FAYETTEVILLE — After a debate that stretched on for more than an hour, the UNC-system Association of Student Governments elected Zack King from N.C. State University as the organization's new president — giving him the one student seat on the system's Board of Governors.
King will lead ASG with Davonte Belle of UNC-Charlotte, who will serve as senior vice president. Belle replaced Shelby Dawkins-Law, president of UNC-CH's Graduate and Professional Student Federation, who decided not to continue running because of personal reasons.
- The Association of Student Governments gave out five annual awards at its meeting in Fayetteville this weekend.
- 2015 John L. Sanders Student Advocate Award: former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt
- 2015 William C. Friday Lifetime Achievement Award: UNC-system President Tom Ross
- 2015 Eve Marie Carson Servant Leader Award: Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha
- 2014 Delegation of the Year Award: N.C. State University
- 2014 Amanda Devore Innovation in Student Government Award: "WolfPack Pick-up"
An extensive discussion preceded the vote, where members discussed the merits of the candidates including charisma, pragmatism and past experience. Three teams were vying for the top two leadership positions.
Belle said the decision left him shocked and surprised.
“I was just thinking you never know what life will throw at you, and what will happen, so at the end of the day, I am very happy with the decisions that were made with the delegation today," he said. “I think Zack and I will do great things next year."
A renewed focus on advocacy
King said he hopes to increase ASG’s presence across the system next year in the 44th session — including setting up tables on campuses and conducting polls on issues facing students, such as sexual assault and racism on campus.
He said not many students know what the association is.
“I think this is probably one of the most important years ASG has had in its existence, because we are completely changing it from a legislative model to an advocacy model,” King said.
There will still be some legislative bills dealing with financing and internal operations, he added, but the delegates would have more time for actively networking and discussing problems, solutions and ideas.
Belle said he'd like some advocacy efforts to focus on financial aid and Pell Grants, and he advocated with a group of ASG members in Washington, D.C. on Friday for this same cause.
During the trip, the group met with legislative aides for several prominent members of North Carolina's congressional delegation — including U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and Reps. Walter Jones, Alma Adams and Virginia Foxx — and discussed issues such as tuition increases, veteran’s benefits, campus safety and mental health.
Dakota Cary, ASG vice president of government relations, said the meeting was productive because their advocacy helped put student faces to student issues and created a personal relationship with representatives.
Veterans affairs, Hurston Hall discussed
A delegate from N.C. Central University, Ezzard Pickett, said he sees the need for strong veterans resources and assistance first hand.
Pickett said his father served in the military for 25 years and was eligible for many benefits. But because of miscommunication with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, his father did not sign over his benefits when he retired — and instead of getting his tuition and fees covered at NCCU, he is only eligible for a monthly stipend.
Steve Nunez, a delegate from UNC-Wilmington, said he is advocating for a veterans resources center on his campus. Despite more than 1,000 students who are affiliated with the military on UNC-W's campus, Nunez said, there is not a veterans resources hub.
“The transition process is really kind of difficult,” said Nunez, referring to veterans who have been out of education for at least four to five years. He said having a resource center added to UNC-W and other campuses like NCSU could help improve the transition process.
Dawkins-Law spoke about another advocacy issue she said was important to students — renaming Saunders Hall to Hurston Hall, which she said will be discussed at the upcoming UNC-CH Board of Trustees meeting.
“I am hopeful and optimistic, but I definitely am concerned about the message that it sends to student body by holding this meeting off-campus rather than on it," she said. “It definitely has mobilized students even more. Even if it wasn’t done for ill intentions, it’s how it looks — the optics of it. I do know they, the student affairs office, has arranged for buses to take people over to the site where it will be happening.”
Veterans Affairs and Saunders Hall are two of many topics King and Belle will tackle in 2015-16 academic year, though King said every campus has different issues.
"It's important to know that not all schools are the same, and they don't face the same challenges," King said. "We are our own best strength — each other."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.