While election season for the United States presidency has been heated and divided, student government elections at AU were peaceful and smooth, mostly because there was only one candidate in the running. Last week, Eric Stone and Han Na Lee were elected as next year’s SGA president and vice president, respectively. Though there were no other candidates to run against them, email ballots sent out by the university confirmed the student body’s agreement with the new leadership.
Stone is excited to be in SGA leadership again, and hopes that his experience as vice president will be an asset for his coming term as president. One of the biggest lessons Stone has learned this year is how slow the process of change can be, and he has found that he likes it that way.
“Seeing all the steps that have to be taken to create change on campus helped me understand the intentionality of these decisions,” Stone said. “These decisions aren’t made on a whim, they have a process.”
During the 2015-16 school year, he and current president Tiffany McHugh have facilitated changes in quality of dining services, ID scanners in chapel and new equipment in the wellness center. Stone feels that, though they might have accomplished more this year, setbacks primarily came from lack of knowledge about how slowly things must move to approve changes. He hopes that having a firmer grasp on how and why things work the way they do between SGA and administration will make him a more effective leader next year. “I came in very ambitious, and we tried to take on too much, but we had to just try and get a few tangible things done.”
Speaking in chapel last week, Stone and Lee announced three confirmed projects on which they would be working next year. They hope to increase student parking, especially around West campus, Fine Arts and behind the tennis courts; and add an official on-campus disc-golf course. They have also created a new SGA position promoting increased interaction between the city of Anderson and the university.
SGA leadership is not just about carrying out student’s requests and taking their complaints, though they welcome both, either by office drop-ins or by email. Stone stressed that he wants to include the opinions of all students, not just those who are involved in the same activities as him. “Our main passion for next year is to make sure everyone has a voice on campus. We want to make it abundantly clear that AU is a welcoming place for all.”
Stone and Lee hope that they will be able to include a wider variety of students in leadership. Lee, who is also involved with the International Student Association and the Asian American Student Association, wants to use her time in office to offer a warm welcome to students from diverse backgrounds and cultures to be involved with decisions on campus.
She admits that, though international students are accepted and welcomed, they and traditional students may not often interact in substantial ways. She stressed that a part of being a voice for campus is also being a voice for groups that may not be in the majority. “I believe that everyone has a special story, everyone is so unique. I think their story needs to be shared,” Lee said.
One idea that Lee wants to work on is having a wider variety of worship styles in chapel. Though the familiar set of Hillsong, Bethel and Jesus Culture-style music may do the trick for most students invested in chapel, Lee wants to challenge the student body to explore how other cultures and denominations might celebrate and praise. Lee, reflecting on AU’s increasing diversity, wants these kinds of activities to foster unity by acknowledging and appreciating students’ differences.
“I’m hoping to bring different perspectives on things,” Lee said. “We agree on those core values—we are all children of God—but it’s so fascinating that we have different perspectives because we come from different places. I’m hoping it will bring us together rather that separating us because we are different.”
Aside from improvements to life on campus, Stone and Lee are also seeking to build further bridges between the university and the community, and this work has started with the creation of a new position within SGA—the Community Engagement Coordinator. The position involves connecting campus activities to groups and individuals in Anderson for the purpose of promoting service within the community beyond campus.
Lee, who has been involved with multiple service groups on campus, is passionate about making service a constant happening that builds community rather than allowing a ‘one-and-done, once-a-year’ mindset towards service.
“Being involved with service projects off campus made me think: ‘we do this once a semester, what can we do that’s more continuous that can go on for years and years?’” Lee said.
One of the most important responsibilities of SGA is to listen to what the student body and the administration want to say to each other, and Stone has found that “trying to stay connected to people is one of the coolest parts of the job and one of the hardest.” Though they cannot be everywhere all the time, he and Lee intend to always be ready with an open door for whatever ideas come their way.