Student Government: Building Community One Student at a Time

Student goverment strives to make connection on and off campus.

Grace Gosinanont

Student goverment strives to make connection on and off campus.

Laura Johnson, [email protected], News writer

Just as with any government, the Student Government Association at UNC Asheville holds an important place in the functionality of the community. Specifically within the SGA that exists this year, during a pandemic, engagement is crucial.

UNCA SGA President Demon Thomas said the organization pursues an overarching goal to connect with all students on campus, especially during the pandemic. 

“My goal is to make SGA have a presence on campus,” Thomas said. “This year we tried to make sure every student felt heard.”

Aryelle Jacobsen, the vice president of SGA, said the organization aims to act as the representative body for the student body, making sure to address students’ concerns with university officials. 

Another main tenet of SGA is the advocacy for minority students. This advocacy is not limited to the UNCA campus either.

“Our administration of student government is still rooted in anti-racism and trying to dismantle white supremacy, which means creating spaces for BIPOC students to connect and creating spaces for white students to again really analyze and dismantle white supremacy,” Jacobsen said.

 Looking forward to the rest of the spring semester, Thomas said SGA plans to participate in a variety of events, including an inclusive art show that spans across all 17 schools in the UNC system.

“We’re going to have a BIPOC art show this semester, so I made sure that our school paid UNC Pembrooke students, North Carolina A&T, UNC Greensboro, four of our Asheville students, so eight students from different universities in the 17 system, they’re going to display their art here April 1 in the grotto,” Thomas said.

One of the biggest projects SGA is involved in is the Burton Street Peace Gardens, now called Peace Gardens and Market.

 According to the website for the gardens,, the gardens were created in an effort to bring people together and create community primarily through food and art.

SGA works with students as well as DeWayne Barton, who leads this effort at the gardens to create opportunities for UNCA students within the greater community of Asheville to learn and grow.

“We work a lot with Burton Street Gardens, which is a community garden led by DeWayne Barton. Burton Street is a historically Black neighborhood in Asheville and so what we do is we work with DeWayne. He has a reparations fund to put new things in this garden, to have new things on the land. We’ve worked with him to have him come on campus and give educational seminars about Burton Street Community Peace Gardens and we’ve also held some garden workdays,”Jacobsen said.

Jakes Njuguna, the outreach executive for SGA who has worked directly with the gardens and Barton within his position, said the partnership makes for greater student opportunities to involve themselves in the community.

“Specifically, I was instructed to work with Burton Street and Hood Huggers run by DeWayne Barton, a community leader, to connect the UNCA campus and school to the community so we can build a long lasting relationship where there’s more opportunities for kids, for students here to see what’s more out there instead of just school, academia and see what they’re a part of,” Njuguna said.

Beyond the scope of just the Peace Gardens and Market, building and maintaining community is a major aspect of what SGA strives to achieve, according to its members.

“I believe that connections and relationships are revolutionary. I think that the more that we are connected and the more that we love each other, the more that we love each other, the more we understand each other, the more we want to push and root for each other,” Jacobsen said.

This year continues the trend of intense impacts and effects felt from the COVID-19 pandemic. Thomas said the most evident impact of COVID on SGA relates to participation and involvement numbers. With COVID concerns and limited opportunities for events and outreach, it is significantly harder to engage students. 

Christian Donaldson, the executive of accessibility for SGA, said the pandemic will continue to produce challenges that the organization must overcome.

“COVID has complicated a lot of things for SGA,” Donaldson said.

Despite this, as SGA adjusts to the pandemic the best they can, members said they are doing their best to engage students.

“I feel like it’s been a change from last year when I got elected to last semester to now I do see a change. I do see more students, more freshmen trying to get involved,” Thomas said.

For involvement with university leadership, different members have different levels of interaction, but members said the general consensus is that the university leadership looks to SGA for guidance as to what students want from the school.

“They use us as kind of a sounding board,” Jacobsen said.

As president of SGA, Thomas works most directly with university leadership.

“I can honestly say that this university has been extremely supportive of everything that I have brought to their attention,” Thomas said.

The purpose of SGA as a whole is to serve as the voice of the students and listening ear of the faculty and staff.

“There’s a sense of communication between SGA and the student body where you know they’re there and you know they’re there to help,” Njuguna said.

Especially as executive of accessibility for SGA, Donaldson sees SGA as an outlet for the advocacy of students and their needs.

“Anytime a student has an issue on campus, they can come to SGA,” Donaldson said.

Of all the efforts by SGA this year, Thomas said they are set up not just for the short term, but also for the foreseeable future.

“So I just feel like in general the events that I’ve been doing around either school spirit, or social justice or just having fun is going to leave a longer impact,” Thomas said.