The Student Government Association of UNCG (SGA) has new executive leadership for the ‘21-’22 school year. Ali Hamdoon, the current Vice President of SGA, and Haz Mengesha, currently a sophomore senator in SGA, were elected by the students in the SGA general elections which were held in late March.
They will serve, respectively, as the President and Vice President for the next session of SGA, the 99th session. Both President-elect Hamdoon and Vice President-elect Mengesha sat down with The Carolinian to reflect back on their SGA experience thus far and discuss their new roles.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How long have you both been a part of the SGA?
Ali: I’ve been in SGA ever since fall of 2019, so the beginning of my sophomore year up until now.
Haz: I joined SGA in the fall.
What sparked your interest in joining SGA?
Ali: So basically, I’ve always wanted to be a part of student government ever since I was in middle school. That may sound weird, but I’ve always felt like being a part of something that the school collaborates on was pretty important to the students because we’re all students and together, we’re trying to, you know, socialize, figure out what we want to do in life, and things of that nature.
In middle school, I didn’t have the opportunity to run, in high school I didn’t either. I didn’t have the voice that I felt like I have now, so when I came to UNCG, I was in the EUC and they [SGA] were tabling. It was actually Edmond Gayton, who’s one of the senators and chairs now, as well as Paige Gammon, who’s a Secretary now, and they approached me and we spoke quite a bit. I asked them a fair amount of questions, we spoke about fifteen to twenty minutes. I was like, “I didn’t know that UNCG had a student government, but I’m interested.”
That’s definitely one of the main reasons that I joined, I was like, “I want to know what student government organizations do now”, this was back in Fall of 2019. Through that, I joined and I became a residential senator because I was living in a residential college — Grogan College here at UNCG. I did town halls. I collaborated with my constituents and the students that lived in my building. I did some events, and then after that, I soon ran for Vice President, and now I am currently serving as your President-elect for the next session.
Haz: When I was in high school, I was a part of an equity leadership group my junior and senior year. Once I was a part of that equity group, we led faculty workshops promoting equity and inclusivity in our classrooms. Our high school was one of the first high schools to have that.
I talked to other high schoolers and other faculty about equity; once I came to UNCG, I wanted to do the same thing, promote more equity and inclusivity, so I joined SGA in hopes of promoting equity.
Once I started working in the committee, I started seeing that I could be tapped in to housing and other constituencies on campus, and I was still doing what I wanted to do in other areas that I didn’t expect I could be involved in. I joined SGA to promote that equity and an inclusive environment.
What are you most proud of achieving in the 98th session?
Haz: The $1500 that was just passed for housing. That was really a student concern and they just wanted compensation at first and it turned out to be that everyone got the $1,500. I’m proud that we were able to advocate for that and have that pushed for all students staying on campus.
What do you hope to achieve as President and Vice President?
Ali: As President of the 99th session, honestly, I want to go to the meetings, I want to hear what the faculty has to say, and then I want to relay that to the students. I want them to have a clear line of communication that’s super approachable, I don’t want to have that “Oh, he’s the President, oh, he’s the Vice President.” I want us to be like other students like Haz was mentioning.
I want our students to see what we’re doing for them, and also, I want to have a source for them to give us their concerns, which is why we want to have a newsletter. I know a lot of people don’t know about SGA; the Student Government Association stands for “for the students, by the students”, and I want to make sure that we are holding ourselves to that.
Haz: As Vice President, I honestly want to establish a more direct line of contact between students and SGA senators, like now, I hear a lot of students’ complaints, like right now. I know as Vice President, I will be hearing more students’ complaints, and one of the things I’m gonna do is hearing those students’ complaints and going directly to those senators.
If I hear freshmen complain about freshman issues, I’m going to be with the freshman senators and tell them what it is. I will be at every meeting, and just try to hold everyone accountable so that in return, once SGA is held accountable and everyone is doing their part, it will be easier for students, for Ali, and for all of us to have that inclusive environment and unity on campus that everyone is looking for.
Do either of you have any projects or plans already in the works for next session?
Ali: Yeah, we do, so basically there’s a couple things, I know that Haz has some ideas and I have some ideas, I’ll just say a couple that I have off the top of my head. Something that we have is this laptop program, which I’m actually meeting with a couple people from UNCG faculty to ensure that it’s something that we can sponsor, we do have the surplus and funds for it.
It’s getting an additional, I believe, ten to fifteen laptops sponsored through SGA so that students can rent them. That way, you know, students who are having classes online and maybe it might transfer to next semester, maybe it won’t, but just having technology available for students, because I know not a lot of students can afford it. I mean, I’m running on an old laptop myself that’s about seven years old, I’m just running it until I can’t, you know?
Another thing is we just started doing some banners to advocate for heritage months on campus and people from varying beliefs or backgrounds. We have a Black History Month one, a Women’s History Month one, and there’s a slight delay on the Arab Heritage Month one. That’s something we’re advocating for, we’re just waiting for printing services to finish up with that, so we’re definitely carrying over that as well.
Something else that Haz can touch on, Haz, did you want to talk about the Spartan Initiatives with the varying groups?
Haz: Yeah, so basically, there’s this program called the Spartan Men’s Initiative that Ali and I are both a part of. It’s like a mentorship program for men on campus, because we’re the lowest number gender-wise, but since I thought it was so beneficial to me, we’re going to advocate for a Spartan Women’s Initiative and a Spartan Gender-Neutral Initiative. So that other students can have that type of mentorship program and get other guidance they need.
Ali: I had one more thing that I forgot to mention. I’ve been working with the student Greek organizations on campus, and I’ve had their student leaders and their organizations come out and we’ve been speaking with the Deans, the Vice Chancellors.
I know Haz and I aren’t a part of Greek Life, but for students who identify or represent that, we want to make sure that we are filling in that gap that we don’t represent, that way those students also feel appreciated and feel welcome on this campus, so that’s definitely something else.
Lastly, what do you want students to know about SGA?
Haz: Honestly, I want students to know that SGA is here for you. That’s what our platform is. We are here for you, we are here to hear you and engage with you and respond, and empower. We want people to know that we are on campus and we are approachable. We want people to know that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you think about yourself, just come to us as who you are, one-hundred percent, that’s all we’re looking for.
We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable in their own skin, we don’t want anyone to feel like they have to be a certain way, we just want everyone to be who they are on campus, and bring out that Spartan energy.