If Student Government Association President London Newton were to pick a theme for the upcoming year, it would be empowerment.
Some of her goals around empowering students during her administration are those you might expect in any average school year. “I want to empower students to know their rights as student employees, and the things they have the right to accessibility-wise within the classroom, how the Academic Success Center works,” Newton said, “and encouraging voter registration and helping to encourage community engagement, and empowering them to take control of that. And empowering them to take control of their future; I want to start working with the Career Center on that.”
But the 2020-21 school year won’t be any average school year. The COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s reckoning with racial injustice has changed the landscape of day-to-day life and the semester ahead, and has given Newton additional goals and challenges as she continues to focus on empowering her fellow students.
“Student government already has to be the voice for students, but this year I think it’s going to be even more important,” Newton said. “I think the administration is really going to be reaching out to us. We’re going to have a lot of open conversations between student government and administration.”
Understanding how students are feeling and what they need as the University community navigates the upcoming academic year will be a priority for the SGA, Newton said. She hopes to hold town halls to allow students to discuss their needs and concerns.
“I’m meeting with my executive board pretty regularly to talk about how their positions are changing in a COVID world,” Newton said. “Our student advocacy position would typically be things like voter registration and food equity, and it still is. But it’s also going to be how our students feeling about coming back on campus, and do they feel safe coming back on campus.
“Or our sustainability position in a world of COVID, where everything has to be used once and thrown away, that’s something else we are going to have to look into,” Newton continued.
Newton says she’ll be prioritizing creating community among students of color, as well.
“My top priority is making sure that we are able to find that community, and find an intersectional community that talks about not just our blackness, but also our queerness or poorness or whatever other identities that we hold,” Newton said. “Because if we have a strong community on campus Black and brown students will feel safe coming, even if they’re minority.”
She also hopes to create more opportunities for Black and brown students and professors to connect with each other, and to hold virtual town halls for students of color to create space for discussion and community.
“Diversity is an outcome of equity and inclusion; we should not be focused on just bringing Black and brown people here if we’re not prepared for them,” Newton said. “UNCA is the best place to start doing anti-racism work, but we are not where we need to be and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Newton has also been heavily engaged in doing that work in the larger Asheville community. She was the organizer of the Black Liberation Celebration that took place in downtown Asheville on July 4, and, along with fellow student and SGA Executive of Student Advocacy Sean Miller, assisted with a medic station at Asheville’s Black Lives Matter protests, which became the subject of national news. She’s also been involved in various local community groups dedicated to racial justice.
“We’re doing a lot of general community support funding for anybody who might need it,” Newton said. “There’s people in our group whose job is to help drive people around and help get people’s groceries, or we have people who do child care for when there’s a protest…it’s been this really cool example of what community policing and what keeping ourselves safe can look like.”
Of course, Newton is balancing this work with her studies in her junior year as a political science major with double minors in mass communication and legal studies as she works towards her dream career in the nonprofit sector or local government. Her inspiration as she forges ahead?
“My mom,” Newton said. “My mom is the reason I am the way I am.”