Reflections: Sasha Gilthorpe, SG President

Student Government elections are coming up which means the current executive positions are reaching the end of their terms. Of those current students is, of course, Sasha Gilthorpe, Student Government President. Her Campus American got the opportunity to sit down with Sasha to hear her reflect on her year as Undergraduate Student Government President.

Her Campus American University: If you could tell yourself one thing about this job a year ago, what would it be?

Sasha Gilthorpe: You think it’s hard now, but just you wait! It’ll get a lot harder. In a good way, though.

HCAU: Are you happy that you took on this position?

SG: I’m absolutely happy. It’s the greatest, most difficult job you can have. Some days you wake up thinking, wow I can do so much. Other days, you wake up thinking, wow there’s so many problems. It’s the greatest and the worst job. A lot of people are looking at you, so when you screw up it seems like a lot.

HCAU: What have been some of your biggest challenges?

SG: I think the biggest challenge is that the problems I’m dealing with aren’t small, like picking up trash on the Quad. I’m trying to tackle issues which are existential questions for our generation. Like diversity and inclusion. I’m one person, I can’t fix that. It’s about boiling those down with accomplishable goals, so things get done.

HCAU: What about successes?

SG: The student worker report was a big success. I worked on it for a year and a half, so publishing it was a success. However, by the time I published it, some things had changed like training and food stipends, but you can see more and more issues being tackled as the months go on which is great. Yesterday, President Kerwin included some of our strategies in his diversity and inclusion report. Those things took so many people so much effort and thought. It was a long process of figuring out how to create the best impact that’s in reach of an administration that doesn’t always believe it’s their responsibility. Sometimes they’ll say they can do it, but other times they’ll say, "we can’t make a student not racist."

But, we thought of unique changes and I’m feeling good to see those changes. Another success was when we talked about mental health at last week’s board meeting. The work we’ve done behind closed doors with the administration has created changes with some of the highest positions. [It's] people who don’t always see [the] students, but are talking about mental health now.

HCAU: Do SG presidents call home a lot?

SG: I think it depends on the person. I’m lucky that SG presidents have been close between years which is unique. It’s a political position, but everyone in office is friends. Sometimes I’ll call my mom, really angry, and need to tell her about it. The job is taxing, so when I’m with friends and family it’s the last thing I want to talk about. I just want to be a kid. You definitely rely on outside people. I rely on my mom.

HCAU: How have you personalized your office space?

SG: There’s a couple fun things. I have a Hogsmeade poster and one of my campaign posters. There’s a poster that always speaks to me, so when people ask about it, they don’t know what they’ve gotten into! When I applied to AU, I wrote about the Duchess of Devonshire in my essay. In the 1700s, she was an aristocrat who supported the Whig party. She couldn’t vote, but she would go around and canvas and was super engaged and political. They drew this mean comic about her which was her making out with voters to get votes. As you know, people haven’t always been the kindest about me. There’s always sexism when you enter a political position. I look at her and think, she handled it, so I can too.

HCAU: How do you unwind after a long day of being a student and president?

SG: I’m a real Netflix junkie. I used to be a reader, but now I’m so tired. Currently I’m re-watching The Office. I also love making Spotify playlists. I don’t have a lot of followers, but I just love doing it. It brings me a lot of joy. I am a social person, but my job is so social now. For me unwinding it’s no longer going to hang out with friends, it’s more like watching MSNBC.

HCAU: You’ve been a huge supporter of trigger warnings in syllabi. Can you talk more on that? How did you become involved and where would you like to see that go?

SG: When I was running for president, I knew I didn’t know everything about every issue. I talked to some campus experts who told me why trigger warnings are important to them. For me as a regular student, there’s some issues that impact me more, but I made an effort to think about what’s important to all students. There’s no one central issue that all students are worried about. It could be tuition or sexual assault. There’s no one issue. In the beginning of May, I submitted a memo to university leadership and I included trigger warnings and a section on mental health. Before we even got around to the conversation, a lot happened this summer. I was working on the student worker’s report, and a bunch of other things when the Faculty Senate released a resolution that basically said the faculty is self-governing and won’t listen to any top-down ruling on trigger warnings. It wasn’t really worded that way, so it was taken poorly by myself and many students, but that was the gist of it. I took a beating and thought what can we do? And we created some materials to present to faculty about why to use trigger warnings. It’s harder because you have to convince each individual faculty.

We have a document that explains trigger warnings and also how to ask people as well as some things to consider on your own. We created this video that’s kind of like a white board video with my voice explaining what they are and why they’re valuable. Which is different for me because I’m a very academic person and I wanted to write a report. I presented it to a large group of faculty. Afterwards, Jill Heitzmann, in SOC, asked for the documents to distribute, which I think was cool, and showed us how a bottom-up approach works better than the top-down. I think we handled it the best way we could and now those documents exist forever and another SG president can take a look at them 10 years down the line.

HCAU: One of your platforms focuses on Greek leadership addressing sexual violence on campus. How did you come to that approach and what do you think are the benefits of approaching the issue that way?

SG: When I was running, I knew so many people in Greek life care about these issues. It always rubbed me the wrong way to point the finger at Greek life, saying sexual violence happens at fraternities and it’s their problem. I don’t fundamentally believe that. I think we should go to Greek life leaders to step up and eradicate the problem in their chapters. I sat down with Amanda Gould, Director of Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention, and asked what could we do to include Greek life. She created a program called Greek Leadership Against Sexual Assault or GLASA. We did one semester which was a pilot and we expect next semester each chapter will be interested in participating. We heard positive responses which is great. I think it’s effective because it uses scenarios, like a PEERs training. The scenarios are all about Greek life which really contextualizes it for people and brings it home. In an RA training you’d talk about your residents, for example. It makes people invested when you bring it home to them.

HCAU: What are three words you’d used to describe your presidency?

SG: Part of it is vision. I have a vision of how AU should look. Part of it comes down to values. Who I am as a person is reflected in the work that I do. Part of it is tangibility, things you can really feel are happening.

HCAU: You’ve worked with groups all across campus on initiatives from student workers’ rights to diversity on campus. What has been your favorite part about working with groups outside of SG?

SG: SG is a bubble. You’re only talking to certain types of people in SG who are involved in certain types of things with one main group of friends. That’s not true for everyone, but it’s still your network. It’s so inspiring to break out of that bubble and see the commonalities and differences in groups across campus. If your thing is Greek life, you may be facing the same things or different from students in student media. There’s a binding element, but there’s also a lot of differences.

HCAU: How do you hope to apply the experience you’ve gained from this position to your future aspirations?

SG: I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I started this. People would say, 'oh this is great for your resumé' and I’d say I didn’t know what I wanted my resume to be. For now, I’ve realized what I’m good at. One is writing policy which for me is a tangible way to affect change. I hope that’s something I get to do in the future. I like the research and the writing, so I want to do that. Definitely not running for office. This is my first and my last from that side of political office. I’m glad I did it, but I also know that being the face of something is not my preferred status. I love doing the work though.

HCAU: What’s something not many people know about you?

SG: I think it’s that I’m a lot shyer than people realize. I’ve been able to do speeches and be really friendly. At the end of the day I walk in a room of people I don’t know and I feel nervous. People think I’m super outgoing and bubbly, but in reality I have to do some warm-up. Practicing for convocation was a lot, and there were so many people! I don’t even think I know that many people! It took a lot.

HCAU: What’s your favorite study spot on campus?

SG: I think the third floor of McKinley. It’s very calm, but it’s hard to get a spot sometimes.

HCAU: What would you say to other women seeking elected government positions?

SG: I think people tell you to have a thick skin, which is much easier said than done. People said sexist and mean things about me and being told to have a thick skin doesn’t mean anything. Having a support network is important, being told you’ll make it through is important. Finding a network of female leaders, your male and female friends and your family is important.

HCAU: Any cool places around DC you’d recommend that all AU students visit?

SG: I love the Hirschhorn museum. That’s somewhere I always feel like I’m in my own little world. I’d say to go to concerts around DC that aren’t necessarily at the first venue you think of. Take a long walk to get there. My best friend and I went to a Sufjan concert at a really cool venue. It’s a fun way to see the city.


All photos provided by Sasha Gilthorpe