Student Body President: a term in review

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In reflecting on my term as student body president over the course of the past year, I smile considering the progress we have made. We have worked hard to continue rebuilding trust with the university administration, making strides in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and helping our student body transition back to in-person learning and experiences after spending a year at a distance from one another. I am intensely grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from many on this campus and the embracing of our commitment to change from the day we were elected. We would not have been afforded this platform and experience without all of you, and I thank you for this truly life changing experience.

We started the year with the difficult transition to Highmark from Aetna for Carnegie Mellon’s Student Health Insurance Plan. Fortunately, with consistent communication with our constituents and administration, we were able to ensure that student waivers were accepted past the September 15th deadline. Furthermore, with the input from our student body, administration is now aware of the ineffectiveness of the waiver software and will move to hopefully make the waiver process easier next academic year.

A priority for us was to solidify connections between entities on campus focused on DEI and the executive. We started, in collaboration with the Undergraduate Senate, efforts to gauge the student interest for compensation for volunteer work in DEI committees and roundtables. We sincerely hope the next administration is able to expand on the foundation we established with Institutional Research and Analysis, Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant, and M. Shernell Smith.

Through our campaign last year, we stressed the importance of improving the minimum wage for the student body. Catherine, our student body vice president, has been sitting on the Hourly Student Employment Working Group this year. We can confidently say the administration is keen on listening to the student body in the upcoming years on effectively addressing our current minimum wage. While there is much to be done with this issue, we believe that the student government can and will continue to play a key part in advocating for student workers.

A project that I am especially proud of is our upcoming Professional Headshot Booth, open to all students free of charge. This is a small step forward in making the often gate-kept realm of professionalism, during and after graduation, a bit more accessible for all. We could not have introduced this great addition to the Cohon University Center without the help of the Undergraduate Student Senate, the Graduate Student Assembly, and Dean of Students Gina Casalegno, all who had contributed funding for this initiative.
Throughout the year in these roles, Catherine and I have learned so much — we hope to share a couple of things we have learned.

First, for the recently-elected and future administrations in the years to come, it is so important to realize a lot of this job is being a bridge between students and administration. It is, quite candidly, a lot of meetings, follow up meetings, and touching base. Though it can feel menial at times, remember you were elected to do this for a reason: you are the best fit to properly communicate to the right people what students are needing from their university.

Second, for our successors in particular who are continuing to break the glass ceiling as another student body president and vice president team with great gender representation: no matter how much external progress we make, the fundamental, deep-rooted issues of sexism, misogyny, and bias are still alive and well in every corner of this institution. It is with the utmost disappointment that I share that sexism has significantly hindered the progress of the executive branch over the past year.

Sexism has consumed most, if not all, of the Ozimok-Taipe administration. It is calling your student body president a “little girl” to her face, or refusing to give women a seat at the table while discussing the very roles they hold. It is refusing to address me by name, calling me “her” with a lazy gesture in my direction, deemed too invaluable for a real title. There comes a time in which perseverance and resilience are no longer inspiring, but instead become a glaring reminder of the unreachable standards of women in leadership. To our successors, we sincerely hope this is not the case for you as a woman and nonbinary person in a position of power and leadership.

In spite of all this, I am reminded of the growing importance of female mentors and allies in navigating the age-old experience of sexism in leadership. The past year brought disappointment and frustration, but has given me a safe haven in the women in university leadership that I admire. They have motivated me to continue this fight and advocate for myself and fellow women leaders. They are my everlasting reminder to keep moving forward, to stand twice as tall after attempts to tear you down, and have reassured me that there is no need to shrink my femininity and identity to garner respect from my male counterparts.

I hope that those who have not been willing and supportive allies reflect on this past year and celebrate their accomplishments, but also recognize their direct impact on the hindrance of progress and vow to grow as leaders in their own right. I truly believe not only that we can, but will overcome these antiquated ways — when we do, our progress will be truly immeasurable.

Again, we cannot stress enough how grateful we are to have been in these roles in such an unprecedented time at Carnegie Mellon. From our full return to campus to our first full-fledged Carnival since 2019, it has been such a privilege to be in community with our constituents, staff, faculty, and administrators. Thank you again for believing in us.