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Opinion: The Student Leader Selection Process Must Change

The front entrance of the Cate Student Center
Photo by Olivia Slack

I came to Meredith nearly three years ago with a desire to get involved, meet new people and make a difference on campus. One of the first places that I sought involvement was the Student Government Association (SGA), where I applied for an officer position within the Class of 2022. After the interview process, I found out that I did not get the role. However, I was not discouraged because this was the first opportunity I pursued on campus. Instead, I assumed that a better candidate had been chosen and decided that I would continue to show my interest the following semester by applying for another position.

However, the same thing happened over and over again. I went through periods where I swore I would not try again, but something always drew me to apply for at least one position semester after semester. It took me four attempts before I finally got one, which is a role that I will be holding this upcoming school year, and I will disclose that it was a position that I was the least passionate about (and I articulated that in my interview).

Although I am excited about this endeavor, I can’t help but think about the other Meredith students out there who may share these same experiences of consistent rejection. When I opened my email the day I received the position, I recall thinking to myself, “If it’s this hard for me, as a white person, to hold a class officer position just because I’m not popular, I wonder how difficult it is for BIPOC students to attain those positions?” It was a thought that quickly sickened and aggravated me simultaneously.

Over time, I began to notice a trend: it seemed that students were often chosen based on popularity and race. Another puzzle piece clicked in my head when I realized that I never had a faculty member or adviser present in any one of my officer interviews. It was always one or more students who served in officer roles. To me, this sets up a playing field for popularity to dictate who serves in officer roles, rather than qualifications or previous experiences. When students are chosen based on this framework, there may be leaders chosen who are not equipped to serve effectively. Leaders are also typically expected to embody elements of respect and dignity. There is a risk of these qualities being neglected when popularity is solely considered. My argument can be proven by the incident which occurred in an SLS student leadership training about bias, which can be read about in two previously published articles, “Administration Responds to Leadership Workshop Incident” and “Letter to the Editors From Meredith’s Student Leaders.”

This incident just proves the importance of an extensive application and interview process, especially for positions where students are representing their entire class and student body. To fix this, I propose that students should have to submit resumes and references along with the current application questions. The references should be contacted by SLS and/or SGA leadership, which will grant them a sense of the student’s character. If the student makes it through those stages successfully, they can either run for the position or move on to the interview process, depending on the role they are interested in. For positions that require interviews, applicants should be interviewed by SLS leadership, faculty advisors and one student executive board member.

I want to conclude this article by saying that I have been lucky enough to find other areas on campus to be involved in, specifically my major and other organizations such as The Meredith Herald. I cannot express enough gratitude for how these outlets have helped me grow personally, academically and professionally. However, my heart breaks for the students out there who, like me, may have missed out on opportunities to learn and grow due to the popularity and race stigma that I feel are associated with the SGA student leader selection process. Meredith always enjoys stressing the four pillars of StrongPoints, one of which is experiential learning, but how are students supposed to accomplish this if every organization on campus is not committed to having fair and equitable selection processes?

By Hannah Porter, Opinion Editor



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