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'So much bigger than me': UNC system's first African-American president talks election, future

N.C. Central University student Bettylenah Njaramba was elected president of the UNC Association of Student Governments. She will have a non-voting seat on the UNC Board of Governors. Photo courtesy of NCCU.

If someone had told Bettylenah Njaramba a year ago that she would become student body president of the UNC system, she wouldn’t have believed them.

Njaramba, who was born in Kenya and grew up in Raleigh, is the first African-American woman to serve in the position.

“To be the first Black woman, it was definitely emotional for me, because it’s something that surpassed my expectations for myself,” she said. “Also, knowing the village that I had behind me of people supporting me and believing in me, that really put their all into the campaign as well, it meant so much more, and really was so much bigger than me, so I am really eternally grateful.” 

Njaramba will be sworn in as president of The University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments at N.C. State University on Friday. 

ASG is a student-led organization representing the UNC-system student body. Its membership is comprised of student body presidents and other governmental delegates from the 17 UNC campuses.

Njaramba, a rising senior at North Carolina Central University, will serve as both president of ASG and as a sitting member on the UNC board of governors. As president, she will advocate for students to the BOG, but the position does not hold a vote. 

Although many students are unfamiliar with ASG, a dollar from every UNC-system student goes toward funding it. ASG holds monthly, two-day long meetings to discuss and collaborate on issues like access and affordability, campus safety and voter participation.

Njaramba said promoting awareness of the organization on campuses has been a longtime mission of ASG and is an important part of her campaign platform. 

“Because it’s funded by students, we definitely feel as if students should know about what is going toward,” she said. 

ASG has been a large part of Njaramba’s college experience. While serving as first-year class president at NCCU, she was invited to join her school’s delegation after another delegate canceled.

“I was absolutely obsessed with everything about it,” Njaramba said. “I was really in love with the fact that it was all the different schools coming together to talk about issues that we have going on in our campuses.”

As a sophomore, Njaramba became a campus liaison for ASG at NCCU. She continued in the role as a junior in addition to working as the ASG speaker pro tempore.  

The idea of running for office came to Njaramba last minute and resulted in an untraditional campaign.

“Granted, I did put my all into it once I fully committed to the idea of running,” she said. 

While the experience has been surreal, Njaramba said she knows she has work to do. One of her main goals is to incorporate professional development opportunities into ASG meetings, as well as to bring more transparency and be a more vocal voice while sitting on the BOG. 

“I wish that ASG was something that every single student in the UNC system was aware of,” she said. “So I feel like increasing that communication and that transparency in knowing that there is somebody on the board of governors that is able to voice the opinions of the students is really important.”

Bringing a strong student voice to the BOG has been a goal of current ASG President Tyler Hardin as well. 

Hardin, a senior at Appalachian State University, described efforts made in the last year to work toward getting a student vote on the BOG. He said the position the ASG president has with the BOG is crucial for students.

“Without that, there wouldn’t be many opportunities for having that strong dialogue with board members about policies that have a strong impact on everyone in the system,” Hardin said.

Hardin said he hopes to see ASG grow and continue to foster stronger relationships with the BOG leadership and elected officials, and to eventually get a vote on the board.

“I think (Njaramba) will do a great job leading the organization and will be able to bring a strong student voice to the table for next year,” he said. 

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Njaramba aims to do just that.

“I’m the only student out of 225,000 students that is sitting on the board," she said. "And unfortunately even though I may not have a vote on that board, I definitely want to utilize the voice that I have."


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