Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, December 17, 2017

Op-ed: Our AU community and the role of the student trustee

Current Student Trustee Valentina Fernandez offers students her thoughts after another racial incident on campus

Op-ed: Our AU community and the role of the student trustee

Valentina Fernández, student trustee, Neil Kerwin, former University president, and Shyheim Snead, former student trustee. 

Dear undergraduate, graduate and law students,

I wish my first letter to the AU student body was on better terms, but instead I write to introduce myself and to find ways to collaborate during this especially difficult time for many students. The continuous attacks on our community have once again left me speechless and frustrated. I want students, and especially black students who have been specifically targeted, to feel supported and safe on this campus. I understand that this is easier said than done, and I want to extend my platform and build a community between the Board of Trustees and students in order to rise above hate. During my term, I hope to share some information about the student trustee position and the role of the Board of Trustees.

My name is Valentina Fernandez and I am the student trustee for the 2017-2018 school year. I am a junior studying political science with a minor in education studies and I am excited for this year full of new possibilities. My job is to bring a student voice to the boardroom and act as a messenger between the board and students.

The student trustee sits on the Board of Trustees and is the only student at the table that provides student input for all the work the board does. The position is unique because the trustee represents undergraduate, graduate and Washington College of Law students. I spent an entire year as the student trustee-elect shadowing and learning from former student trustee, Shyheim Snead, and officially stepped into the role after the May 2017 board meeting.

Although other student representatives are also in the room during board meetings, the student trustee acts as a non-voting member of the board and is expected to fully participate. I sit on the campus life, finance and investment, communications and academic affairs board committees. My job is to not only focus on short-term advocacy, but to also holistically consider the University’s long term goals as an institution. While doing so, I am expected to share how key decisions will impact students and our campus community.

When I found out about the racist posters hung around campus last week, I felt sick to my stomach. But after reflecting on recent campus conversations, my experiences as a student and from our September Board of Trustees retreat, I also know that this is the time for students to leverage their power with University stakeholders.

Moving forward, I will be meeting with other trustees and members of President Burwell’s team to discuss issues that mean the most to you. I encourage you to contact me so that I can talk with you about what those issues are. Always feel free to message me on my Twitter and Facebook page, chat when you see me around campus in The Bridge or SIS atrium, and email me anything that’s on your mind or to find a time to meet at americanstudenttrustee@gmail.com. Following our discussions, I will be starting and continuing conversations with the University’s leadership and trustees before and during the November board meeting.

In my role, I can act as a translator and facilitator between students and the board. My goals for the year include: inviting trustees for coffee talks with students, extending leadership breakfasts and luncheons to student leaders beyond those in student government, increasing social media presence to introduce trustees to the AU community and working to find an appropriate and accessible way of relaying conversations in the boardroom back to students.

As reported by The Eagle in July, I am excited to be the first LatinX person to hold this role. However, with that honor comes great responsibility and even higher expectations. As a student of color, it is my personal goal that that I bring voices that often feel excluded from the decision making process into these environments. By working together, we can bring increased student input into conversations that happen in the boardroom. With new leadership and increased diversity in student leadership, I hope we take the time to work together. That’s what makes this year special--and I am prepared to embark on this journey together.

opinion@theeagleonline.com


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