Senior political science major Jackie Gonzalez and her running mate, Mia Connell (Sociology), made history last spring as the first female team elected to the Student Body President (SBP) and Vice President (VP) positions at NC State. Moreover, Gonzalez was the first self-identified Latinx student to win the SBP race and Connell the first woman of color to assume the role of VP! As Jackie’s term as SBP at NC State ends, she took a moment to sit down with me to reflect on her experience and the process that won her a once in a lifetime opportunity.
First, I was curious about her decision to run for such a high-profile position. Surprisingly, she had never intended to run. “A lot of people kept asking me if I was going to run and I was like I’ve never really thought about it”. After a while, she couldn’t resist running due to the overwhelming encouragement and support from her peers and faculty. Admittedly, she felt a little pressured at the time because her competition started planning months earlier. But that didn’t stop her.
Despite what she considered a late start, she knew she wanted to:
- Select another woman of color as a running mate
- Focus her campaign on her love for NC State
- Incorporate student talent into every facet of her campaign
That’s exactly what she did. Students designed her logo and posters, she recruited a student photographer, and her slogan became, “Students for Students”.
She also developed a purpose, mission, and vision for the campaign, which included her desire to:
- Provide a platform for all students to voice their concerns and become a part of the dialogue
- Empower students to become change agents
- Exercise transparency within the bureaucracy to set her successors up for success
- Highlight faculty and staff excellence since they were such an integral part of her NC State experience
- Bring awareness to diversity/social justice issues and the experiences of especially women of color
Jackie and her administration remained true to these ideals throughout her tenure in office. Some of their greatest accomplishments included shaping the Women of Color and Pride villages on campus, supporting efforts and engaging in dialogue around diversity, organizing a transportation task force to address ongoing NCSU parking issues/concerns, and setting the precedent for the Sustainability and Graduate Student Relations executive departments in student government. She hopes that these initiatives become part of her/her team’s legacy at NC State.
I was also interested in knowing how her PS course work/major prepared her for this position. She believed that many of her classes, specifically PS 302, helped her better understand government (state and federal) and campaigns as well as cultivated her interest in campaigns. Additionally, she expressed her gratitude to Dr. Zink, Dr. Taylor, and Dr. Cobb for fostering her growth and development and being sources of support and encouragement. Specifically, “Dr. Taylor and Dr. Zink’s classes, through their assignments and readings, really helped me articulate my own opinions and beliefs.” She also credits them, especially Dr. Taylor, with her increased confidence stating, “Many times, in Dr. Taylor’s class, I would mumble something and he would say, “Jackie, speak up! You’re right!”. It was really hard to trust myself and say certain things but he always supported me whether I was right or wrong. I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten that in any other class because PS classes are so small.” She also acknowledged that engaging in Pack Poll with Dr. Cobb helped her develop strong analytical skills and better gauge the thoughts, needs, and opinions of the student body.
To conclude our discussion, I asked her to expand on the learning outcomes of her experience and plans for the future. Jackie was extremely humbled by the experience and overwhelmed with the amount of support she received along the way. She acknowledged that it greatly altered her perspective, “I used to be pretty selfish and always wondered what I needed to do to succeed on my own, but I now realize that you don’t really get anywhere without collaborating with other people and relying on and trusting other people. Your successes are other people’s successes and vice versa. When you stop thinking about yourself everything just kind of falls into place.” The experience also strengthened her persuasion, conflict management, and communication skills, improved her ability to interact with different personality types, and taught her how to be more diplomatic in exchanges with others. Being SBP was not without its challenges, especially as a woman of color (balancing priorities, meeting expectations, minding her tenacity, earning respect), but she is extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to grow and make a difference in the lives of others. Post-graduation this May, she plans to take a gap year to work on a judicial campaign and then hopes to pursue a Master of Public Administration. She has no intentions to run for office, but I plan to remain on the lookout!