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‘Everything worth having takes a while’

The upcoming school year will be unprecedented for Furman’s Student Government Association for a couple of reasons.

For one, the president-elect could not have even run last year, due to a constitutional hurdle. For another, this is the first time in Furman’s history that the SGA president and vice president will both be Black students.

That it’s happening almost 200 years after the university’s founding is not lost on incoming SGA president Asha Marie ’22 or incoming vice president Drew Washington ’22. But both agree that it’s a welcome step.

“Everything worth having takes a while,” says Marie.

Representation – which voices and communities get heard and who has access to power – has been a focus for both students, both in their campaigns and in their campus lives.

“Drew and I are from campus communities that you don’t usually see in positions of power,” Marie says.

Their commitment goes beyond race. Both would like to shine more light on Mosaic, the student organization dedicated to working with the admissions department to recruit multicultural prospective enrollees. Marie wants to make sure marginalized communities like students of color, low-income students, commuter students and LGBTQIA+ students have their voices heard. And Washington, a former Paladin football player, would like his fellow athletes, among other groups, to feel empowered.

“Being a student in a leadership position is showing that you can do a lot more things besides playing sports,” Washington says. “Whether you’re in theater, or an athlete, or in Greek life or whatever, you shouldn’t be stuck in one box and confined.”

‘Imagine what I could do’

Marie, who created her own interdisciplinary major studying advocacy and justice and is spending the summer studying gentrification in her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, started her community involvement early. Her high school activism led her to sit on a panel with Michael Jennings, Furman’s chief diversity officer.

“Michael was like, ‘I like this girl,’” remembers Marie. “So he submitted my name for a scholarship, and I won, and it just ended up working.”

At Furman, Marie “felt like my voice was valued, but I was also able to represent student concerns that I felt were often not considered or acted on.”

The best way she could further represent those concerns, she decided, was through SGA.

“I thought, ‘Isn’t it funny that the student body president has so much access, but it seems like people aren’t really using that to its full potential,’” she says. “‘Imagine what I could do if I had the access and the intentional relationships with the community and administration.’”

A hurdle, a petition and a victory

Before she could enter the race, however, Marie had a hurdle to clear: SGA’s constitution said that the student body president had to have previous student government experience  – which she didn’t have. (Neither did Washington, who faced no such obstacle in his vice-presidential candidacy.) Her petition to amend the constitution got about 300 signatures, enough to trigger a campuswide referendum on Feb. 10, which passed with a significant majority.

The victory “meant that more students can think of themselves as qualified to serve in these positions,” Marie says. “It seemed to me that a lot of students, especially students of marginalized identities, just couldn’t see themselves in that space.”

Finding a voice, breaking barriers

Washington was similarly inspired by his campus experiences, including serving as a diversity fellow for Mosaic and participating in several panel talks. His columns on diversity matters for The Paladin student newspaper helped him hone his voice.

“I got a lot of traction from different types of people in the student body, not just students of color,” he says. “That made me feel like my voice has the potential to carry a lot of weight, so I could try to impact change from a higher stance.”

He ran to break down barriers, he says – not just barriers between groups, but those that students impose upon themselves.

“I wanted to make people feel like more things were accessible,” he says. “We need to help each other; we’re all on the same playing field trying to reach our goals.”

Priorities for a new administration and beyond

After celebrating their victories in the March 9 SGA elections, Marie and Washington began focusing their priorities on community, inclusion and belonging.

“We’re just brainstorming ways to do a culture shift,” says Marie, who will also be the first woman of color to serve as SGA president since 2007. “Some actual system-changing among the student body and how the Furman community feels and works.”

After graduation, Marie wants to continue her research on public history and how communities tell their stories, and eventually teach on the college level – “really interesting experimental classes that get students to get out in the community and engage outside of academia.”

Washington hopes to begin a career in educational public policy. But his specific plans, like his vision for the student community, remain somewhat “laid back.”

“I always like to go with the flow,” he says. “As long as you work hard and know what you’re doing and have your goals in sight, it’s OK to have things kind of malleable, right?”


By the numbers: Meet the Class of 2025

Incoming freshmen during Move-in Day 2018.

Incoming first-year students during Move-in Day 2018.

Curious about the flood of new faces headed to campus? We’ve got all the vital statistics – but here are some highlights.

  • Applications: 7,173
  • Admitted: 5,118
  • Enrolled: 677

Secondary education

  • Public school: 61%
  • Private school: 37%
  • Home school: 2%

Demographics

  • Female: 57%
  • Male: 43%
  • States represented: 32
  • Countries represented: 20

Who are they?

  • 238 National Honor Society members
  • 227 significantly involved in community service
  • 209 two-sport varsity athletes
  • 190 winners of state or national awards
  • 174 sports team captains
  • 111 leaders in musical groups
  • 93 student organization presidents
  • 70 theater stars
  • 59 have lived outside the U.S.
  • 53 founders of clubs or organizations
  • 48 editors of school publications
  • 31 visual artists
  • 23 Eagle Scout/Girl Scout Gold awardees
  • 21 student body presidents
  • 11 mock trial participants
  • 1 summited Mount Kilamanjaro with classmates
  • 1 raised $20,000 to install solar-powered water supply infrastructure in India
  • 1 manager of a 400-plus person Minecraft server

Click here to learn more.

Last updated August 12, 2021
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director