When Mississippi State University Student Association executives were sworn into office this past March, no one could predict the unique challenges this year would bring. The current executive members of SA have had to adapt and lead in a way perhaps no MSU Student Association has before. In the midst of uncertainty, COVID-19 and heightened racial tensions, these student leaders have remained true to the heart behind their position - to serve MSU's campus and its students above all else.
Tyler Packer, a senior majoring in political sciences, serves as this year's SA president. Packer explained the preparations for this present school year began early this past summer. Packer has been part of MSU's COVID-19 board and has worked diligently alongside other members of his team and faculty members to ensure a safe return to campus for students. In light of all the work that went into ensuring a safe return for MSU students and faculty, Packer said the first day of school was an incredibly rewarding experience.
"You work and you plan- we planned for five months to get to day one. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride. I saw students 100% compliant with everything we worked hard to do," Packer said.
While students' responses have been positive and effective thus far, SA executive members are well aware at any given moment things could take a turn for the worse. That being said, the future of this semester at MSU is largely up to its students.
"We still have a long way to go, and the fight is not over yet. The task of keeping this going, of staying in school, is really in the students' hands. There are ways to communicate this to students so that we can all be on the same page. This is something that we are doing daily, and we do this day-by-day, one step at a time," Packer said.
For MSU SA executive members, the pursuit of student safety this school year has been a double-faceted endeavor. These student leaders have fought to protect MSU from the ravages of COVID-19 while also setting out to combat the infectious disease of racism in America.
This past May, executive members met to discuss the ways SA would respond to racial inequalities and tragedies. During this meeting, Packer expressed to his team he believed a response was not only important but necessary.
"I told my team that I felt like, as one of the governing organizations, we should say something. Deeper than that, I am a Black person. I told them that the way that I move through this presidency will be different from my previous counterpart. That is not to take away from anyone's presidency, but the simple fact that I am a Black male at a large Mississippi institution is a testament to the fact that what I do will be different," Packer said.
Packer's convictions were not only well-received but mutually shared by the other members of his executive team. Sarah Helen Skelton, a senior majoring in communication, serves as SA's chief of staff. Skelton explained the actions taken by SA have been a group effort and an opportunity for individual growth.
"This exec has been so good about adapting to all the changes and not relying on precedent simply because there is no precedent... Each member is able to provide a unique perspective to all these issues, and I have found myself constantly learning from them throughout our term," Skelton said.
Following initial statements made by SA executive members and by Packer himself, the team has continued to pursue representation for all students of color. Packer has met with faculty members including the university president, the vice president of student affairs and the campus police chief to discuss these matters. Packer said although there has been so much progress made, as Bulldogs we must continue to strive for growth.
"We can say that we are the most diverse school in the SEC all day, but there is always room for improvement," Packer said.
Hope Lee, a junior majoring in broadcasting, serves SA as the deputy chief of staff. Lee gave insight into some of the future plans of SA.
"We have some campaigns and projects in the works to shine a spotlight on the issues that our own Black and brown students face in their everyday lives. We hope to provide a space for these students to openly discuss the racial tensions in our country, as well as create ways to mend the gap here at Mississippi State," Lee said.
In the midst of much uncertainty, Packer's vision for his own role as SA President and the roles of his team members has remained crystal clear.
"We are working to make sure that as MSU students and as representatives of those students, we are doing our job; we are doing what we were elected for. I am a minority president, so I am going to make sure I support and uplift my minority community," Packer said.
Packer expressed that, although his time as SA President has been far from what he expected, he has continually fallen back on two guiding principles.
"Two words have been ringing in my ear since the night I got elected, and they are positivity and productivity... I've seen that mirrored with our administration, as we have looked at and dealt with what is in front of us and we have handled it all with grace, with kindness and compassion," Packer said.
As the semester continues to wear on, it is this same grace, kindness and compassion that will guide all members of the Bulldog family toward a brighter, stronger future.