Colleen Hammond | News Editor
In a year of firsts for women in politics, sophomore Jessica Schmitz is joining the ranks of trendsetters and barrier breakers.
This week, Schmitz made history when she became the first woman of color elected president of Duquesne’s Student Government Association (SGA). For Schmitz’s peers, this came as no surprise.
According to her predecessor, Kallie Crawford, Schmitz has always been a standout member of SGA.
“She tackled everything thrown at her,” Crawford said, referencing Schmitz’s previous role as the vice president of communications at SGA.
Crawford said Schmitz became instrumental in getting SGA through the pandemic, being sure to keep everyone connected and on track with the senate’s goals.
“I knew she could also handle the role of president,” Crawford said. “I wouldn’t want it to be anyone else.”
By virtue of their jobs, Crawford and Schmitz developed a strong working relationship, both noting the many lessons they learned from the other.
“She and I just naturally worked closely together,” Crawford said.
Crawford, only the second woman to ever hold the office of SGA president, said she is thrilled to be passing the torch to another woman, especially the first woman of color.
“I think it’s long overdue,” Crawford said.
Schmitz, however, sees it a bit differently. In fact, she admitted she did not realize she was the first woman of color to be elected president until after she had been elected.
“I think we take for granted the idea of the glass ceiling,” Schmitz said. “We don’t realize it’s there until someone breaks it.”
Schmitz said she is filled with ideas to improve diversity efforts across campus, building off Crawford’s work.
“Kallie really laid a lot of important groundwork,” Schmitz said.
During her tenure as SGA president, Crawford made equity on campus a keystone of her leadership. Under her leadership, SGA created the Diversity, Inclusion and Identity Committee (DII), a voting committee open to all.
“I think it’s a good start,” Crawford said, but quickly noted that there is still a “long way to go” on the roads to equity and equality.
However, despite their best efforts, both Crawford and Schmitz noted the biggest struggle they have faced this year as an organization: participation. Under the current SGA system, every college and school at Duquesne is granted one SGA senator for every 200 students. This means that each election cycle, there are 43 senate seats open and five executive board positions open for election. This cycle, there were only three senators who ran.
“We were all pretty much running unopposed,” said Nathan Gierczynski, a newly elected senator for the School of Liberal Arts.
Gierczynski said he hardly had to campaign and that the most difficult part of the process was getting the necessary 50 signatures to get on the ballot.
“There is a very acute lack of participation at Duquesne,” Gierczynski said. Gierczynski, who has never worked with student government before, noted that he does not have concrete plans or goals for his time in the senate.
He simply decided to run “last-minute” with a group of his friends, all of whom ran for office unopposed.
“I was truly concerned we would have another election without a president,” Crawford said.
To Crawford’s delight, Schmitz stepped up to take on the primary leadership role and plans to ramp up recruitment and participation efforts, seeking to further Crawford’s work with the DII.
This year, Crawford issued invitations to over a dozen minority organizations across campus to become voting members of DII. According to Crawford, many declined or did not respond at all.
“We have struggled with organizations accepting the invitation to join the committee,” Crawford said.
DII operates differently than other committees in the senate. DII allows all members voting power, regardless if they are senators or not. They do not even have to be members of SGA to sit on the committee and vote on the issues presented.
“It’s not just a seat at the table,” Crawford said. “[We’re] giving them power at the table.”
Schmitz hopes that she can “build bridges” with other student organizations as the world slowly opens back up. She said she wants to be a true voice of representation for the students of Duquesne.
“I’m not going to sit by to appease the middleman,” Schmitz said.
She and Crawford share a clear vision for inclusion on campus, a value they said strengthened their work together.
“When it comes to diversity, we have definitely been lacking historically,” Crawford said. “(But) we have the capability to get there.”
Schmitz and the newly elected senators will be sworn into their respective offices on April 18. Until then, Schmitz and Crawford hope to see a growing interest in student government, as they believe it to be a major force of change on campus. Both women said they want to see greater student involvement to ensure SGA is “truly representative” of the student body.
“If you feel there is something you want to change at this school, why don’t you?” Schmitz said. “Get involved.”