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SBP Candidate TJ Edwards focuses on accessibility, bettering student experiences

UNC junior public policy major, TJ Edwards, is pictured on Polk Place on Feb. 14, 2023. Edwards is running for UNC Student Body President.

As a junior public policy major, Student Body President Candidate TJ Edwards has always had an interest in politics.

This interest, however, is not what led them to run for this position. 

Edwards said some of their main motivations have come from their own academic challenges such as navigating classes during the pandemic and receiving accommodations when diagnosed with autism early in their college career. 

They said they were "infuriated" by the lack of compassion shown from professors during the pandemic, and that UNC did not have accommodations readily available for students with autism. 

“I just kept finding myself frustrated,” Edwards said. “And as someone who has this political inclination and career path, I wanted it to be something that I could solve. Because I know that these problems are not unique to me.” 

Another formative experience leading to their campaign for them came last March when police were called on Edwards due to a sleepwalking situation in the dorm. They said the police drew their guns, but because they were asleep during the interaction, they had to hear the story from their suitemate. 

“With my experience and the experience that we saw last semester on Franklin Street with ALE (Alcohol Law Enforcement) — it's clear that there is a serious issue here, and that issue needs to be addressed," Edwards said. 

Edwards said their experiences have inspired is their accessibility platform. Their campaign is focusing on creating policies to better accommodate students with mental disabilities. 

“I think that one piece of accessibility that is constantly left out of the conversation is mental disability,” they said. “And this is something that obviously is near and dear to my heart as an autistic person.” 

Another component of the platform focuses on safety and adding security cameras to the outside of residence halls, and a ride share program to provide safe rides for students with the intention of minimizing student interaction with police and ALE. 

Edwards’ campaign also includes a blockchain initiative, which would be the first cryptocurrency project connected to the University. The project proposes measures such as a carbon negative blockchain and donating 10 percent of all tokens from the initiative to UNC students through an airdrop. 

They said the plan would not require students to contribute their own money toward the project, but would allow them to submit and vote on proposals. 

Cole Castillo, Edwards’ campaign manager and partner, said the blockchain platform has stood out to her most. 

“I feel like this would be a good way to provide agency for students, give them the opportunity to have a say in what goes on in the University, and also giving them that financial freedom to do so,” Castillo said.  

Edwards' other platforms will focus on initiatives like supporting activism on campus and improving first year orientation.

Edwards’ activism platform, inspired by observing coworkers at the Student Union who work multiple jobs, will support University movements like fairer wages for all campus workers, they said.

The "Better Orientation" platform proposes an opportunity to create a more successful student orientation and a student oversight committee to encourage current students’ involvement in the orientation process.

Edwards said something that sets them apart as a candidate is their goal to create a new system to enact change at UNC. Edwards said they will do this through initiatives such as creating a closer relationship between student government and student organizations. 

“As long as I can remember, the student administration has been largely a figurehead, and I want it to not be the case,” they said. “But I think in order to do that, we as a student administration have to empower the students to enact the change. Because that's really where the power lies.”

Alexandria Hill, an advisor on Edwards’ campaign team and their friend since high school, said she admires Edwards’ drive and passion.

“When they have their eye on something, or they're trying to listen to the community or help someone out, they do everything that they can to truly make change happen,” she said.

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Castillo also said they think Edwards has the character and the ideal drive for this position. 

“I really, truly believe that they not only have their own interests at heart, but they also have the interests of all students on campus,” they said.