When Yolian Ogbu and Hillary Shah were finishing up their high school careers at Lone Star High School in Frisco, Texas, they each had several options to pursue their college careers, Yolian planning to double major in Political Science and Communications and Hillary in Political Science and Economics. Both chose to attend the University of North Texas, because it was affordable and close to family, but they also ended up with a home and a community. A Sophomore and Freshman respectively, Yolian and Hillary needed little time on campus to recognize the blatant shortcomings of the organization that is meant to maintain that home and community through student representation: The Student Government Association. With the help of their mentor, Misaki Collins, the duo launched a historic and dynamic run; Yolian for President and Hillary for Vice President.
Collins, a fellow woman of color and prior candidate for SGA President, encouraged them to disregard the voices, internal and external, telling them that they’re too young and inexperienced to fulfill the positions. As outsiders to the organization, Yolian and Hillary bring unique, refreshing perspectives to the table, with the promise to make the organization reflect the student body and help them realize their collective power. UNT’s Student Government Association is described as one of the most classist organizations on campus and feels more like the good old boys club to many students rather than an organization meant to represent them. They rarely challenge administration, invite and include adversarial voices or remedy injustices on campus. It is for this reason that Yolian and Hillary decided to make a change to amplify student voices, bring the diverse set of concerns together and operationalize them on an institutional level.
But it didn’t come without hardship. The duo describes their campaign as being fraught with “misogyny from day one,” mansplaining nearly on a daily basis and backlash on every front. Despite facing challenges tied to their age, inexperience and gender, the pair have successfully created conversations on campus regarding student health and safety, minimum wage, SGA transparency and LGBTQ equity. They have energized students on campus to get involved, contribute to the conversation and challenge the status quo. Most importantly though, the historic run means the most to Yolian and Hillary for the fact that it empowers and encourages women and women of color to run for student government and beyond. They understand the importance of diversity in all levels of government and how significant representation is firsthand in showing young women that they can do anything they want. Yolian and Hillary’s advice for other women with student government or other public office ambitions is to do it in spite of the harassment and backlash and as their mentor told them, don’t let the naysayers stop you.
“You know more than you think you know, you are more than you think you are. Let them see you. You have a right to be there.” -Hillary Shah
Update: Yolian and Hillary won their SGA election by an 18% margin. Find the full results here.