At the end of the Spring 2020 Semester, rising senior Brenna Macnamara was elected as the new Student Body Association President. An English Literature and Political Science major, she has already been working remotely with her newly elected Executive Board and the college’s administration to improve communication and other various aspects of student life, despite the current student body of Millsaps being scattered across the country and globe.
Brenna joined SBA in her first year at Millsaps, as she had served in her high school’s student government and was looking forward to being a part of campus life and positively serving the student body.
“My first semester I definitely sat in the background a little,” she remembered. “I think I didn’t have enough confidence to step up into the role completely.”
It wasn’t until Brenna later joined the campus beautification committee that she began to find her voice and gain her confidence as a leader. She later ran for the position of Executive Board Secretary for the SBA.
“I loved being secretary because it allowed me to be a part of everyone’s job on the executive board and help them each in their own way. I saw the things that we could accomplish when we worked together, as well as how some things fell through when we worked together, as well as how some things fell through when we would try to do it on our own,” Brenna said.
Guided by her increasing confidence and strengthened teamwork skills, Brenna campaigned for SBA President her junior year.
“I put a lot of myself into that campaign,” she stated. “It almost become in my mind that winning the presidency was the only way I was going to be accepted by the campus. And when I lost it was crushing. I almost lost who I was as a Millsaps student, I didn’t know who I was or who I could be after that. I’d say that that loss was one of the most humbling and eye-opening experiences of my time here at Millsaps. It was one of my first big ‘failures,’ but as time went by, I realized it wasn’t.”
Essence Davis, who won the SBA President position in the 2019-2020 school year, “brought all these new ideas to our campus” along with “new ways to get students involved,” according to Brenna. With Essence winning the election, Brenna was able to take time for herself.
She stated, “I began to learn to take care of myself to be the best version of myself so I could be the best for our student body. It was this ‘failure’ when I learned so much not only about who I am as a person, but about who I am as a leader.”
While the beginning of junior year inspiring personal growth for Brenna, the pandemic at the end of the school year presented a new set of challenges for all of campus. Suddenly, everyone had to develop new routines and discover new ways to connect with one another while keeping up with the digital structure of online classes.
Brenna, like many students on campus, struggled with the sudden change of normalcy, which seemed to affect every aspect of campus life. Along with regular classes and some ongoing club functions having to be entirely reconfigured, SBA elections were suddenly having to be conducted online. Yet Brenna continued with her campaign, taking advantage of myriad social platforms to get herself and her message out. Brenna relied on her friends to spread her content and to come up with new ideas as well.
“I am not sure if I would have been able to do this all by myself and I am really thankful for their support,” she noted.
Working collaboratively and communicating effectively both seem to be major focal points for her presidency. When school functions went remote and digital, it became easy for many students to feel disconnected with one another and faculty, as well as uninformed of the current decisions of Millsaps officials.
“Millsaps made decisions and responded as many other institutions of higher education in the country have responded. I am very proud to attend an institution that has been working diligently for its students,” she commented. “However, I do have to say that I haven’t been as pleased with Millsaps’ communication about its plans and progress. Here is where I see that not only the working groups, but the students as well, could work towards better communication with one another. Since things are changing so rapidly, we all need to be aware and prepared that tomorrow may not look like today.”
Brenna’s insistence on effective communication is in part because of her experience as an incoming Millsaps student. Initially enrolling in Millsaps to play lacrosse, she was shocked when the only notification she got when lacrosse was canceled was a single phone call, and nothing else, to follow-up her initial recruitment.
“So there I was,” she remembered, “a new student going to a college where I now knew no one, had no plan on how to get involved or what I was going to do next.”
This experience highlighted a weaker point of the college for Brenna. While she noted that she is still thankful for her opportunities at Millsaps, she realized that communication continued to be a weak point for the college, along with the lack of crucial conversations between administration and the student body.
“I have always felt that there could be more communication, more student voices, more dialogue,” she said.
Just a few months into her new position, she has been working on not only meeting frequently with the college’s administration and speaking with the campus paper, but addressing the student body as a whole.
She stated that her primary focus is “to enhance campus wide communication and the sense of attitude among our Millsaps community.”
She continued: “I hope this goal will be achieved together as I work with various groups this summer. Myself and my Executive Board are part of multiple working groups and I hope to bring in even more student input to these groups.”
She urged for students to put in their voices as well, stating, “If we can work on this open communication now, I feel that the transition to be on campus will be seamless. I want the opinion of the students on campus to be heard and understood.”
While the SBA has continually existed on Millsaps through numerous ups and downs, a lack of widespread student participation and interest was notable, even though SBA meetings are typically open for anyone to attend. With the college struggling to maintain enrollment, increasing student engagement in various club activities and receiving better feedback and honest input from the student body on ways to improve the campus experience may offer a potential avenue for improvement.
To encourage more students to speak up, Brenna hopes to conduct multiple student town halls throughout the summer months, stating her belief “that student input and collaboration is one of the most important resources in accomplishing things […].”
Her predecessor, Essence Davis, has already addressed the financial concerns of many students, working with the administration responsible for distributing funding related to the CARES Act, with the intent of using this money to help students who find themselves in increased financial difficulties following the ramifications of the pandemic.
With the college itself also facing struggles with finances, Brenna acknowledges the budget changes, including for the SBA, that are likely to appear. She did comment, however, that she will work with other SBA officials to use the budget as beneficially as they can.
Brenna reiterated the presence of changes on campus that must inevitably and necessarily occur due to current circumstances, changes that will likely require the communication and teamwork that she strives toward.
“Amongst these times of uncertainty, if we can come together and change the overall student attitude to one of a more positive note, I believe that we will truly be resilient in these hard times,” she stated.
Brenna has also been responsive to the global protests against racial discrimination that began in late May, primarily as a response to George Floyd’s death, who died in police custody while an officer kneeled on his neck.
On June 1st, Brenna and Dia Fortenberry, the Executive Director of Diversity Council, issued a joint statement, stating, “As the elected leader of the student body at Millsaps, I along with my Executive Board implore you to be better allies, be better friends, be a better Millsaps community. Let us take a stand and support one another.”
Brenna is also currently working on a training session for various student leaders and campus organizations in order to help improve leadership skills. She also plans to include diversity and bias training.
Once open and communicative relationships can be established, Brenna hopes that campus can once again be an exciting and fun place, and a community that celebrates and works together despite the adversities everyone must face both together and individually. “From these experiences with SBA I have learned many things, from the importance of using your voice, to open communication, from organization to the importance of policy.” Brenna continued: “Most importantly I have learned how important it is to take care of yourself at the same time. You cannot do your best for everyone if you don’t know what that looks like for you.”