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UM junior breaks gender, race barriers in student government

Three years ago, Abigail Adeleke joined student government as part of an inside joke among her closest friends. This April 7, she will officially take office as the first black student government president since 2015 as part of the University of Miami’s first all-female executive branch.

Being a black student leader means everything to her, Adeleke said.

“I hope to be a voice for underrepresented communities,” she said. “Too many students face challenges and hurdles that nobody knows about. I hope to connect students to the resources on campus as well as improving their experience. Everyone is important, and everyone deserves to have a voice in their college education.”

It all started when Adeleke, 20, first arrived at UM. A bright-eyed freshman eager to get involved, she noticed there were no candidates running as student government senator representing Stanford Residential College.

“I was like ‘I will just write my name in and see where this goes,’” she said. “I actually ended up winning, which I was extremely surprised by.”

A short time later, the Arkansas native attended her first meeting as senator. The way she tells it, the rest was history.

“I saw real change happening as we wrote bills and spoke directly with administrators,” she said. “That’s when I fell in love with SG.”

Sticking with her newfound passion, Adeleke– a double-major in journalism and psychology– served as the public relations chair and School of Communication senator during her sophomore year. Now a junior, she is currently serving as the speaker of the senate and, as of Feb. 21, president-elect.

Of her decision to finally throw in her bid for president, Adeleke said she was incredibly nervous and credits her peers and mentors for helping her realize her potential.

“I made the decision when I realized that being SG president meant one thing to me: I had the unique opportunity to get face-to-face interaction with top administrators, to bring to them student concerns and really create change on campus,” she said. “I jumped at the opportunity once I realized the impact that could be made on people’s lives.”

Adeleke’s decision was solidified once she connected with running mates Jason Perez and Amanda Rodriguez. Adeleke said she and Perez connected early on because they are “like-minded and highly motivated people with a passion for increasing the diversity.”

So, their pairing just “made sense.”

Adding Rodriguez as treasurer came later, as the two decided they wanted perspective from a student government outsider.

“Often times, we look at situations from the SG perspective of what is feasible or not. But we wanted a fresh set of eyes that could help us make better decisions for the entire student body,” she recalled.

The dynamic trio– called “All In”– were a match made in heaven, sharing three common goals of bringing student concerns to administrators in way that they would understand and be receptive to, increasing the diversity of student government and improving the overall student experience both academically and socially.

On April 7, junior Abigail Adeleke will take office as the first black Student Government president since 2015 as part of the University of Miami’s first all-female executive branch.

On April 7, junior Abigail Adeleke will take office as the first black Student Government president since 2015 as part of the University of Miami’s first all-female executive branch. Photo credit: Courtesy of Abigail Adeleke

“One of my favorite initiatives was to require all full-time professors to use Blackboard. Students deserve better and they deserve to know their grades.”

On Friday, Feb. 21– after two and a half weeks of campaigning following months of preparation that Adeleke now describes as “the hardest but most rewarding thing” she has ever done– the results were announced.

With more than 3,290 students casting votes, Adeleke won her bid for presidency– alongside treasurer Rodriguez– with 50.4 percent of the vote.

“To this day, I still don’t know [why so many students rallied behind me]. I have never in my life been so grateful to be a ‘Cane and a student leader,” she said. “People who I have never met posted my graphics on their social media and told their friends to vote for me. I am so appreciative of this school and this university and everything it has given to me thus far.”

Modest as she may be, other students stand firm in their decision to support Adeleke’s campaign.

“The summer before my freshman year, I received a letter from a girl I only knew then as Abi. She introduced herself as a Hammond Scholar studying in the School of Communication,” sophomore Damaris Zamudio recalled of her first interaction with president-elect Adeleke. “She answered every question I had for her so willingly before I even stepped foot on campus. She was so nice and helpful, so eager to answer questions that I thought were stupid to ask.”

“When I met her in person, her personality was just as I’d expected. Abi has the most contagious and genuine smile in all of our conversations, something that assures me that she genuinely cares about our interaction and is not judging anything I say,” Zamudio continued. “Those qualities are so important in a student body president. So, when I heard that she was running, I didn’t think twice about supporting her. I knew she would try her hardest to make every student she possibly could feel listened to and cared about.”

On Feb. 26, Junior Shirley Gelman (of the opposing ticket, Level Up) won her runoff election against Jason Perez, solidifying– for the first time in University of Miami history– that student government will be led by three women.

“This is special; we have never seen the top executive officers all be female,” Adeleke said of their collective achievement. “Representation is important, and our ticket brings diversity along with the inspiration that women can lead and create change in a unique way.”

Lastly, Adeleke said she hopes her success serves as an inspiration to her peers. She also offered advice for any young, minority women with big dreams.

“Put yourself out there,” she said. “I literally joined SG as a joke and my journey has been crazy, rewarding and everything in between. I used to be an introvert who really just liked her space and kept to herself. SG has completely taken me out of my element and created a new and better version of Abi.”

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and unusual schedule for the remainder of the semester, inauguration for 2020-2021 executive board will take place via Zoom on April 7 at 6. p.m. Those who wish to attend can do so by visiting sg.miami.edu/inauguartion.

April 4, 2020

Reporters

Jordan Lewis


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published in print every Tuesday.