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Leadership Highlight: James Madison University’s SGA President Aaliyah McLean

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate universities  across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to James Madison University and did an interview with Aaliyah McLean the Student Government Association president.

The position of SGA president of a is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. McLean, who is majoring in Media Arts and Design as well as Journalism, is a current senior and a Spring 2018 initiate of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

We interviewed McLean, and talked to her about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in 2020.

Read the full interview below.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned as an SGA president so far?

The biggest thing I’ve learned from being Student Body President this year was how your voice really matters. When I first started this role, I knew I was advocating for the students but I never knew what that responsibility looked like. It’s important to get out and hear exactly how students are feeling so when you are making decisions, you have their voice in mind. This position taught me that it isn’t about what I’m thinking but about finding out who isn’t heard and bringing their voice to the table. 

What made you decide to attend James Madison University for undergrad? 

At first I was unsure about where I wanted to go. I grew up in Richmond, VA and wanted to attend VCU like the rest of my family. I never saw myself at James Madison but was invited to attend an overnight event the night before the open house (known as Choices) called Perspective Students Weekend. JMU paired minority students with a host and allowed you to tour their classes and attend events just for us. The effort JMU put into this to help us create a community before we were committed students made me want to attend this university and do the same for others.

How has James Madison University molded you into the person you are today?

Madison has taught me how to be an active citizen in our community. Before JMU, I had no idea about what I valued or who I wanted to be. Because of the experiences here, I value intentionality, community, and opening doors for others just like we do at JMU.

What specific initiatives have you headed up this year and how do you think they will improve the school and surrounding community?

This year under my Administration, we decided to create three key focuses for the student body which were: Student Wellness, Inclusive Engagement, and Environmental Action. We wanted to make sure we were advocating for students under these three policies by spearheading new initiatives and connections with the upper Administration like expanded the Title IX process and creating more transparency regarding student cases spearheaded by one of our Student Senators. We advocated for the Green New Deal Legislation and also connected with Dining Services to reduce waste by expanding reusable containers and bringing bio-degradable containers on campus. Every month, we started something knew and did monthly tabling to get student input and opinions on the bills and resolutions we were passing through Senate. We wanted to go out and meet students where they were so they knew we were here for them. Though these were just a few of our new initiatives, we believe these will empower the student body to stand up for what they believe in.

How is your school currently responding to the coronavirus and what is your SGA administration doing to help students?

The administration at our school has made it clear that students are their first priority when responding to the coronavirus. We’ve heard so many great things about how the university is living through their values by being inclusive and accessible when making decisions; they have switched to Pass/Fail, they’ve allowed students to stay on campus who need housing, and have given refunds. In addition to trying to be inclusive and accessible, they’re making sure that students have the resources they need by keeping our food pantry open on campus, switching to Telehealth so students can still access the counseling and health center, and they adopted virtual programing to make sure students still feel connected to the university.

How is the coronavirus affecting SGA elections for next year? 

Fortunately, our Spring elections took place before students were displaced due to COVID-19. However, we had to think of new ways to let new senators and representatives into the organization as well as moving our Speaker of the Senate election online to help our organization keep moving forward for the next year.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership to me means serving others first. Anyone can be in your position, so it’s important to not get caught up by a title. Instead, I believe you should meet people where they are and inspire them to be the best they can be. In addition to trying to empower and uplift them, I believe leaders should always build community wherever they go.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think schools need to do to represent themselves online in 2020?

In order to represent themselves, schools need to adapt quickly to the trends that will attract to their students. Schools have to remember that they can’t stick to “the norm” and instead need to meet students where they are by immersing themselves in their culture. This will be extremely important with the 2020 Census. Institutions need to step up so students get counted and represented as minority communities are commonly underrepresented.

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black students and college culture? 

Watch The Yard is important because it gives Black students and college culture a platform to be empowered. It’s hard being in college, especially when you feel like no one understands what you are going through. Watch The Yard gives students a common ground to be connected and to feel like they have others they can relate too which is so important when alleviating the Black college experiences. These stories need to be told so we can continue to open the door for more black students In the future.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

After graduation, I hope to peruse working in Higher Education focusing on policy so I can continue to advocate for students and the everyday life of a college students. Law makers and institutions have to remember not everyone comes from the “traditional” background and every perspective and demographics matters and should be involved in the decision making process.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Aaliyah McLean for her work as the SGA president of James Madison University.

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