to know what it is, what its members do and how it affects students.
Adrian Thompson will be the SGA’s first ever director of campus relations and will perform outreach to make students aware of the services they offer.
Walt Grayson, director of legislative operations, said that SGA has more influence than people realize.
“We have the ability to get the administration’s attention and to let them know there’s a problem on campus,” Grayson said. “It’s powerful to watch administrators interact with SGA and see how much they listen to what we have to say.”
Alan Lee, director of student affairs, said that SGA has the power to make changes students want made.
“We aren’t an extension of the administration, we’re an extension of the student body,” Lee said.
Grayson, who has held a position in SGA since he was a freshman, said the leadership this year will be focusing on students more than ever before.
“It’s so important to act in the student’s best interests, and I feel like this administration is going to do this more than any that SGA has seen before,” Grayson said. “Based on their platform, on working with them and seeing what happens behind closed doors, I know that they always take the students opinions into account. It’s their first priority.”
As president, Howard has a seat on the Board of Trustees. His vote represents the student’s interests on issues such as tuition and fees, dining options on campus, grade replacement, financial aid, the new campus master plan, violence and assault resources, and more.
“My most important function is as a voting member on the board of trustees,” Howard said. “At the highest level I’m the only student representative on the committee, so if we’re in a closed session meeting, I’m legitimately the only student voice in that room.”
SGA encourages students to give feedback because it helps the organization represent the student body more authentically.
“We have an open-door policy at SGA,” director of external affairs Anderson Clayton. “You can come in to talk whether you’re in SGA or not. We are here.”
Howard said that while many issues will come up throughout the year and some could certainly become top priorities, he wants to devote time to more systematic issues like proper appropriation of student fees and a lack of diversity and wellness services.
The adminsitration is focused on increasing diversity not just in terms of ethnic diversity, but in terms of ideas and perspectives.
Howard said that getting diverse perspectives in SGA is important because it makes the organization better able to accurately represent the student body.
“We’re here to represent 18,000 students but we definitely do not hold the identities of 18,000 students,” Howard said. “That’s the importance of reaching out to people who haven’t been involved before.”
A revamping of wellness services, such as mental health and counseling, is in the works.
“We want to make students feel more at home and give them the resources that they need,” Clayton said. “Jalyn and Kendrick want people to understand that you have a place here at Appalachian. You have a home.”
While Howard and Dawson will be working on many important initiatives throughout their term, the allocation of student fees is highest on their list of priorities.
“Tuition and fees is what we ran on,” Howard said. “We’re really prioritizing that. It covers our entire platform.”
Dawson said re-allocating student fees is necessary to achieve their other goals.
“If our tuition and fees aren’t being allocated equitably, then everything else is pointless,” Dawson said.
Since each president and vice president choose their own cabinet members, each SGA faces a steep learning curve at the beginning of the year.
Lee and Grayson both said that SGA is working on getting internally organized and prepared so that it can begin to function smoothly.
“The hardest part of SGA is coordinating over 100 people in the organization, especially because it changes so much every year,” Grayson said. “We have 15 new executive members and many new senators, so now is when we have to decide how we’re going to run the organization.”
Grayson said SGA did a much better job with training this time around. He created and implemented a new cabinet training program to ensure that cabinet members fully understand how to write legislation.
“Having everyone in SGA understand what we’re doing, how we work and how we’re structured is the key to getting rid of the long turnaround time,” Grayson said. “They’ve all done really well so far.”
Lee said that SGA leadership sat down and went over expectations for both members and upper leadership.
“It helps when the cabinet and the leaders are on the same page,” Lee said. “We all understand what we want from each other and what we expect from each other, which makes for a really healthy environment.”
Howard said students should come to Board of Trustee meetings. He said the more students show up, the more seriously the student voice is taken.
“If you wanna make a difference, then the most important organization on campus is SGA,” Howard said. “You have the ability to make a positive difference.”
Currently, SGA is working on Appalachian Student Government grants that can be turned in as early as Sept. 2. The grants can provide funds from a pool of $90,000 to different clubs and organizations.
The organization is also working to get voting site in the Plemmons Student Union and working on fixing other issues such as food insecurity among students, poor handicap access and the absence of a sexual assault nurse on campus.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated Appalachian Student Government rather than Association of Student Governments.
Story by: Carrie Hall, News Reporter