Following this week’s student body president election, you might be wondering what positions in student government actually entail.
For soon-to-be outgoing President Ashton Martin, she said her role mostly involves a lot of talking and attending meetings on behalf of all UNC students.
“I think my job is to keep the vision going,” Martin said. “I see myself as the voice in a lot of spaces. When crazy things happen on campus, usually I’m the first person someone in South Building will call. It’s a wonderful privilege, but I know that I can’t speak for everyone.”
Martin said that she often finds herself trying to strike a balance between what she believes to be right and what is best for students as a whole.
On a daily basis, Martin said she finds herself working closely with members of her executive team to problem solve, put out fires as they appear and roll out new policy ideas.
“Each of our roles are very autonomous,” Ariel Freedman, undergraduate director of State and External Affairs, said. “Ashton has been really great at leading us and guiding us — but also trusting us to oversee our specific area within student government because, ultimately, she can’t be everywhere.”
Freedman said she serves as the student representative for UNC on many external bodies within Chapel Hill. She works to give students a voice in decisions that may overlap communities.
“We, as a student government, get to be in these spaces that normally students are not,” Nick Sengstaken, undergraduate chief of staff, said. “We get to sit on committees like the Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor. Unlike other campuses, when students come here to Carolina, they know their interests can be heard if the right people are in office.”
One of the most important roles the student body president plays is as a full-voting member of the Board of Trustees.
“Ashton is the singular voice of the student body,” Sengstaken said. “The biggest component of her role is the fact that she sits on the Board of Trustees, and she represents all students. Beyond that, she is our biggest bridge between the student body and South Building.”
Through seats on various committees and boards, the student body president and the executive team are able to influence campus decision-making.
Martin said during her term, she and her team have been able to accomplish things like getting plastic bags removed from bottom of Lenoir Dining Hall, creating a peer support network for mental health and continuing to expand the Angel Shot Initiative.
Martin also has an influence in things like setting school fees and amending processes.
“Another big win — that I recently found out about — was that we got the registration process for transfer students changed, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it used to be based on semesters you have been at UNC,” Martin said.
Martin said now, class registration is based on credit hours instead of semesters, so transfer students will be able to register during the appropriate window for their year.
“We were able to submit the student voice in that process a lot more than we ever have before, so I’ve been really proud of that,” Martin said.
But being student body president can be a very challenging position, trying to balance student government responsibilities with classes and personal life.
“It takes a lot of self-discipline and time management,” Martin said. “It can get the best of you if you let it. There’s definitely been weeks when I’ve really been tossed around in the waves. It’s about just being intentional since you are still a student and human who deserves to have a social life — it’s definitely a learnt thing. I can’t say I was good at it in the beginning.”
Ashton said the job is rewarding, though.
“My favorite part is honestly seeing all the work that my team has been able to accomplish,” Martin said. “Obviously I didn’t do a lot of this personally. My team is responsible for a lot of the progress. I am so grateful for the dedication that they have shown and the belief that they had in me and the crazy ideas we had in the beginning."
Sengstaken said the influence of student government is a crucial aspect of UNC.
“Our institution is built on student self-governance and the ability for students to have a say in how the institution runs as well as how their daily life is organized and conducted,” Sengstaken said. “At the end of the day, this is our home, and we deserve to have a say in how it operates. And thankfully, we have a very rich history of students doing that.”
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