As the school year is wrapping up and a new round of Student Government Association candidates campaign, Gem Richardson and Jaylan Brown of the “Next Level” administration reflected on their roles as the 2021-2022 Student Body President and Vice President as their term ends April 30.
While the university is still a mask-mandated institution amid the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic, Richardson and Brown believe that they provided a holistic college experience by highlighting and enhancing student life, advocacy and health, implementing new laws and changing the culture at the university.
“Starting May 1, 2021, we hit the ground running by making sure that we built strong relationships with the administration, faculty, and staff so that they know what our goals are, which is to advocate for students to be the voice of the students,” Richardson explained. “A big thing that we accomplished or able to accomplish was getting a budget increase for SGA. Years prior, the budget was 30,000 and 60,000 and we wanted to see why we couldn’t get that.”
Richardson, a native of Hampton, Georgia, added that her executive board did thorough and extensive research on seeing how they could improve the SGA’s budget and with a steady hand and a strong personality, Richardson and Brown were able to fully extend the SGA budget substantially, offering the student body a fiscally responsible source to cultivate.
Within the student life aspect, Richardson and Brown finally implemented the Walmart Shuttle Act “The Hornet Express” during their tenure, a bill that was previously passed by the 2020-21 “No Limit” administration under the leadership of Student Body President David Hammond. The act provided free transportation to Walmart and East Chase mall for those students who needed it and although the bill was only implemented and operated during the fall semester, Richardson and Brown reiterated the health concerns of the student body, which ultimately stopped the shuttle from returning in the spring semester.
Additionally, the “Next Level” administration has teamed up with the Office of Career Services to implement the JCPenney “Suit-Up” event on April 8-10. This event will allow students to get a 30% off coupon to JCPenney online and buy the professional clothing that they need for internships, interviews and jobs.
In terms of the enhancement of student life, Richardson and Brown believe that “Welcome Week” and “Homecoming Week” allowed the freshmen, sophomores and even some juniors who never experienced Hornet life before COVID-19 to fully recognize and appreciate that this university does instill pride and camaraderie within its student body.
“We wanted to ensure that we kept our students safe by following the university’s reopening guidelines,” Richardson said. “But we still wanted to give students that true HBCU experience, especially being that we are both seniors. So we know what old Alabama State looks like.”
Brown added, “We are trying to teach people the old and invigorating way ASU used to be and still creating new traditions and still allowing them to do what they were doing, but also trying to introduce them to the things that were going on.”
Holding executive power in the Student Senate, Brown, a Jackson, Mississippi, native, reflected on her term, calling it “resourceful,” as governmentally, she was responsible for training and preparing all of the senators in the Senate.
According to Brown, there were a lot of fresh new faces in the SGA this year as she ventured out and interviewed several candidates. Although these candidates had no experience, Brown looked at that as an opportunity to bring in new perspectives and ideas to boldly embody what the SGA is all about.
“We hosted an in-person retreat in August,” Brown said. “It was a weeklong, and since I am the vice president, which means I’m also the president of the Senate, I was able to work with the Senate from that Monday all the way to Friday, just breaking down the Senate bylaws, breaking down how to write a bill, how to write a resolution, because a lot of times I think in the Senate, senators have good ideas, but they don’t necessarily know how to formulate those ideas into bills and resolutions.”
Brown goes on to say that she instilled in the Senate the significance and power that each senator truly has and ensured that everyone does not have to agree.
“If you don’t necessarily agree with something, speak out,” she said. “Or just because the majority is saying that they agree with something, you can be the person that says ‘No.’ I know when I was a senator, I wouldn’t say I was a rebel, but if I didn’t agree with something, I had no problem voicing my concerns.”
One concern that the Jackson, Mississippi, native expressed was the lack of Student Senate meetings this year. She believes that too many of the senators were involved in other extracurricular activities that, in turn, affected their ability to balance and juggle their tall tower of responsibilities.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to have as many Senate meetings as I would have liked to have because I didn’t want to have a meeting and not meet Quorum,” she said. “So my biggest thing was always making sure when I called the Senate meetings that we met Quorum.”
Going out with a bang, the “Next Level” administration is doing one last final hoorah for its student body. The SGA Farewell Week will encompass a weeklong celebration of its graduating seniors while transferring the power to the next SGA administration.
Richardson says this event will be “so much fun.”
“It’s something that I think we’ve all been waiting for,” she said. Like we had homecoming, but this way bigger. And with this being the end of our semester, a lot of the seniors are going to do bigger and better things. Freshman, sophomore, and juniors, they’re coming up. They’re learning the ropes of the new ASU, as I would say, after COVID. So it’s very exciting. Just look forward to a lot of fun.”
When offering advice to the next leaders of the university who will fulfill their roles as Student Body President and Vice President, Brown encourages them to be solid in the face of adversity. She believes that whoever takes her position should be able to believe in themselves and know that they are doing the right thing, advocating for the student body, and adhering to the SGA constitution.
The Hampton, Georgia, native and Student Body President shared the same sentiments as Brown.
“Be confident in your ideas and thoughts,” Richardson said. “Don’t let anyone, a student administrator, faculty, staff, tear down your dream or vision. If you have a vision for the students and the student body, be confident in that and be okay with it if you have to step outside of your comfort zone. Everything is not going to be peaches and cream. So it’s important that you and your administration are strong and you are able to properly advocate for students.”