By Maia Ervin ’18
WASHINGTON, PA (Dec. 19, 2017)–This past spring, the Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) student body elected biochemistry major Kenny Clark ’18 as student government president, and reached a major milestone in the process: Clark is W&J’s first African-American Student Government Association (SGA) president.
Clark learned earlier this year that no African-American before him had held this post. Although he has seen students of color be supportive of and involved with SGA in the past, he was shocked to hear that he made history.
“I’ve never in my four years seen an [African-American] president so I wasn’t sure if it happened…[B]ut it made me happy that I was the first person to do it and take more pride in the position.”
Although surprised to hear the news, Clark is excited by what this milestone implies about the W&J community and its attempts towards bringing more minoritized groups into leadership positions.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Clark said. “But I think we’re one of the institutions, one of the schools, that are taking a step in the right direction towards inclusivity and diversity.”
Clark also believes that his election shows that the W&J community recognizes the importance of getting people from diverse backgrounds involved in more organizations on campus.
Being a member of an underrepresented group, Clark realizes the pertinence of educating college campuses on inclusivity. With his new role, he hopes he will have the opportunity to improve W&J’s attitude towards campus inclusion.
“I hope that some of the things I do that pertain to diversity will be looked at not as something I am doing because I am a person of color but because it’s what the school needs.” said Clark.
At the start of this academic year, SGA released its Affirmation of Peer-to-Peer Community Values, which discusses the importance of respecting the differences between students, among other things. Clark hopes to incorporate more programs that reflect the affirmation statement and that focus on creating a more inclusive campus for all people at W&J, not just students of color.
“We’re going to take the affirmation statement and see how we can make it come to life on our campus,” he said. “How can we make it something that students can take pride in? How can we make students want to be this type of member in the community?”
While Clark has already made some changes as SGA president, such as implementing a more efficient way to vote for Homecoming King and Queen, and increased participation at SGA general assembly meetings, he has even more to come for the rest of the academic year. Modification to the SGA constitution and planning the annual spring concert are some of the things on Clark’s agenda for SGA’s executive board.
With new values and programs already being introduced, it is not just this SGA president who is excited about what else is to come this academic year. Clark’s peers possess the same amount of optimism.
“There aren’t that many things that cater to the black community,” said W&J senior Amina Brown. “Having an SGA president, which is a person that is supposed to represent and speak for the entire school, be a black individual is reassuring and enlightening for black students.”
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.
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