Student Body President: Sinna Habteselassie

Year and Major: Fourth Year in Neuroscience and Organizational Leadership

Involvement: Student Body President, Base Mentor for Transitions (Program at the AACRC for first-year students), UC African Students' Association, McMicken Ambassador, founder of the Greek Diversity Committee

 

Her Campus University of Cincinnati: When you were a freshman, did you think you’d be running for student body president?

Sinna Habteselassie: Absolutely not, not at all. When I was a freshman, I was afraid to speak in public –still am actually– I definitely was a wallflower in the way I saw leadership too. I would always fall to the back, didn’t speak my mind at all, but I think in coming to UC I’ve been allowed to just grow into a leader. Like I blossomed. I don’t think I would have got that without being here.

HCUC: Was there a definite moment when you knew you wanted to run for Student Government?

SH: For Senate, I would say – it was the summer – and I remember our current vice president, Brooke Duncan – we were at ARJ (Accelerated Racial Justice), which is a diversity and inclusion retreat through RAPP – and I remember we were sitting on the porch and she was saying how more women need to run for office and women need to run because it takes us seven asks instead of one (compared to men), for women to even feel empowered enough to go for it. And she was like, “You should run.” And I was like, “This is a joke, absolutely not.” But it resonated with me, and the more I got involved in Student Government, the more I realized that there are so many things I can do outside of just my director position. And then I got more and more interested in it, and when I pitched the idea to other women and they were so so supportive of it too, it was kinda like, “Yeah, maybe I can!”

Meanwhile, for student body president, I remember the first person who really sat me down and was like, “You should do this” was my friend Vineela Kunapareddi, she’s actually our External Holdover Senator now. And I think for women, at least, I think for myself specifically, the self-actualization component of realizing you’re a leader is sometimes a little slower than every other quality moment. And sometimes we need other people, people in power who we really look up to speak confidence into us, you know? And she was someone who did that for me. So I would really like to have this position so I can do that for other women as well.

HCUC: How do you think, cause I feel that having voices heard is definitely a huge thing in today’s society and also being politically correct. So how do you state what you want to say without trying to come off with the stigma of being pushy or…

SH: Or aggressive? Abrasive? Sometimes we’re called a b*tch. I honestly am still trying to figure that out. I think with the whole politically correct piece of that, it just comes with education and knowing that you are trying to listen to the voices of others and amplify their voice, not speak over them. And then with the whole trying not to be aggressive thing: When women are in roles of leadership, until our society’s culture changes, that’s just going to be something we deal with. But I think it’s also important to remind men in the room to be allies. Just as much as we say feminism is important, feminism is not something that’s only a women’s issue. It should be a men’s issue too. It’s everyone’s. Our struggles are our fellows’ as well. So yeah, I think it happens, but it’s also important that women support other women in those spaces. So if I kinda have to be more assertive in a role or a task that I need to assign, it’s important for other men and women in the room to say, “Okay, yeah, she’s right, we have to accomplish this,” versus, “Your tone is a little aggressive.”

HCUC: For Student Body President, what is the biggest issue to you, that you want to address?

SH: Oh, there’s so many. For student body president, Umaize Savani and I, the person I’m running with as my VP, both of us really feel passionate about bringing our university together. Our slogan is “Together.” It’s what we think is the most important component of this, is collaboration, and through that, the two of us have both had incredible mentors, we’ve been able to learn and grow so much in our Student Government positions because people afford their resources and their energy to teaching us. And if elected, one thing we’re going to work on is really making sure we’re delegating tasks, and that we’re looping in other members of Cabinet. SG (Student Government) has this strong reputation of being a little elitist because there’s this hierarchy of positions and the power that comes with them, and typically those that are “lower tiered” don’t necessarily get looped into meetings with the administration or to do the completion of different initiatives. So really making sure that we’re bringing people in with us and delegating tasks and giving them the opportunity to grow and to lead with us versus kind of like, watching us.

HCUC: With Savani, and asking him to be your VP, how did that conversation go?

SH: So when I came on campus, our Student Body President was a girl. Her name was Christina Beer. She was super tall, I remember I walked on campus and was passing by CCM; she was giving a tour and she had heels on, she looked so professional and it just wowed me. And then at Convocation I saw her again, giving a speech, and I was like wow, women can do this, we can lead these huge organizations and take charge. So that always resonated with me.

But then in the coming years, we saw so many times women took the back seat. And in my personal opinion, took on a lot more of the hard work and labor of that task than the men who were president. And I feel like moving forward, we really need to set a tone of equal work for both and reminding women that they can do this and that’s another reason why I am running. It’s because representation is so crucial and when I was selecting a VP, I was definitely looking for someone who would support a lot of the values I have. As a feminist, as someone who’s a person of color, as someone who really values equity and inclusion, and Umaize Savani has all of that. His sister is Umeirra and she led Hillary’s campaign on our campus, she’s a huge feminist and so is he.

He went to the Women’s March and is someone who’s super supportive of equity and inclusion. He goes to different cultural events with me and he’s someone I know that if I come to and say, “Hey, I need an ally for this,” he would be down. And that’s something I definitely look for in a partner. And as far as delegating who had more experience and who should take president and VP, I came to him and asked him if he would be our vice president and he instantly said yes. I was the one asking him, “Are you sure? We can rearrange roles if you want.” And he was like, “No, I think you should be president.” And I think that’s the kind of support that’s important. And hopefully, if we get elected that will just be another pathway for a woman, for a double female ticket.

HCUC: What are some concrete ideas on your platform?

SH: Our platform has five overarching themes. Diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, campus amenities, student interests, and our DIY platform points. I would say my favorites vary on the day.

Today, for example, it’s super rainy and I really feel our umbrella checkout initiative would be very helpful on campus. But overall, I feel my favorites are our DIY platform points that give students the opportunity to submit their own initiatives to our website. From there, while elections are going on, if students like one initiative the most, they can upvote it and the initiative that has the highest amount of upvotes at the end will be added to our platform so if elected, we’ll make it happen. So it gives students the power to speak their mind and say what they want to see changed.

Additionally, we have something called our one-stop text service, which I really like. So if you’ve ever been at University Pavilion and had to wait for your FAFSA or a meeting and it can take one to two to three hours, especially in the beginning of the semester with classes, but this would allow you to just get a text when it’s near your turn so you could just go to U Pavilion and wouldn’t have to wait there all day.

Another thing is our tax day, which would be a weeklong event in TUC. We’d invite companies like H&R Block or Turbo Tax to come and do student taxes for free. They benefit because they have this new consumer pool, so when students graduate they’ll probably go back to that. And then we benefit because we’re instituting financial literacy and promoting awareness on how to do your taxes.

Then I think my final one is one of our diversity inclusion initiatives, which is our online reporting system. In the last year, you’ve seen a lot of-especially in the fall semester, there was a student who had some islamophobic remarks that came towards her from a professor- and it’s kind of awkward because how do you handle that? You don’t want to get a bad grade, you also don’t want to rock the boat, but these things need to be addressed. And really advertising working with Ombuds, in the Office of Equity and Inclusion with Dr. Bleuzette Marshall to institute an online reporting system that’s marketable and something that the student body is aware of. Because we don’t know how to handle those situations, and it was really hard for to navigate that for that student. She ended up posting about it on Facebook, and it got buzz that way, but you should feel empowered enough as a student and trust our system enough to report what you see.

HCUC: So in your last year as Senator at Large, what do you think your greatest accomplishment has been?

SH: Well, there’s a lot. But I think one thing – I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s an accomplishment – but one thing that was really important to me was that students felt they could come to me for things they wanted to see happen. Right now I’m working with Umar Safwaan and Zoha Mian, and the two of them have wanted to make this Books not Bombs initiative, which is incredible. Basically, it helps refugee students in the local Cincinnati area from Syria specifically, but also from all over the world, who are seeking access to higher education to get a tuition scholarship to go to UC. So people who have literally been displaced from their native countries would be allowed to get a college degree, and for free, which I think is super awesome. So we’re working on a bill that’s actually going up to Senate today (Tuesday, February 20). And I liked the fact that they felt they could come to me, because I want to be accessible to students.

One thing I’ve personally done for Student Government in the first week of being elected, is we created a Director of African American affairs position, just to ensure that we had more representation in Student Government. And that was really cool because I used to be that position as ethnic cultural affairs when I was a third year, in my first year of Student Government. And I liked having the ability to expand SG and bring more people in and also make a more equitable environment. And then I think the last thing that I was really proud of is one that I’m still working on. But it’s instituting our equity and inclusion training for student organizations, and that will be rolling out to students soon.

HCUC: So with all these things involving equity and inclusion, what do you think will be the biggest obstacle we’ll face in the future?

SH: So I have gone through ARJ a couple of times, with Brice Mickey, who’s the Director of RAPP, he’s wonderful, he’s a gem. And one thing that he really taught us is this whole each one, teach one mentality. You are responsible for teaching other people about equity and inclusion, just the same way someone has taught you. With that though, the struggle is that some people don’t want to learn. And you can’t force everyone to love equity and inclusion, but you can be responsible for advocating it and educating those around you. For example, I’m a black African student, so in my communities, I can educate about identities I have and then also identities I don’t carry. I’m not a member of the LGBTQ community, but I can be an advocate for them in my spaces. And I think that while I can’t change everyone’s mind, if I can at least speak on their behalf so that they don’t have to carry that emotional burden in doing so, then it’s a benefit to everyone.

HCUC: Why do you think women don’t run for leadership positions in school, and even broader, in city government or federal positions?

SH: So many-so many reasons. Okay, so I feel women don’t feel empowered enough and I don’t think men help us feel that way sometimes. It’s one thing when women empower other women, but it’s not the job of only women to empower women. It’s everyone’s duty to empower one another, especially men because they typically have more privilege than us and they need to be able to kind of make a more equitable environment by giving that to us.

Additionally, I think you can’t become something you don’t see. So if you don’t see someone as a student body president, as a senator, a CEO of a company, then how can you identify with that? A lot of times if you don’t feel like something’s possible, if it’s too overwhelming, it’s tiring, it’s exhausting to be the first of everything. And that’s another thing too. Promoting better representation and becoming better allies. People say equity and inclusion are unrelated to every conversation, but it really and truly is so critical to be aware and conscious of these things because it’s systematic. So it’s literally embedded in everything that we do. I think it’s hard because people don’t empower us. I think it’s hard because we have systems working against us. And I think it’s hard because ally-ship isn’t taught enough in schools, in organizations.

HCUC: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

SH: Just say no. I always say this [laughs]. The best advice I’ve ever received is definitely, “You don’t have to take everything on.” There’s a woman on our Student Alumni Council who’s our advisor, her name is Victoria Kuhlman, she’s actually a UC alum too. She once told us in a meeting that you can say, “I’m not taking this on.” And with that, you get to know that not everything is your responsibility. If someone is falling short on something, you don’t have to follow through for them because over-exhausting yourself is not better for anyone.

I think that’s so important with our involvement culture here at UC; it’s a little toxic. We overwork ourselves and with think that it’s some kind of honor to be exhausted all the time and to lack sleep. We brag about the fact that we’re in this and we’re in that and we’re working so hard and our school calendars are stocked all day. When in reality, self-care is the most important thing. You can’t help others, you know, there’s this quote that’s like, “You have one hand to help others and one hand to help yourself.”  And I completely believe in that. Obviously, there are days that are just rough, and you’re going to be hectic and busy but if you can say no to something and give yourself a little self-care or time, take advantage of that.

HCUC: How do you go about self-care? Like what’s something that you do?

SH: It’s different for everyone, but for me, I like to turn my phone off. I like to disconnect my iMessages from my computer, and literally sleep. [Laughs.] Sleep, read a book; a lot of the times they’re social consciousness books. One I’m working on right now is one I just got from the Women’s Center called The Feminist Fight Club. You should read it; it has every situation you could think of that a woman could feel like the underdog in, and then what tactics you can use to fight back, which I thought was so cool. So yeah, reading, self-care, turning your phone off and disconnecting.

HCUC: What’s your favorite book that you’ve read during self-care time?

SH: My favorite book of all time is The Alchemist. But my most recent favorite book is probably The Feminist Fight Club.

HCUC: You mentioned going to people for help, who is someone that you go to for help when you need it?

SH: Someone I’ve always looked up to is Ashley Nkadi, she’s my self-proclaimed mentor, but also my idol. She was one of the co-founders of the Irate 8 movement, which was amazing on campus and still does really cool work. But I go to her because she’s one of those people that’s a servant leader, and has also done something that I think is really impressive; passing the torch. I think that when you’ve found an organization, it’s really hard to just let it go and give it to someone else, but you know, true leadership is creating longevity in an organization and she’s done that with hers, and with so many other things she’s created on our campus. So I look up to her a lot.

HCUC: What’s a personal goal that you have, and how do you go about your personal goals and motivation?

SH: I think right now, what I’m working on is being a servant leader. I always thought I was one, and I still think I am, but I think I can do better in being one for sure. And with that, I think what I’m working on to get there is to listen before I speak. And to hold myself accountable. Some of the best advice I ever got was to tell people what your ambitions are so that they can hold you accountable too. So I tell my best friends, I tell my mentors, I tell people I look up to, and that I interact with daily things that I want to become. And that way, when they see me steering the opposite way, or navigating off path, they can check me as well. So peer-to-peer accountability. And then also writing down your strides. I personally can’t journal every day, I don’t have the energy to do it, but every once in awhile I write down something I did that I feel is taking me to the next step, to where I want to be. And that just acts as a reminder to tell me, “you’re going in the right direction.”

HCUC: How do you manage to stay organized with everything that’s going on?

SH: Oh my god, a Google Calendar. A Google Calendar for everything. [Laughs.] And I love my G-Cal. I color code it to every organization every day. But I also have learned that sometimes, especially if you share your calendar with other people, I will make certain blocks of times where I’ll be like, “Oh, in a meeting!” But really it’s just self-care. It’ll be my time where I’ll need an hour or two to just get away from everything and do my own thing and process. And sometimes that’s a social media time, sometimes that’s taking a nap, sometimes it’s a shower, or whatever, to just clear my mind and remove myself from that environment. But yeah, Google calendar over everything.

HCUC: What’s your favorite part of the campaign so far?

SH: I think for me, it’s been a tie between getting to know our campaign team members better and meeting new students on campus. Throughout this entire thing, I’m just always in awe of how many people are eager to help us. I don’t know what it is, but we get so many offers of, “Hey, let me know if you need anything, if you want me to share this, if you need me to handout things.” And it’s just like, people believe in us, and really want us to do well, that they’re so self-sacrificing. And that just goes to say that UC’s bearcat bond is so strong. And the way we have that peer-to-peer support is crucial. And it’s been the best thing to explore.

HCUC: Okay, now some random fun questions, what’s your favorite food that you snack on when you want to get rid of every distraction, or your guilty pleasure eats?

SH: So have you had Muddy Buddies™ before? It’s basically puppy chow. They sell it at any convenience store, Walmart, Target, wherever, but I love puppy chow now that I have it in ready-to-go versions. They have ones with peanut butter and chocolate. Oh my god. So good.

HCUC: What makes you procrastinate more than anything else?

SH: Anything that requires writing. I don’t know why. Cause the thing is, I consider myself a pretty good writer, but I’m kinda a perfectionist about things. So if I have to sit there with my thoughts and organize them, I don’t know why, but I just put it off. It’s weird because I recently started to type notes and essays on my phone using dictation. I don’t know why it’s easier to speak them aloud than writing them by hand, but it works.

HCUC: What TV show are you currently watching on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime?

SH: “Black Mirror” and “Grown-ish.” “Black Mirror” is weird with the first few episodes, but what’s cool is that every episode is a new story, kind of like “Twilight Zone.” So you can pick up at any season and you’re fine, you’ll know what’s going on. And then “Grown-ish” is the sequel of “Black-ish,” which is created by Anthony Anderson. And it’s super cool. It’s about this black girl who goes to college and explores what it’s like to be away from home, she has all these cool friends and stuff. The cool aspect of it is the actress, Yara Shahidi, is so bomb. She goes to Harvard, she just got in, she’s going to be attending with Malia Obama, so you know, super casual.

HCUC: What’s the last song that you played on Spotify?

SH: I have Spotify, but lately I’ve been using iTunes music more. So I don’t know if you’ve seen “Black Panther,” but my favorite song is "The Ways," I’ll listen to the soundtrack all day. It’s by Kahlid and Swa Lee. It’s so good. All of it is so good.

HCUC: And one more thing, who are the women that have inspired you?

SH: Let me start by saying there are so many women, I don't know where to start. Ashley Nkadi is someone I look up to in my personal life. My other mentor, Bintu, is pretty incredible. Ashley Nkadi is someone who pours into other people a lot, and she donates her time, and it's not anything she brags about or tells the world. It's something she does because she genuinely wants to see other people succeed. And going along with that, my other friend, Vineela Kunapareddishe's the person who asked me to run. She's someone I go to as a confident, and someone who can hold me accountable. The best advice she ever gave me was to, "Sit in your discomfort." Which is so profound because it just means that if you don't like the way something is, don't steer clear of it. Wait it out and try to see what you can do to make it better. In sitting in your discomfort, you will find resolution versus neglecting it entirely. And that's been something I've been really trying to be aware of, especially while running. If something isn't going perfect, then fix it rather than avoiding the situation entirely. 

 

 

Congratulations on being elected Student Body President, Sinna! We can't wait to see all that you'll accomplish for UC.

 

 

 

 

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Lauren Lewis is a fourth year at the University of Cincinnati double majoring in International Affairs and Creative Writing. When she's not on Pinterest fawning over recipes and crafts, she's drinking copious amounts of chai tea, finding the hidden treasures of Cincinnati, and shopping for inexpensive books at Good Will. 

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