For many people, the new year is an important symbol. It represents a fresh start, an opportunity to put the past behind us and hope that the upcoming term will be different. Better. I’m often reminded of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and motto of “hope and change.”
Here at Goucher College, as finals are starting, and the days are growing colder, many are finding themselves struggling with the workload and the pressure put on students this time of year. The sun sets earlier and earlier. Through all of that fear, people are grasping for an anchor to hold on to. That’s where Jeff Castro and Olivia Reichardt come in.
Castro and Reichardt were voted in as the new president and vice president of the Goucher Student Government a few days before Thanksgiving. Their duties officially started just one week later, when they attended their swearing-in ceremony on November 30. It was an understated affair on a dark and cold Wednesday night – there were no adults or officials in attendance, only a handful of students gathered as the newly-elected said their vows. As we waited for the ceremony to start, Castro and Reichardt made their rounds.
Castro, who was dressed in a simple black suit with a crisp white shirt, greeted me with a warm, firm handshake. We chatted for a few minutes, amicable despite never having met before. Reichardt, in a casual green dress and heels, brought a camera, and kindly took photos of her own event, when she found out that no photographers from the Q would be able to attend.
There were no speeches given, or introductions made. Rather, the two simply stood in front of the small group, Castro first, then Reichardt, and raised their right hands, as they made a solemn vow to uphold the Goucher constitution. They each promised to protect and preserve the values of the college, and in a matter of minutes, the ceremony was completed, and Goucher had a new student administration running.
The next day, I sat down with the new leaders to discuss their plans for the school. The fall semester saw recursive complaints about the SGA, after many clubs lost funding early in the year, and a lack of communication left many students feeling disconnected from those in charge.
For those who felt former President Ty’lor Schnella’s take-charge attitude had grown stale, Castro and Reichardt offer a sharp relief.
They beat me to our rendezvous spot, and were chatting as I arrived. Each greeted me with a warm smile (and another firm handshake from Castro,) and they continued to chat as I set up for the interview. It was clear that the two were friends; they made small talk derived from follow-up questions to events that had previously been discussed; updates on tests and swim practices. As I started to ask them questions, they kindly turned that friendly attitude towards me. Hope and change indeed.
Both have been interested in politics for a while, citing high school classes as the nexus moment that piqued their interest. For Castro, it was the AP Government class and for Reichardt, civics.
As he took his class, Castro became interested in the topics he was learning, along with “all the things that come with that,” like volunteering on campaigns and helping people register to vote. At the same time as the class, he worked on a campaign for a small state race for Maryland Delegate.
“I was chief field strategist,” he recalled, “so I was working fifty hours weekly coordinating volunteers, doing field work, running numbers.”
I asked him if that work paid off with a win, and he laughed.
“The delegate did not win. But I’m still proud of that race, because that runner was a nobody, and… still won 6,000 votes… with nothing but a collegiate field team.”
Similarly, Reichardt came to Goucher to work in D.C., after her civics teacher introduced her to progressive news outlets when she was fifteen. After that, she said she “got into researching different ideas and backgrounds, and started figuring out my own beliefs, because they are different from my parents.”
They both joined the Goucher SGA last spring.
Then, in late September, the previous president was chatting with Castro about the upcoming elections.
“I wasn’t trying to, like, poke the bear to get him to endorse me,” Castro emphasized, “Honestly, I wasn’t really considering it.”
But once the suggestion was said, it made a lot of sense to him.
“I was the only one in the past administration who isn’t graduating [in the spring],” Castro explained.
Besides, he was “intrigued by not the grandiose parts of the job, like public speaking or being on the podium, but more putting my head down and working.” As the idea to run sat with him, he started to believe in it more and more.
“I thought about it for, like, a week, and then I was committed,” Castro said.
The first step was to find an excellent running mate. Reichardt was the head chair of the Ways and Means Committee at the time, which was, according to Castro, “the most active committee,” because it was in charge of handling all the finances.
“She had experience and had knowledge of how to get things done in SGA… she was one of the first people who I asked to run with me,” Castro said.
For Reichardt, at first the idea was “a little stressful and crazy,” but like Castro, “the more I thought about it, the more it made sense,” she explained, “I had already contemplated trying to move up in the future… It was just the right next step.”
The pair spent the next week in the office of student engagement with a whiteboard.
“We spent hours making lists of who would be in the cabinet, on the board, what initiatives we could start with admin,” Castro recalled, “The board was just covered in arrows because there was so much that we wanted to get done.”
Reichardt added that at first, the discussion was “very broad. We discussed key issues first, then logistics. The first step for us was to start with identifying problems.”
When asked about what those issues are specifically, Castro’s eyes lit up. He proceeded to give me a list of over half a dozen topics his administration wants to focus on, including improving disability and accessibility services, improving facilities within residential halls, and making the offices of Campus Safety and Residential Life more connected with students.
Reichardt summarized: “The two main focuses we have are, one, to improve student experience, and two, disability and accessibility.”
Tackling the issues within SGA is a different beast. The fall semester saw low involvement in SGA, and many of the changes enacted faced serious fallback from students.
“It’s gonna be a big project to fix the internal dynamic and make it more efficient,” Reichardt said.
Castro agreed, explaining that “there are no perks to keep [people involved] dedicated… There are lots of people in the forum, but not a lot showing up.” Luckily, as with everything else, the pair is already thinking of ideas for how to fix that issue.
Obviously, the pair’s issue-oriented plan is important. But as a writer, the most important thing I noticed about these two is how substantially their attitude shifts my perception of the SGA. These two breathe a spark of new life into a largely dysfunctional organization. Castro and Reichardt’s easy friendship and casual, warm openness are enough to immediately set people at ease, and their passion towards the issues they are championing is relaxed, but focused.
As the school careens into finals, and prepares to shut down for a long winter break, rest assured that pieces are already moving behind the scenes, setting the stage for improvements when we return. Hope and change; Reichardt and Castro deliver it, working to shine a warm light across the frosted Goucher campus.
Feature image of Jeff Castro swearing in by Olivia Reichardt, edited by Reese Finnigan