New SGA leaders focus on mental health, transparency, safety, inclusion
Two Honors College students who have known each other since middle school will lead East Carolina University’s Student Government Association through this academic year.
SGA President Javier Limon and Vice President Matt Blount were elected this spring on four main issues: mental health, transparency, campus safety and inclusion.
“When people have that relationship beforehand, you’re able to hit it off and start going with it just because you already have that shared experience and know how each other works,” Limon said.
“We balance each other out,” added Blount.
During the campaign, they spoke with as many students and groups as possible and ended up breaking the record for most votes in an election, something that Blount hopes shows that student engagement is on the rise. “We were able to hear a wide range of concerns from across campus,” Limon said.
One of the most pressing issues is student mental health. The SGA is advocating for ECU to provide student mental health days, which have been implemented on other UNC System campuses.
“Obviously it’s going to take some work to get approval from the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors to advocate for that,” Limon said. “Beyond just a day off, it shows students that the school is listening to them and wants to give them that leeway and is there for them. I think it’s a powerful message along with the added benefit of just having a break from the stress of school life.”
As president, Limon meets monthly with other UNC System SGA presidents, who have shared how they’ve worked to implement the mini breaks and feedback they’ve received. “Students are appreciative that the university did something,” he said. “It didn’t just look like they were sitting on the crisis, they were acting on it, and it’s a tangible thing that students can see. That really impacted their day-to-day by having that extra day or couple of days off.”
Limon said he wants to get the conversation started at ECU even if wellness days are not added this academic year. “We can get the framework for the next administration to keep working on it,” he said.
Limon and Blount are also focused on academic transparency. “Something we’re going to try to push for is getting your grades by the midterm date,” Limon said. “Not every professor puts in grades by the midterm, and some people wait until the end of the semester to get their grades in, so we’d like to have that requirement just so students can know where they stand.”
They also want to extend the add/drop date for courses. “A lot of students have felt the same way, and by the time they realize, ‘Hey, this class isn’t for me, or I need to push this back a semester,’ they’re having to drop it and use a withdrawal credit and it shows on the transcript,” Limon said. “I don’t think it’s fair to do that when it’s two to three weeks in and it’s still at the start, so I’d like to see that date extended to give students more grace.”
Along with mental health and transparency, Limon and Blount have started working on campus safety issues with ECU Police Chief Jon Barnwell. In April, ECU leaders took a night walk to learn more about safety concerns on campus. “We’re going to help create a more lit up path between College Hill and the B lot so students can feel safe walking to their cars,” Blount said.
SGA has purchased 5,000 drink testing kits, which will be distributed in residence halls and sorority houses. Only a droplet is needed to test whether a drink has been spiked. In addition, SGA has used a small surplus from last year’s budget to purchase library supplies and provide free menstrual products in first-floor bathroom in the Main Campus Student Center. “A lot of that has been in an effort to use funds as effectively as possible and to make sure that budget is being given back to students, because it is their student fees,” Limon said.
Finally, Limon and Blount are pushing for more inclusion within SGA and in leadership spaces across campus. “During the campaign I said that I didn’t want to just be a student body president, I wanted to be a student body organizer, and that means getting groups of students from all backgrounds together,” Limon said. “When students know what SGA can do, I think that’s very beneficial for everyone, so we’re trying to reach out to more people and go talk to them and not just expect them to come to us.”
Limon has been involved in SGA for two years and served as chief of staff for former president Ryan Bonnett. He also served as vice president for Phi Kappa Phi. Off campus, he has worked on several political campaigns and as a legislative intern in the U.S. Senate in Washington, something he would like to do again with his interest in policy and politics.
Blount is new to SGA, although he has held leadership positions as a founding member and vice president of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, where he helped raise more than $100,000 for juvenile diabetes research. He also served as vice president for philanthropy for ECU’s Interfraternity Council. Blount grew up going to ECU ballgames and can count nine family members who are ECU alumni. His sister, Emma, is an ECU physical therapy doctoral student.
Limon and Blount met at Saint Peter Catholic School in Greenville, after Limon’s family moved from Chicago for his father to earn his doctoral degree in family medical therapy at ECU. From there, Limon went to J.H. Rose High School and Blount attended South Central High School, participating in some of the same programs such as Pitt County’s Health Sciences Academy, before reconnecting through the ECU honors program.
In reflecting on the campaign, Limon said he was inspired by his predecessor Bonnett and former SGA vice president Emily Yates, who also had known each other since childhood. They made a difference for ECU students in many ways, such as implementing the Swipe Out Hunger initiative that provides meals for students experiencing food insecurity through unused dining hall swipes, Limon said.
“There have been times when I felt like I needed help, or times when I’ve noticed an issue and didn’t know where to go with it, so I just wanted to be that for someone who could provide that opportunity and provide that help,” he said. “When you feel the call to serve, you can’t really question the moment. Sometimes you’ve just got to act. I felt like I would be a good fit for it and Matt would be a good fit for it as well. We just went for it.”
Limon is the son of Denisse Rivera and Francisco Limon. Blount is the son of Theresa Blount, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and Jeffrey Blount, who graduated with an MBA, both from ECU.