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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Sasha Gilthorpe headshot

Farewell to a year of service

One day this past summer, a friend walked into the SG execs office (now called KJS, or the Kevin J. Sutherland Executive Office) and found me sobbing at my desk. I couldn’t figure out how to start an email to an administrator I was nervous about meeting. When they asked me what was wrong, I only answered, “I don’t know how to do anything!” and kept crying.

It would be impossible to say farewell to my time as Student Government President without acknowledging the impostor syndrome that accompanied it.

As Madeleine Albright said to our students this October, there is no room for mediocre women. I felt as though I had been given this incredible gift, this opportunity to serve, and I didn’t think I matched up to it. I knew our students hurt. I knew they needed more. And I was terrified of being mediocre.

I worried a lot. I worried about students. I worried about University leadership taking me seriously. I worried about doing “enough” and whether I would ever get there. I worried that I was faking it, and I worried that everyone could tell.

But, as I look back on a year of service, I know that it wasn’t mediocre at all. We hit home with a student worker report, making sure that supervisors took their student staff seriously when they came forward with complaints. When the Faculty Senate abruptly decided to release a resolution against the use of trigger warnings, we developed new materials to work with faculty in small groups and one-on-one to create the classroom conditions students deserve.

We developed a pilot program to make members of Greek life feel like they are part of the solution to sexual assault, instead of like they’re the problem. We worked with AU Central and the Office of Financial Aid in an off-budget year to improve our online financial resources, and then we collaborated with the RiSE Project Team to push for personal AU Central counselors.

We worked with faculty, deans and the Provost’s office on a new Academic Grievance policy and a reimagined General Education. We worked with the Counseling Center in a more collaborative and open way, which led to the direct distribution of Counseling Center information to nearly 2,000 students, and elevated conversations about how next year’s budget can improve Counseling Center resources.

We spent months crafting recommendations to President Kerwin about the creation of a more inclusive university for students who feel excluded because of their race, ultimately influencing President Kerwin’s path forward. Even more change, like a revised Honesty & Confidentiality Policy, followed as a direct result of a Title IX complaint filed against the University.

As much as a voice inside me asks, “did you do enough?” I know I kept my promises to all of you. I told you I wouldn’t pick just one or two issues, because there is too much at stake and too many things to care about. I said I would focus on tangible accomplishments, instead of reaching too far for too long, and letting a lot of people down. And I said I would get things done.

I accomplished none of this alone. There are the people who were in Student Government who lay foundations for me, whether they knew it or not. There are the activists who spoke out and created pressure, making institutional change possible.There are the people who helped me run and win, and the people who helped me fight. There are many people who came from outside SG and became Directors or joined Working Groups. There are the “insiders” and the “establishment” who gave so much of themselves to SG and AU, without much credit at all. These people, who gave up time and energy and so much else to do incredible things for their peers, made every part of this year possible.

As I look back on this year and say goodbye, my heart is heavy with wishes. I wish I could thank more people--the people who offered their support and the people who offered their criticisms--for everything they did to contribute. I wish I could have known a year ago that I wasn’t “faking it” and I was stronger than the impostor syndrome. But mostly, I wish I could have more time to do more.

It’s a good thing that wish will not be granted. It’s time for new students to rise to new challenges, and I am excited to see everything they will accomplish. While farewells are hard, I am hopeful for our future. I believe it is bright with students who will perceive and actualize change I never even dreamed of.

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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