INTERview: Kesha Ram
A conversation with the new head of the Student Government Association
By Amanda Waite Article published September 4, 2007
Three years ago, senior Kesha Ram left her Los Angeles home and her high school of 5,000 students to attend the University of Vermont. Although she isn’t sure what made her decide to apply in the first place, it was her first campus visit — a visit, she says, that showed her UVM’s commitment to the student experience — that convinced her to come to Vermont.
Since the fall of 2004, Ram has held UVM accountable to that commitment. While working on a double major in natural resource planning and political science as a student in the Honors College, Ram has pursued an equally ambitious schedule outside of class. Among her many roles and responsibilities around campus, she has served as president of Students for Peace and Global Justice and participated on a variety of committees including the President’s Commission for Racial Diversity, the Davis Center Advisory Board and the Honors College Diversity Task Force.
This year, Ram culminates her UVM experience by presiding over the Student Government Association, a role she says is a good fit for someone as acquainted as she is with student issues and organizations. Recently, she sat down with the view just outside her office in the new Davis Center to talk about the upcoming year. The interview is the first installment of a new series, "Campus Transitions," that will feature some of the faculty, administrators and students assuming leadership roles this semester.
THE VIEW: Why the Student Government Association?
KESHA RAM: I spent my first year doing a lot of activist work. I would come to the senate and say, “I’m part of a group of students trying to start a student-run café so we can experience student entrepreneurship and sustainability, and we’re pushing for fair trade, and we’re pushing for 100 percent recycled paper, and we want an environmental commitment from the student government.” And then one day, a lot of people from the student government said, “Why don’t you just get on the other side of the table and bring these things to us through resolutions?” So, I ran, and I ran as part of a group I started called the Senators for Peace and Global Justice. We brought up a lot of issues that mirrored the president’s issues, I felt: a commitment to cultural diversity, and a commitment to the environment and inclusiveness. I thought it was a really positive change for student government, and a lot of people could feel the difference. I was sort of asked by other students to run, in the end.
Most people I talk to think student government is useless at most schools, and when I tell them I’m sitting in on meetings where we’re working on pandemic flu issues, or envisioning a new athletic facility for the university, and I’m helping make decisions on policy change, people say, “Wow, sounds like your school has a really big commitment to student government.” We have a budget of over $1 million, and that’s so impressive.
What are your major issues for the coming year?
My personal issues are cultural diversity and the environment, and the same with my vice president (senior DaVaughn Vincent-Bryan). We both have a strong commitment to increasing the recruitment and retention of students of color, of people of different regional backgrounds, of making each program as strong as it can be and making this school the premiere environmental university and getting students involved in that process through academic partnership — like having the students get involved with the plants that are in the Davis Center, and putting up wind turbines and monitoring our landscaping and what our LEED certification level is, having students be really involved in that process.
Then things come up like Michelle Gardner-Quinn and the tragedy at Virginia Tech, and now we have a huge commitment to student safety, and students knowing their rights and responsibilities when they walk downtown and live downtown… We have a huge commitment now to student safety that hasn’t been there before, and we’re working with the administration on that issue.
Athletic issues always come up, too. People were really worried at first about someone like me with an activist background because those are the people who are really down on fun things like watching a hockey game, but I have a huge commitment to increasing the facilities in athletics and going to the games and helping students get more tickets and distributing the tickets more evenly.
You mentioned that student safety, although maybe not a passion of yours when you ran for president, is now a big concern for you and the SGA. Are there other hot button issues on campus right now that you’ll be tackling this year?
Campus planning is a really big issue for students and feeling like they’re a part of the decision-making process… Sometimes students feel like they’re being told what’s changing rather than being involved in the process. So those issues of being ostracized or isolated from the decision-making process are going to come up in many ways. We’re hoping that student government can be more of that link between the student body and the administration.
What’s it like to be the first SGA President in the new student center?
Oh my gosh. I think our office is the best office on campus, and, unfortunately, too many people agree with me! When students come in or someone asks what I think of the building — I’ve seen a lot of student centers: my mother works at UCLA, my aunt and uncle work at UC Berkeley — I tell them that this is the one that feels the most student-centered of all of them. People ask what’s in here, and I tell them about all the student space. There’s a lot of space for students to play games and sit with their friends and do homework, check email, have a meeting, have an event, have a conference. There’s a lot of space, and it’s all for students, and that’s rare. I’m thrilled about the Davis Center, and that’s from the bottom of my heart. It’s not just that I’m someone who has to say that.
What else do you want people to know about your experience as a student and student leader?
I’ve always been someone to get involved and share my opinion. In a lot of places that’s almost like rocking the boat. You know, people think, “You’re making trouble, you’re causing us too much extra work, and we don’t really want to hear what you have to say.” I’ve never been to a place like the University of Vermont where if you are ready to share your opinion and you have ideas, the university will put you on committees, will listen to your ideas, will follow through on your ideas. UVM may not have the name recognition around the country like the Ivies do, but I feel like I’m leaving with the confidence to know that I can do anything I want, and I have a worthwhile opinion, and I’ve made things happen.