Every year, newly elected Student Government Association leaders work to make student life at the University of Louisville the best it can be.
This year’s Top 4 SGA leaders, elected in March for the 2021-22 academic year, are going to have one extra (and exciting) challenge: Re-establishing the vibrant on-campus experience that colleges thrive on and COVID-19 tried to erase.
The Top 4 leaders — student body president, executive vice president and two vice presidents (one for academics and one for service) — lead the university’s student government network across eight schools and colleges.
Here’s what they had to say about the upcoming school year.
Ugonna Okorie, student body president
Okorie, a senior majoring in public health and healthcare management, said she is confident UofL students will be able to “navigate through the uncertainty.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to exactly how things were in 2019 (and earlier), but instead, we’ll take the lessons learned in 2020 and apply those lessons in 2021 and years to come,” she said. “But what does that look like in practice? As a community, are we ready for this change? I think navigating through the uncertainty that lies ahead for us will be a challenge, but a challenge I know we will be able to overcome.”
Okorie said one of her goals is to help SGA work with the university’s diversity and equity units to help further UofL’s anti-racism efforts and ensure all students feel their voices are heard.
One thing she can’t wait for? The annual International Fashion Show. The student-led event was held in January 2021, but without a live audience. “I am always in awe of their theme and how they incorporate it in the celebration of cultures here at UofL.”
Sydney Finley, executive vice president
Finley, a junior English and political science major, said she predicts the return to in-person learning and programming will be “a major adjustment for some students and staff.”
SGA’s job will be to make sure students feel “supported during this time,” she said.
For Finley personally, she said she isn’t sure what to expect because most of her college experience so far has been shaped by the pandemic.
“Being a commuter student who has only taken distance education courses for the past couple of semesters, I look forward to being on campus more often and being able to see my friends in person rather than through a screen,” she said.
She is hoping to incorporate more social service activities in student government while also focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
In addition to the International Fashion Show, Finley said she is looking forward to attending talks by featured speakers on campus.
Alexa Meza, academic vice president
Meza is a senior political science major who said she will focus on preparing students to make a smooth transition back to campus and in-person classes.
“We can’t expect all students to be able to go back to normal after the past year and a half we’ve had,” she said. “I plan to advocate for student needs when it comes to course delivery, academic spaces on campus, and academic resources students can utilize in a post-pandemic environment.”
She added that “asking students to return to how life and college was before the pandemic is unrealistic,” and noted the Top 4 will advocate for understanding, compassion and flexibility from administration and faculty.
Meza said it is hard to remember how life on campus was before the pandemic.
“I was halfway through my sophomore year and a completely different person at the time. Now I’m thinking about graduation and grad school,” she said.
What is she looking forward to the most?
“I think just being in the company of others,” she said, “whether they be your friends or complete strangers. … Being in the classroom, on-campus concerts and events, and sporting events are all things we took for granted, so for upperclassmen, I imagine it’ll feel like we’re freshmen all over again!”
Eli Cooper, services vice president
Cooper is a senior who is working on an individual major in social change and also a major in political science.
He said some of his first initiatives for the new academic year will be “advocating for gender-inclusive dorms and space on campus, developing a policy prioritizing gender-neutral restrooms in new constructions, and laying the groundwork for more inclusive dining policies.”
He noted the transition from online learning to in-person engagement is going to create opportunities along with the challenges. The Top 4, he said, will have to prioritize its goals.
“I’m excited for the potential that this year brings, but I know that the pandemic and the things we have had to do to adapt to a virtual world are taxing in ways that we have yet to identify,” he said. “In addition, parsing out the adaptations that are useful post-pandemic versus those that negatively impact our university will be an interesting struggle as we move into the upcoming year.”
Cooper said virtual life has left him missing “the little moments of socialization that you are able to have when sitting in the library, grabbing food in the SAC, or walking between classes. I never really realized how much of a positive impact that waving to a friend or distracting yourself from a paper for a 5-minute conversation could have on your day. I’m excited for a lot of the things that next year could hold but I think I’m most excited for these little moments that can really make your day great.”