WSSU SGA President Leads Campus Civic EngagementA – GDN Exclusive “A Call to Colors” Vol. II, Part IXby Cash Michaels, GDN Contributing Writer April 10, 2019
In his message to the student body of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), Student Government Association (SGA) President William Gibson quoted philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in saying, “‘What lies behind us and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.’ Join SGA in navigating the climate, as we aspire to become America’s next nationally recognized institution.”
And that’s the strength behind SGA Pres. Gibson’s leadership – empowering students at WSSU to have a voice, and have that voice heard.
That’s why the Charlotte native and junior Political Science major is so respected on WSSU’s campus.
“We are serving others,” he says the SGA philosophy is.
Gibson, 22, is the oldest of three children, but is a first generation college student. He tells Greater Diversity News (GDN) that WSSU “…wasn’t my first choice, but it was my best choice…” He “fell in love with the environment’ once he took a tour. ‘It felt like a home away from home.”
Indeed, Gibson has served in leadership positions since arriving, becoming freshman and sophomore class president, and now currently SGA president as a rising senior, and will remain such as a graduating senior next year.
Gibson is also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
But student social activism is the straw that stirs the civic engagement drink, SGA Pres. Gibson says. In fact, on April 11th, Gibson, for the third year in a row, will lead a group of 29 WSSU students to join hundreds other students from HBCUs across the nation for the third annual HBCU Collective “Day of Action,” where students go to Capital Hill, and lobby lawmakers on issues important to them and their schools.
“As HBCUs, we advocate on the importance of funding,” Gibson says.
So it was no surprise to hear of how WSSU students last year were intensely focused on nonpartisan voter registration, education and mobilization.
“Last year, we got a lot of students registered, had shuttles that took students to the polls to make sure they had the opportunity to practice their civic duty. So I definitely pushed that a lot.”
Candidates running for office in Forsyth County routinely came on campus to speak with students about the issues, share their platforms, and answer questions from students.
“Students were able to understand what [the candidates] were bringing to the table.”
The result, says SGA Pres. Gibson, is more WSSU students registered, and more WSSU students ultimately voting. It is a big improvement over 2016, when admittedly, students “overlooked being actively engaged.”
Students are now seeing that you have to be actively engaged in all aspects of an election, and not just the presidential,” Gibson says.
Evidence of that newfound activism is the case of Ronnie Long, who has spent the past 43 years in prison for a burglary and rape of a white woman. Led by WSSU Professor Larry Little, students led rallies in support of efforts to free Long.
WSSU’s history of student activism – dating back to joining in the original desegregation boycotts in the 1960s, to building bridges to students of neighboring Wake Forest University when someone tried to create division – is something that Gibson is very proud of.
He doesn’t graduate until 2020, but when he does, after graduate school and pursuing a career in public service and politics, William Gibson intends to leave behind a legacy of student civic engagement at WSSU for others to follow.
“You have a voice,” Gibson insists, “… that matters!”
Among other things, GDN recommends that all HBCU SGAs and Black Student Unions (BSUs) incorporate the following in their efforts:
- Standing civic engagement/A Call to Colors committees for SGAs and Black Student Unions (BSUs)
- Students volunteering 8,16, 24 hours or more per election cycle
- Earn up to 200 hours/4 years credit for civic engagement
- Do outreach to Greeks, other student organizations and other schools