The University of Georgia, located in Athens, GA is the oldest public university in the state of Georgia and one of the country’s most premier research institutions. Over 30,000 students from all over the world attend the school to receive a higher education, all from different backgrounds and stories. But even with more diversity coming to the university, there is still a tense feeling of unwelcomeness and tension for minority students on the campus.
With the UGA Student Government Association election coming up Monday, Feb. 26, one group of students plans to change this apparent problem and update the university to values that instill inclusivity and promote diversity.
Sophomores Jeremiah de Sesto, Hannah-Rose Basson, and Obamide Samaye are a part of the BRIDGE UGA ticket and all share one unique thing in common. They are all first generation immigrants. Jeremiah, who is running for SGA president, is from the Philippines. Hannah-Rose, who is running for Vice-President, is from South Africa. And Obamide, who is running to be the Treasurer is from Nigeria.
VOXATL interviewed Jeremiah de Sesto on BRIDGE’s campaign platform, the issues they see needed to be fixed, being a first generation immigrant at the UGA, and some insights to the people he and his running mates are.
De Sesto believes that being first generation immigrants is a major strength that only amplifies the amount of resilience and initiative the group has.
A Better Life For Students
“Our identity stems from the fact we are immigrants,” says de Sesto. “Our parents weren’t afforded the same opportunities in education like here in the United States. It’s because of our immigrant backgrounds that has afforded us the opportunity to want and yearn for change. To want to see a better life for students and want to see a better life for folks who don’t have that already.”
The growing BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities within the school are not foreign to discrimination and some UGA students feel the school administration ignoring these growing on-campus communities has been deafening. BRIDGE’s platform addresses this issue, stating their administration “will acknowledge how BIPOC, specifically African-American and Black communities have disproportionately been targeted by racist and hateful acts.”
Says de Sesto: “It pains me to see students who intrust their safety and their home and their wellbeing to this university only for them to be treated [poorly]. It’s not right.” He adds, “We are at the advent of hate crimes against Asian Americans. It’s atrocious and it’s happening here at UGA as well. Strong leadership that comes within SGA has to step up to keep not only ourselves accountable but the administration at UGA as well.”
Bringing School and County Communities Together
One of the group’s main initiatives, if they win, is to bring the school and the Athens-Clarke County communities together, something that hasn’t been done. They believe Athens is a community before it is a college town and that the population has been overlooked and ignored for too long.
“We want to subsidize a new fund called the Athens-Clarke County Fund which will make money go directly to Athens-Clarke County citizens,” says de Sesto. “There is a fraternity right in front of Clarke Central High School and I could count it on my fingers [how many students from Clarke Central actually end up going to UGA]. It’s despicable,” he said.
De Sesto’s message to undecided voters seems to acknowledge that little has been done by previous SGA administrations and that this administration is not running to add to a resume or boost their social cache, but to genuinely change UGA for the better.
The Voice of Every Bulldog
“To anyone out there who places distrust in student government, who is angered at student government and doesn’t believe it can solve anything, I apologize,” he stated. “Student government is the voice of every Bulldog on campus. It’s even more important that we’re there for Bulldogs who don’t have a platform on campus to stand on. For students out there who struggle everyday to find food, who have to sneak food away from one of their friends who does have a meal plan because they can’t afford it. If we never put our foot in the water of these issues, we’ll never try to solve it. We will be there with you. We will fight for you.”
Helping out students and communities who are often overlooked is extremely personal for de Sesto. When his family first moved to the United States from the Philippines when he was 10-years old, he remembered not many people being there for him initially and wants no other student to have that same feeling at UGA.
A Catalyst For Inclusion
“When I moved to the United States, it was hard because there weren’t people who looked like me,” says de Sesto. “I didn’t know how to speak English. I didn’t have any friends. But it was through the community of people and relationships that I have built that have got me here and hopefully if someone were to have that same occurrence where they didn’t feel included, I could be that catalyst to make them feel included.”
He cites his running mates, Hannah-Rose Basson and “Oba” Samaye as having that same kindness and desire to make sure everyone around them feels welcomed and included one of the group’s major strengths.
Says de Sesto: “What you see is what you get. Hannah-Rose is such an amazing and kind-hearted person. She truly just cares for people and wants to see the best in people. Oba is one of the most loving people. Whether it’s using his salary as a resident’s assistant to buy pizza for the mentor group he has, or picking me up on a bad day, he genuinely cares about people and us three make a powerful trio.”
It Takes a Village
The group’s camaraderie and true friendship will also dictate their policy-making decisions. De Sesto believes that no policy or decisions should be implemented unless they unanimously back it.
“We understand it takes a village of people to truly make change,” he said.
When asked to reflect about the whole entire campaign process, de Sesto says he has had the time of his life and couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be with during this adventure.
A Hell of a Ride
“It’s been a hell of a ride and I wouldn’t want to do it with any other team of people,” says de Sesto. “It’s been an honor. We are a team of young people wanting to enact change on this campus. I’m so honored to be able to be a part of a community of people that are different not only in background or race but in ideas and thoughts. And that’s the culmination of what UGA is. This has been the greatest honor of my life and I am so proud.”
The UGA BRIDGE campaign is a bright and hopeful sign for the institution. Their policies of inclusion, giving all students a voice and holding the school accountable, tied with their own respective unique backgrounds positions them to be groundbreaking leaders and have an impacting legacy for years to come.
For more information on who the students are, their plans if elected, and other content, visit https://www.bridgeuga.com/.
Above Photos: Courtesy BRIDGE UGA