The Power of Community
WRITTEN BY ADIA TURNER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY EVA VIDAN
In the spring of 2018, what looked to be a normal Student Government election was turned completely on its head. Four apparent newcomers stepped up and spoke out, and all of Boston University stopped to listen to what they had to say. Those four people were: Vice President of Finance Hector Meneses Jr., Vice President of Internal Affairs Lovie Burleson, Executive Vice President Hafzat Akanni, and Student Body President Devin Harvin. They called themselves BuildBU and focused most of their attention on fostering a BU community that had never been seen before. Everywhere they walked people started talking, whether it was about the fact that they are the first all-minority slate in BU history. Or that three of the four of them had never been involved in Student Government before. Or that they were making people excited about an organization that was starting to drag behind. They ignited a strong following during their campaign, which followed them into the current year and has had its own challenges. The Charcoal team had the privilege to sit down in conversation with these four dynamic individuals, hear their story, and learn who they want to be.
“I grew up listening to stories of Goddess Kali, the destroyer of evil. Whether it was killing the demon Daruka or fighting Lord Shiva, one of the three most important gods, Goddess Kali never stood on the sidelines when there the world was in need of a fighter. She is the epitome of power, strength and femininity. My mother used to tell me that Goddess Kali resides in all of us,
in our courage and defiance of injustice.
Our world is at a crossroads. We live with rising concerns of climate change, inadequate governments, mental health issues, and reducing resources. I believe that the Goddess Kali in us all will help us move away from this path of self-destruction and pain. I want us to have strength and courage, and to feel inspired to fight for the world we want. Because the most important belief I have, or that I want to have, is that the world can be a better place for all of us.”
-Manasvita Maddi (CAS ‘23)
Out of all the members of the slate only VP Hector Meneses had been involved with Student Government prior to the slate’s 2018 spring campaign. Meneses, who had been the President of his high school Student Government, got his start in BU’s Senate, stating that he wanted to continue the work he did in high school at college. The rest of the team is comprised of fresh, new voices and perspectives. President Harvin and Vice President Burleson both claimed they had no interest in Student Government before they decided to run, and even that decision was made in the eleventh hour. What they may lack in experience, however, they more than make up for with their sense of purpose. Harvin was inspired by a mentor of his whose work in Student Government propelled him to run. He says, “Student Government just seemed like a vehicle or sort of like an opportunity, a platform to build community. [Personally], I wanted to do something good. And that seemed like the best way to do it.” For Burleson, it was the ability to advocate on behalf of the BU student body that led to her becoming a member of this slate. She, and her team, wanted to be able to give students a seat at the table concerning the larger decisions that happen at the university.
In the years prior to BuildBU’s special campaign and ensuing election, the Student Government Association was a rather lackluster organization on campus. It did not garner much attention or hold a lot of momentum—especially when compared to other student-led collectives. Though, that’s precisely what makes this slate so particularly significant in comparison. They were able to gather so much support from the larger BU student body in an organic, authentic, and downright fun way that reinvigorated the forgotten institution. In his own words, Meneses declares, “What made me decide to run is because I believed in our slate, in our team. I believed in Devin, Hafzat, and Lovie and what they could do. We know how to build that type of community, something Student Government hasn’t been able to build.” The BU student body was able to see themselves in this set of candidates in a way they hadn’t truly been able to before, and this representation extended far past what the eye can see. Each slate member is involved and invested in one, if not more, clubs, organizations, and teams, helping them to bring a wide array of thoughts, voices, and concerns to their platform. As Executive Vice President Akanni adds, “We are all diverse. Diverse not only in our backgrounds and where we come from but also diverse in what we study, in our involvement on campus. Student Government needed change and we were there to provide that change.”
Still, their road to victory was not always a smooth one. Even finding a time to come together to take campaign photos was a tough act due to conflicting schedules. This left the slate no choice other than to be photographed at eight in the morning on a cold, snowy, Tuesday. At times, the campaign brought fear. Trying to win endorsements, specifically one from the Daily Free Press, was a particularly stressful time for them. There were even personal issues that slate members dealt with. Amidst these struggles, though, it was easier to see the beauty in their process. Harvin proclaims, “The best part for me [on the campaign] is you start to realize the relationships you built way back in freshman year and the ones you pick up along the way—they come through when you need them to.” During their week-long campaign, it was these relationships, new and old, that really made them understand what exactly they were running for. The community they had hoped to build in the upcoming year had already begun to form around these four individuals, and the energy they were injecting into campus was becoming unstoppable. Even if they lost the election, in their minds they had already won because they accomplished their mission in the campaign cycle.
Yet, win they did. There was no real victory dance for BuildBU on the day they realized what they had accomplished. They describe it as being “very anti-climactic and bittersweet.” They were confident in their ability to win, so it was what would come after that triumph that was at the forefront of their minds. There was an air of excitement, mixed with a determination that followed them as they began thinking of how exactly they were going to deliver on the promises they made on the campaign trail. The responsibilities that they now had to shoulder were of the utmost importance so as not to lose the community they had fought so hard to start building.
Their successful campaigning set the foundation for who they wanted to be in the year following, and this momentum they formed on the trail has only intensified since they’ve taken office. They have focused on maintaining the same strategy that got them elected: being present for their constituents. All four slate members still make an effort to get to know people they’ve never met, still make themselves available to the students at all times, and still work to create an even stronger community on campus than the one they saw months ago. This dedication to remaining true to themselves and showing up for those who voted for them is evident in the work they do. From planning a spring concert for students to the creation of the academic perspective series ‘Ask Me Anything,’ to an event as simple as having weekly Student Government events, BuildBU has not lost sight of who they were elected to be.
This progress has even overflowed into other aspects of Student Government, like the Senate. Akanni says, “Now we even see the Senators wanting to inspire that change, and get in involved, and reach out to student orgs the way we did.” Though, with much responsibility came much pressure.
“Student Government needed change and we were there to provide that change.”
One major story that constantly circled these four is the fact that they are the first all-minority Student Government slate in Boston University history. For BuildBU, they were well aware of the history they were making and the impact they were having on the greater BU community. The importance of having incoming students see the Executive Vice President and the Vice President of Internal affairs both be Black women was not lost on the slate. It only pushed them harder. It also had a huge effect on the rest of BU. It encouraged many people to take a more vested interest in who they were. People began paying attention to what they were saying, what they were doing, and who they were becoming. The hype began to form, leading to a collective sense of pressure to deliver on said hype that settled deep within the slate. Stress has now become something they’re comfortable with. Whether it’s stress from all the work they have to do, from their other commitments, from the communities that supported them, or from themselves, the slate has grown through these challenges. Failure has never been and will never be an option for them. They have not lost the energy that won them the election and they look forward to the Student Government’s future after their time in office ends.
As their campaign took place, and following their win, BuildBU has seen a significant, positive shift in energy in the past year. People who would never have applied to work for Student Government before have applied. Organizations that have never worked with one another came together to hold events for BuildBU. Of course, they are very aware that this progress must be constantly met with increased effort. As Akanni asserts, “It takes more than one good year. It takes continual devotion to Student Government to see tangible change on campus.” All four believe that it is the collective mobilization of the student body that will push the needle of advancement in the years to come. Right now, they see themselves as a stepping stone for whatever slate follows them. There is a fear amongst this current Executive Board that their successors won’t capitalize off of the energy that presently surrounds Student Government in order to continue building where they left off. The system they have now is a delicate one that can be broken once they are no longer in office. Yet, they remain more hopeful than fearful and believe in the power of the people.
Moving forward, BuildBU has many aspirations for how Student Government can improve and grow even more. As Meneses lists them, “We want our own stipend. We want the Student Government to be independent of [the] administration. We want Student Government to be an idea that lasts in everyone’s mind, something that everyone knows.” The group has high hopes that Student Government will become a household name around campus—one that is synonymous with advocate for every BU student. In their ideal world, Student Government would give more than superficial value to students’ voices. Instead, they would be an avenue through which students can have a real impact, big or small, on campus. As for their personal legacy, each member of the slate has a specific view on how they would like to be remembered by the community. Meneses would like for people to not think of him individually, but rather the work he and his team have done in the past year. For Burleson, she sees her legacy as being simply making one person happy: “I don’t really need a lot of recognition. Just for me to know, and that person to know, that I made their life just a little bit better, whether it be something I have done, or said. That’s my legacy.” Akanni has two legacies she wants to leave behind: one for her slate and one for herself. She wants her slate to be an inspiration for others who may be thinking of getting involved. She hopes that people see themselves in this slate. As for herself, she’s still trying to figure that out. “I’m the only one of our slate not graduating. So ask me next year and I’ll tell you.” Similarly to his Executive Vice President, Harvin hopes to leave behind two separate legacies as his time at BU comes to an end. He wishes for others to think of BuildBU as people who saw no boundaries and threw away the previous status quo: “As an individual, I think what I want for people to think of me is that the kid that made Jamba Juice smoothies can end up being student body President. And that the kid that was thinking of transferring can be student body President. That you can be you.”