Cope: Cheers to ASA transformation

Luca and I are not experts in government, nor are we perfect leaders. No one is. We are students, learning as we go, as are you. 

Being ASA Vice President, I experienced something new: mandated neutrality. Vice presidents don’t vote and are the one person who, by position, are required to be an advocate for whoever comes and asks for help. Your role centers on mentorship and relationship building. Of course, you use your better judgment in the most extreme of circumstances, but everyday differences are cast aside in the interest of being a source of empowerment for those around you. 

Being a student of mandated neutrality was a gift and a challenge. In the words of professor O’Hara referencing Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, a political approach of neutrality requires you put the “best construction on everything.” Being in this unique position, I had a front-row view of what made ASA so transformative.

Sure, it’s easy to point to a bipartisan, domestic/international executive team, a concentrated commitment to diversity, an energetic and supportive adviser in Mark Blackburn, dedicated committee chairs, an overenthusiastic but tireless treasurer, a renewed eagerness from senators as a whole, supportive faculty and administrators, a campus-wide push for sustainability or even a larger presence of student voices in institutional committee decisions. Yes, each of these people deserve our utmost gratitude (and we look forward to thanking you individually) and each instance remains worthy of its own honor. These things are visibly transformative. But the harder thing to quantify is a collective attitude change. 

Things aren’t transformative because of one or two people — things are transformative when people collectively choose to change a narrative. So to this year’s ASA senate, thank you. You changed the narrative of ASA, rewriting its role on campus. Together, you transformed ASA.

Thank you for shedding the notion that being open to different ideas compromises your personal identity … for demonstrating that being rooted is not a free ticket to be dismissive of difference … for recognizing the places we love the most often have dark spots worthy of attention, and that’s okay … for proving that admitting your institution needs to change isn’t a crime, but an act of courage … for standing up alongside your peers … for prioritizing experiences of the marginalized … for meeting late into the night when you had tests at 8:00 a.m. the next morning … for broaching hard conversations … for pushing yourselves outside of your comfort zone … and for working so dang hard. You’ve served as incredible teachers for both myself and our community of students.

The work we started isn’t over, nor is it perfect. Good government requires continued attention to detail. Keep going. Keep working together. Keep changing the narrative. You are capable. This place wasn’t built for everybody, but if we reflect inward, we can change the architecture of our surroundings. Midwesterners, I am looking at you. If you’re proud of being from South Dakota, don’t worry, so am I. We come from a place of conviction; that’s something to be proud of. However, our conviction cannot equate to complacency with the status-quo. Let’s make our conviction one that prioritizes allyship, humility and listening, knowing the things we love most require growth. As our ASA taught us, doing so does not compromise who we are — it empowers us to be more. 

If a year spent in neutrality has taught me anything, it’s that we have so much to learn when we look inward — both personally and broadly as a community. When I couldn’t take a side, I learned quickly both where I’ve got it right and where I’ve got it wrong. Welcoming transformation requires allowing yourself to acknowledge where you’ve got it wrong and do something about it. It requires uncomfortable conversations, hard self-reflections and self-awareness. These things aren’t easy, and while I try, I certainly haven’t perfected doing them. But I have learned one thing: extend grace. Grace to yourselves; grace unto others. After all, we aren’t perfect, we are humans. Together, we learn as we go. 

But for now, cheers to a transformative year. I can’t wait to see what’s to come. And to each and every executive member and senator, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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