I’m a firm believer in voting in any election possible, and voting locally is especially important. And what’s more local than voting for the officers of JMU’s SGA? So, ShoutOut! readers and JMU students, I’m happy to offer you an opportunity to get to know two of the SGA candidates better: Katie Stolp, running for president, and Alicia Pettis, running for vice president.
ShoutOut! (SO): You’re running for Student Government Association (SGA) as a team with the name “Are You In JMU” – what is your main message, why run as a team, and what does “are you in” mean to you?
Katie Stolp (KS): As a team we came up with this idea of inspiring community, innovating communication, and investing in the future. That’s what the platform for the three of us encompasses.
Alicia Pettis (AP): We mean, Are you in, do you want to be in the community?
KS: What I love so much about working with this group of people is that everyone brings different strengths to the table, we believe in each other. We have a great dynamic and a great skill set that will make SGA successful right off the bat.
AP: We’re involving the JMU community more and reaching out. We want to make sure that students and organizations are not just coming to us, but we’re connecting with them.
KS: For me personally, I feel that the second someone feels that they’re worthwhile or you believe in them, they are going to be a whole lot more engaged and happy. When I say are you in, I mean we want to invest in you as a student.
SO: If you are elected, what is your biggest priority for JMU?
KS: That’s a difficult question. The biggest priority is making sure that the SGA fulfills its mission of serving students. And, to elaborate, we have a lot of ideas that we think would enhance the student experience, but our number one priority is making sure they [students] are taken care of. So that students can say “Hey, they’re [the SGA] adding value to my Madison experience.”
SO: What are your major goals? How can you achieve them?
KS: Two things that I’m really excited about with my platform is working more with the Harrisonburg community. So we have an awesome downtown scene. Let’s bring more students there to kinda support those local businesses as well as working with the Harrisonburg city council in just having a really good line of communication. And then also, I’ve said this 100 times, I’m a nerd at heart, I love geeking out about stuff, so making sure we have that kind of academic culture on campus where we can deepen learning experiences.
And a few of our ideas for that were bringing programs from other universities such as proposing a fund where students can take what they learn in the classroom, think of an idea, and partner with someone in the community such as a non-profit or an advocacy group, small business, and work with them to kind of implement their project or their idea. So have a hands on learning experience.
AP: I want to provide more than just money as a resource to also support so that involves creating a group which SGA facilitates, which is basically a team where FEB organization has a representative that comes to the table, talks about their mission, creates awareness about what they’re doing and talks about events that they’re putting on so there’s more collaboration and support and more working together to make sure they are as successful as possible.
It’s called Major Organization Success Team and it stands for MOST. That’s my big thing. And also making sure students have insights and opportunities to get involved with administration who commission committees.
SO: Okay, so what does your team have that sets you apart from your competition right now?
AP: I think we’re inspirational.
KS: We have vision, we have a very clear, grounded in our values vision for the organization at JMU.
AP: And I think another thing that we have—well, there’s two things that we have—are experience. I think everyone going up for the position has experience in that we’ve all – Katie’s done some of what Pat [the current SGA president] is doing right now, I’ve been in class council for two years and that’s something I do, and Jake has worked for FEB groups as a representative from SGA which is something he would do.
We also have verified platform points. Our points are very specific, it’s a concept we worked on by looking to other groups and seeing what they want out of SGA, and looking to students and seeing what they want out of SGA.
SO: So ShoutOut! is a feminist blog, with a largely feminist-identified readership. Does your team have specific plans that would target women’s issues, for example, sexual assault prevention campaigns, or like combatting the myth of the JMU girl, or relating to racial, gender, and sexuality diversity?
KS: I think a theme that we’ve been talking about is just embracing our diversity and working with it only enhances kind of moving forward, this sounds cheesy, but towards a better future. Women’s issues on campus is an interesting topic because it’s a campus made up of females as the majority – 60% or 61% – and before coming to JMU you have this stereotype of the “JMU biddy”. But what is that? We’re hardworking people and we shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a girl who doesn’t like to get straight A’s and work hard and have a great time in college just because we like to dress nicely or anything you might think a biddy embodies. And also, I think it’s not necessarily a good thing that we throw this word “biddy” around all the time, because honestly it has a demeaning connotation. So I respect myself as a woman and I wouldn’t want someone else to refer to me as a biddy because in no way am I lesser than any other individual on campus. We’re all equals here.
AP: Also, something to note is that never before has a woman in the past 10 years ran against a male for president and won. And so we’re really hoping that is important that Katie is – a reason I’m part of the team is that I really believe Katie would be the best president. I’m hoping that people see that we are inspirational and that we do have specific ideas that we’re going to have the best positive impact. And that Katie is the one to vote for. No matter gender. She is the one to vote for.
SO: We have a few policy specific questions. Katie, in your video you talk about things like better access to professors. How would you achieve that?
KS: I think bringing a program to campus where professors are nominated to give TED talks, so basically 12 to 15 minute presentations on things that are really personal and meaningful to them, and experiences they’ve learned from, and so sharing that kind of where you come from ideology helps people relate better and understand better. We’re looking to have an SGA representative to the faculty senate so they have a better understanding of student interests and so it’s a more open transparent relationship.
SO: Alicia, you’ve mention increasing diversity in the tree lighting (something ShoutOut totally supports). Do you expect any pushback for that or backlash against such a proposal?
AP: I could see… I think that the tree lighting is an important event. So I’m not trying to take away from the event but add to it by making sure that we’re representing other religions and cultures equally. I think the cultural aspect is so important. I began talking with AEPi [JMU’s Jewish Fraternity] and I’m looking to talk with Hillel and Sigma AEPi and getting them involved doing something with Hanukkah. We’re not sure yet—I didn’t want to put in on my platform if I can’t achieve it, so the specifics are not worked out. I also want to include Kwanzaa and I’m looking to CMSS organizations that might be involved with Kwanzaa and want to do that.
KS: This is something Alicia has talked with Dr. Warner and he fully supports and agrees that we need a more equal representation of cultures on campus during something like the tree lighting ceremony.
SO: Have either of you run into resistance so far as two women running for office at JMU?
AP: I think sometimes there’s a stereotype that women are very emotional and I think that sometimes colors people’s perspective of what a leader should be and they think a leader should be very objective. I think it’s important that we’re not trying to conform to a masculine type of leadership but we’re just being the best leader we can be. I don’t think it is about “oh I’m a woman” so I have to be super nice or I should be like a man so I have to be more demanding, which I think are stereotypes people have.
SO: So this is related, what’s it like to run as a woman knowing a woman hasn’t won in 10 years against a man?
KS: It makes me hopeful. Because it’s never too late to change something. And to see the kind of support we’ve had so far and work with the people we have so far. And to see them believe in us and what we’re doing, not just as women, but as a team just means so much.
SO: To end with a fun question: if you could have dinner with any 3 historical figures or contemporary public figures, who would they be and why?
KS: I would almost say Michelle Obama… actually, if I could go with a first ladies thing, I think it would have to be Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy, and Eleanor Roosevelt. That would be awesome. Because I would love to hear what it’s like to, not be married to the president of the U.S. but watch how from a women’s perspective what it’s like to be in that partnership and the dynamic they have.
AP: Okay, I got mine. So, President Obama – I think he is so interesting, I think he’s a really inspirational person. I think that’s something I aspire to be in a weird way. Not to be him, I could never do that, but I think it’s so interesting how he inspires people and he’s done so much. And just all his hard work and so much opposition but to stay so hopeful. I love that. Hillary Clinton is another one. I’m a big fan of hers. I think she’s a really smart person and I really admire her for her marriage. I think some people criticize her for staying with her husband, but people are going to mess up and you have to work with that. I admire the support for each other. Another is Jake Gyllenhaal – not only is he cute, he’s funny and I’m a big fan of his photos where he’s laughing at food. I’d want him to do that at dinner at some point.
For more information about Are You In JMU, check out their expanded platform on their website, along with videos about their vision for JMU.