On March 9, St. Olaf students voted to determine who will serve in key Student Government Association (SGA) roles during the 2017-2018 school year. With roughly 50 percent of students participating, Jauza Khaleel ’18 and Tim Bergeland ’18 were elected SGA President and Vice President, respectively, with 1,105 votes and roughly 77 percent of the vote.
Many see the election as a symbol of the change that Oles desire.
“The elected executive team is already such a great group of people with great ideas who are willing to challenge a set of rules and traditions and status quo,” Rhea Rajan ’18 said. Rajan was elected to be one of the new Lion’s Pause co-coordinators. “We see that through Jauza and Tim, as well as other branches. There’s an environment of change and we’re happy to participate in it.”
Next year’s Political Awareness Committee (PAC) coordinator Abdul Wake ’19 agreed.
“I think a lot of people wanted to see a different sort of change, not just with my position but especially with president and vice president. I’m super excited to work with Tim and Jauza and everyone else.”
Khaleel and Bergeland expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear from a variety of students during their campaign. “Coming into the campaign, we had values and ideas of things to change, but meeting with people and talking with different student orgs, we were enlightened by a lot of other ideas,” Bergeland said, specifically citing conversations with club sports players and transfer students. “There were different stories I had never engaged with or heard, but during this process [of] getting outside of our social circles, you learn so much.”
The new president and vice president encourage anyone with questions, suggestions or concerns to reach out to them. Khaleel and Bergeland want to have a warm and open relationship with students, as well as the ability to have difficult conversations with administration if necessary.
“We definitely want to have a positive relationship, but we want to be a voice of students to administration, not the other way around,” Khaleel said.
One of these difficult conversations surrounds race on campus.
“Racism on campus is just horrible,” Bergeland said. “We both want to be willing to push back against [the] administration, and ... getting [the] administration to better recognize that there is a culture of racism here and that acts of racism that have happened shouldn’t be framed as an exception to the rule, but something all Oles need to be critically self-reflective about.”
Khaleel and Bergeland were not the only ones who enjoyed campaigning. Rajan and fellow Pause co-coordinator-elect Mazen Abu-Sharkh ’18 were also grateful for the opportunity to gather more ideas for improving the Pause. These ideas have already begun to be implemented as Abu-Sharkh and Rajan gather feedback from their website and campaign page. The feedback includes suggestions for pizzas, one of which will become next September’s special. In the long term, the duo hopes to invest in new technological equipment for the Pause (including lighting equipment) and continue existing efforts to make Pause dances safer. Abu-Sharkh said these efforts have already started with initiatives to keep the lights brighter and allow fewer people into the Pause at a time.
“We want it to be more engaging, and for the DJ to have students interact,” Abu-Sharkh added. “There will not only be music and dancing in the dark, there will be intermissions.”
Other areas of campus will likely undergo changes next year. Wake emphasized his desire to bring a wider variety of political voices to campus, especially those outside of the two-party system and experts on foreign policy. However, he also wants to ensure that the speakers PAC invites next year will be respectful of the student body.
“I would like to emphasize that ideas presented at events and speakers will uphold [the] value of respecting people’s humanity,” Wake said. “That’s the most important thing to me, and I think that’ll be the thing I look back on and say, ‘The people who were here on my watch will have respected people’s right to self-determination.’”
The SGA elections and the platforms of the winners suggest that the 2017-2018 school year will be one of embracing change, having valuable conversations and continuing to make campus a safer place for all Oles. Many winners reiterated the charge of staying connected with the campus community.
“It’s a very versatile job. It’s not just sitting in an office, but also doing hands-on work, providing help that’s needed, instead of being a reactionary thing,” Khaleel said. “We want to be more proactive to do things, and to always be aware, and that comes with being connected with [the] student body.”