Making a President, Part One

In this two-part series, we take a closer look at two brothers who have harnessed the values of Lambda Chi Alpha and applied them in their roles as Student Government Association (SGA) presidents.  With the teachings of their brotherhood guiding them, junior J.D. Baker of the University of Oklahoma and senior Matt Cassidy of Rollins University, are making a difference on campus.  First, we caught up with Baker and explored his initiatives on campus for student inclusion.

Bridging the Gap

 When the video of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon members reciting a racist chant surfaced, Baker and his roommate, Cameron Burleson, now his vice president, were just freshmen.

“We are both African-American men, and we will both never forget the conversation that we had in our dorm room that night,” said Baker.

Baker being sworn in as SGA President on Dec. 7.

Though the full conversation was not disclosed, the main idea that both men came away with was that all students needed to feel more included on campus.

But when it came time for Baker to consider running for SGA president, amid the rumors flying around campus that his name would appear on a ticket, Baker was adamant that it would not happen.  That is, until he started to think about the campus which he cared for dearly.

“I really started thinking about it and went to several campus events, and I just really knew I had a passion for this university and the students,” said Baker.  “I kept thinking about the direction of the university and I knew that the students needed good leadership.”

It then dawned upon Baker that the kind of change which he wanted to see was staring back at him in the mirror. Already a member of the Student Advisory Council (SAC), Baker knew that his voice could impact change at his university.  So, after running against one of the highest number of candidates the school had seen in a long time (5 candidates in total), Baker was sworn in Dec. 7, 2016.

Once Baker was in office, he could finally start his initiatives which had been growing in his mind since his freshman year, the theme ever present: bridging the gap.

SGA Executives (From L to R): J.D. Baker, Dylan Rodolf (Chief of Staff), and Cameron Burleson (Vice President)

“We understand that there are gaps on campus that need to be filled and need to be bridged, and we want to make sure that students are still heard and the focus of the university,” said Baker.

Baker hopes to accomplish this by focusing more time and energy into the campus’s mental health services to expand them and kill the stigma around mental illness.  Part of his campaign also includes establishing gender neutral bathrooms on every floor of the library and union and one in each academic building.

With his grand plans, though, Baker knows that there will be challenges.

“At OU, we have this great idea about being a community and a family, which I do think a lot of people feel that, but I also feel like there are a good number of students who don’t feel that and that’s where the gap is,” said Baker.

One of these gaps comes between non-Greek students and the Greek community, and even within the Greek community, according to Baker.

“We have five Greek councils here, so we will be working within the Greek community, but also there are non-Greek students who feel excluded and there are even students from other Greek councils who feel excluded, because IFC (Interfraternity Council)  and Panhellenic are the largest councils,” said Baker.  “So we really want to work on more collaboration and bring students together.”

For some, the goals that Baker and his team have set might seem daunting and lofty, but Baker is assured that the lesson of leadership learned from Lambda Chi Alpha is what will set him apart.

Baker joins brothers along with High Pi, Rodger Lalli (center), at the chapter’s annual White Rose philanthropic pageant.

“Lambda Chi has helped me develop as a leader,” said Baker.  “It’s easy to be a leader in good times, but it is hard to be a leader in hard times when leadership is a necessity.”

Baker assures that his time as SGA president will be that much more meaningful through the support of his brothers and the alumni mentors whom he has had the pleasure of meeting.

While Baker’s world was turned upside down during his first year at the University of Oklahoma, he has chosen to take what he has learned and apply it around campus to ensure the growth and stability of all students.

“I want people to always feel that student government is their student government,” said Baker, “and they have a role in it and have value.”