Mellie Mesfin: Student Body President

Mellie Mesfin is our new Student Body President. She’s a Business and Enterprise major with a self-created concentration in Business Law and a minor in Sociology. Mellie is involved in nearly everything on campus from philanthropy and social justice to Greek life and a cappella. Her Campus got the inside scoop on her presidential goals, life aspirations, and advice for other students.   

Her Campus: Why did you run for Student Body President?

Mellie Mesfin: I definitely have a path that is different from a lot of other Student Body Presidents, in the sense that I didn’t do Student Government before. I was involved with a lot of other things on campus, from social justice to community service to Greek life, multicultural organizations, the arts… a little bit of everything. The reason I decided to run for president was because, historically, I’ve seen so many times that students felt so disconnected from our school and from the powers at be that have the potential to change things. So many student experiences and different ways of being a Wake Forest student weren’t being represented. That has been a pattern that I have seen over my three years here on campus. When I was thinking about my senior year and what kind of impact I wanted to half, because I knew I only had one year left, I decided to get the biggest bang for my buck -- to use the experiences that I’ve had, the people that I’ve met, and everything that I’ve learned to try to help represent people better, not just to the administration, but having better student to student relationships. Hopefully we’ll be able to have Student Government be a little more outward facing.

HC: So, you weren’t previously involved with Student government at Wake. Were you involved in high school?

MM: Oh yeah. My junior and senior year I was class president. We worked very closely with school wide Student Government, so I had a lot of experience in that sense, and a lot of different leadership roles on campus. While a bit daunting, I’m really willing to put in the work and I’ve already been doing a lot of work with the current president, Danny Reeves, with transition stuff. I definitely had a sense of what Student Government was.

HC: What do you hope to accomplish as president?

MM: On a more specific level, my platform has three pillars: a more representative Student Government, diversity and true inclusion, and true engagement with the Winston-Salem community.

My goal really, because I recognize you’re only here for one year and you have to be realistic about the change you can accomplish, is to kind of help Student Government pivot. I want to shift from people feeling like they have to work in the confines of everything everyone’s ever done before them, in terms of the kind of work they can do and the kinds of groups they can get involved with. I really want to empower students to say, “Hey, I see this thing that’s lacking on campus” and come back to the senate and be able to brainstorm and say, “What can we do about this? How can we do something?” I want to be able to make Student Government more action oriented and more in touch with the community. I want people to able to have active relationships with Student Government. For me obviously, just being more representative and helping the administration really understand, “Hey, I’m here, you know me as a student. I may not know everyone in x group that’s being affected by a current issue, but I’m telling you this is how they feel, this is what they’re telling me, this is what they want me to listen to” so at least by the end of it, no one can say they didn’t know how students felt about a certain issue.

HC: What does being one of the first women of color to be president mean to you?

MM: To me, it’s really cool because even despite the fact that there had been a female president in the past, no one knew and we had to dig through yearbooks to find this information out. I think the representation was lost a little bit. In my time here, there have been three white, Greek, men and so that’s been a particular demographic and I think me being a black woman on campus is kind of shaking it up a little bit. To me, first of all, I’m really honored because I know that I am different from a lot of people who have come before me and to me that signals that a lot of people at Wake value that diversity and value a change. I also am excited because when freshman come next year, they’re going to see someone very different speaking during orientation and I think that kind of sets the tone of “Oh, my university, even though it’s a PWI (predominately white institution), has this person being here as a leader that was chosen by students.” I know sometimes I look around and I’m not exactly like a lot of people on campus, but there is something bigger that we can come together about. So I’m honored, honestly.

HC: When exactly do you get sworn in and what are you working on until then?

MM: I actually get sworn in tomorrow [April 17th] officially. The responsibilities have definitely already begun. The day after I won, I met for two hours with the current president and that Monday I met with the faculty advisor. I’m meeting with a lot of different kinds of people already. We’re doing cabinet selections and senator appointments for next year. I’m going to work on some committee appointments and planning a conference that happens in the fall, so it’s already kind of been in full gear. It’s been nice because as I transition, as I’m taking on work for myself, there’s still people to ask questions -- of course people who are in student government, but it’s been nice to have Danny Reeves still around to answer these questions.

HC: What kind of legacy do you hope to leave at Wake Forest?

MM: It’s interesting because you know while we’re here, while I’m walking around campus right now, a lot of people come up to me. A lot of people have seen things on social media or just posters everywhere and they know a little bit who I am and they’ll approach me. I know that kind of legacy won’t stick around, my name will not be a household name in two years on campus, but I think for me, the main thing I want to see is just change in how students feel like they can affect their community whether or not they’re represented in it. I want people to feel more empowered to see something and ask “Hey, how can we change that?” I hope that with my election and how different it’s been from a lot of other elections and hopefully over the course of my next year, that I can help empower some people to go for things that they feel like are out of reach. I would love it if that kind of change could happen, but at the very least, I want people to see Student Government change and the role that people perceive Student Government to have on campus change.

HC: You’re a BEM major which is probably a little different than other people involved in Student Government. What do you want to do after graduation and how does this experience play a part in that?

MM: I’m BEM, but even actually that’s different from what I want to do in life. I want to go to law school. Since probably my sophomore or junior year of high school, I at the end of the day want to be doing social justice work. The reason I chose my major was because I wanted to learn more about business because it’s going to be how a lot of people make decisions that impact the country and impact a lot of communities. I figured I need to understand something if I’m going to try to work with it later in life. Student Government to me is, at its core, representing people. That’s really, truly why I did it. I just want to help people who feel like they can’t do anything about their situation. Moving forward, that’s what I want to do with my life, specifically within social justice. I want to do Criminal Justice Reform and represent people who do not have adequate funds to get representation. It’s all about representing people who don’t feel empowered to have that voice.

I hope to really come to terms with the fact that change is slow because change in all senses is slow. There are things I won’t see here during my time that I want to see and there are going to be things I won’t see in my lifetime that I want to see change in society. Still finding ways to get the motivation to keep going no matter what is something I hope will carry out of this next year and into the rest of my life.

HC: What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give underclassmen?

MM: Be really intentional about your time, how you spend it, and who you choose to spend it with because before you know it, time will be up. You really want to make sure that you didn’t just get swept up in the current of Wake or swept up into what you think you should be doing or what people around you are doing. Really think about who you are, what you want to get out of college, and the kind of person you want to be at the end of the day. Let those things guide you.

HC: Do you have an advice specifically for women at Wake?

MM: Something that I have really recognized this semester, for a lot of different reasons, is that a lot of the time, women will undercut themselves and not see themselves has having earned something. You see a lot of men who don’t necessarily do that, who don’t hold back in that same way. It’s kind of scary to do this until you do it, but just saying “You know what, I think I am qualified.” Looking around the room thinking “I am just as qualified as every other guy in this room and I’m going to go for it. I’m not going to let anyone else undercut me or tell me that my success or my accomplishments mean less because of subconscious sexism or whatever else it may be.”

That’s something that’s become really apparent to me and you may not always realize it happening but, I think that’s always something that’s important to remember. It’s hard, but taking any opportunity you can, making sure you’re not selling yourself short, and just chasing opportunities whether or not they’re going to work out. We all have to face rejection at some point in life; it might as well be about the things we really care about.