Quinnipiac SGA elects diverse executive board to advocate for minority students
At 8 p.m., ballots closed. 8:30 p.m. No phone call. 8:45 p.m. The phone rings. Austin Calvo lunges for his cell phone. Just a friend. Not the person he hoped for, not the person he needs. Fifteen minutes pass. No call. Thirty minutes. No call.
9:45 p.m. The phone rings again. This time, it was Quinnipiac University’s current Student Government Association President Ryan Hicks. The moment Calvo was waiting for. His anxiety washed away.
He did it. He won.
On Wednesday, April 10, the Quinnipiac student body elected Calvo, a junior political science major, as its next SGA president. Calvo has broken the mold as one of the first openly gay SGA presidents to be elected.
Joining Calvo on the executive board as vice president-elect is a second openly gay member of the LGBTQ+ community, Sophia Marshall. Along with Calvo and Marshall, the student body elected two people of color, Esau Greene, vice president-elect of student experience, and Jamien Jean-Baptiste, vice president-elect of marketing and public relations, making this one of the most diverse executive boards in Quinnipiac history.
“To have two out, proud people of the LGBTQ community and to have two proud black men on this executive board is amazing,” Calvo said. “This is the most unique SGA I’ve ever seen and I’m really excited to see what we can bring.”
The road to the office was not an easy one for Calvo. His sexuality was never something he wanted to hide and with it so openly on display, Calvo experienced slight pushback from members of the Quinnipiac community.
On the day of the executive board debates, one of Calvo’s campaign posters was defaced with homophobic remarks. Calvo received a call from Hicks informing him that the posters had been immediately taken down.
The comments affected Calvo’s confidence during the debates later that day. Calvo said he felt as if he needed to dial back aspects of his personality. He didn’t even feel comfortable bringing up his bright yellow water bottle covered in stickers for fear of appearing gay.
“It’s just something you’re always conscious of,” Calvo said. “You always have to be aware that you’re not the norm.”
According to Lindsey Downey, the sophomore president of Quinnipiac’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, visibility of the LGBTQ+ community is necessary to eliminate homophobia like which Calvo experienced.
“A lot of hurtful actions that people say or do (come) from a place of ignorance,” Downey said. “They don’t know or they weren’t exposed to (LGBTQ+). If you’re not exposed to people of the LGBTQ community, if you don’t know people of color or what their culture is, the queer culture or any other culture, there’s no way to know what’s appropriate and what’s not.”
But Calvo refuses to let negativity about his sexuality affect him. His passion for student government and advocacy drove him to push through this homophobia.
Hicks explained that it was difficult to make that call and tell Calvo his posters were defaced, but added that Calvo’s tenacity was inspiring.
“It was heartbreaking to see that picture and it was heartbreaking to deliver that news,” Hicks said. “But I don’t think that that should really be the story, I think the way Austin handled that news and said, ‘This isn’t going to be something that I stop fighting for,’ I think that’s what should be focused on … Austin’s rebound to it and his continuation throughout the week.”
Instead of quitting, Calvo learned to adjust his campaign strategies. He made it his mission to seek out the opinions of the heterosexual males with whom he struggled to connect. He began to realize that the student body cared less about his sexuality and more about his ideas and how he could affect the university.
Throughout his first few years at Quinnipiac, even with slight resistance from a very small percentage of the student body, Calvo has been able to embrace every aspect of himself.
“It was just so nice that over these past three years I have unapologetically been myself,” Calvo said. “I have shared every view I have in class, any opinion I have with my friends and people around me, I have never been scared to step down.”
Sophomore Sophia Marshall, the SGA vice president-elect and also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, has faced less resistance than Calvo. As she puts it, she has the benefit of looking straight. There were points when Marshall herself questioned what people would think of her because of her sexuality. But she has ensured that what represents her are her ideas.
Unlike other members of LGBTQ+, she feels that, even among those who do not support her, she at least commands respect.
“I think even in my experience, some of the people who don’t accept the way that I am, which is very, very, very seldom, even those people will respect my work ethic and will come to me regardless because they know that I can get things done,” Marshall said.
Marshall believes that the results of this SGA election are reflective of the progressiveness of Quinnipiac’s student body, of its faculty and of its community as a whole. The students backed ideas and chose their elected officials based on campaign platforms, not on sexuality.
“I think it kind of goes to show that Quinnipiac is moving in a more progressive way, which is really exciting,” Marshall said. “And I think the other thing is, I’m really proud of the fact that I’m super gay.”
Downey agrees and hopes that Marshall and Calvo can serve as inspirations for members of Quinnipiac’s LGBTQ+ community to feel more comfortable with their sexualities.
“Austin and Sophia are both very open about their identity within the community, which is amazing,” Downey said. “There are so many LGBTQ faculty, staff, students here, but to have them sort of like front and center is nice because people can look at them and be like, ‘they’re here.’”
But how will this diverse new e-board have an impact on the student body?
With new voices and perspectives on SGA’s executive board, the student body population, as a whole, has a voice. According to Calvo, advocacy for minority groups becomes stronger when minority groups have representatives speaking up for them specifically.
“It gives almost every niche community of Quinnipiac a voice in the room,” Calvo said.
The next few years of Quinnipiac’s future will be full of change. With a new president, Judy Olian, and with the introduction of her strategic plan, SGA will need to advocate for the students more than ever.
The newly elected executive board represents members of the LGBTQ+ community, it represents people of color, it represents women and it represents men. But more importantly, the board is full of passion for change and advocacy. It’s full of passion for Quinnipiac’s students. As the current e-board steps down, Hicks said he is more than confident that he’s leaving SGA in the hands of a new group of leaders that has every student at Quinnipiac in its best interest.
“When I look at how eager they are and how enthusiastic they are and how passionate they are, it just shows how much they want this and how much they want to represent and advocate for the students.”