By LINCOLN DAVIDSON
Thanks to stepped up recruiting, Davidson College’s international student population has been growing in recent years, Chinese students in particular. This week for the first time, students picked one of their foreign-born peers as their leader.
Zi Yang, a sophomore from China, beat Pablo Zevallos in a runoff Wednesday to become Student Government Association (SGA) president. Yang takes office next Thursday, Feb. 13, replacing outgoing president Chris Ragsdale.
Yang said this week he chose Davidson because it seemed to offer opportunities – and now he’s proving it.
“Davidson came across as the most inclusive campus in the region,” he said in an interview. “It not only offers lots of hospitality, it offers opportunities for each student to shine.”
Until recently, there were few if any Chinese students at the 1,900-student campus, let alone any with political ambitions. By 2010, there were 9, and this year Davidson has 35 students from China.
The growth has come through recruiting, said Kaye-Lani Laughna, who is the college’s admissions officer in charge of China.
“The increase is mostly due the fact that Davidson only started traveling to China to meet with prospective students in the last four years, while many colleges/universities have been traveling there for 10+ years,” she said in an email.
Those efforts, with a little help from former Davidson-turned-NBA basketball star Stephen Curry, have “helped put Davidson on the map for Chinese students looking to study in the US,” Laughna said.
FROM CHINA TO THE SGA
Yang is a sophomore political science major from Wenzhou, south of Shanghai in coastal Zhejiang Province. He’s something of a foreign student trailblazer: He also was the first international student body president at his high school, Charlotte Country Day School.
But he doesn’t see his election this week in terms of his international roots. “International or not international is not the issue here,” he said. “The issue is that students (at Davidson) see that they can achieve what they want to achieve, regardless of what their background is.”
Saying he feels honored to be elected, Yang turned the focus to his supporters. “I am confident and eager to serve because I have been blessed with incredible friends who constantly provided unconditional support, innovative student activists who dare to challenge, as well as a community that desires inclusivity and encourages excellence,” Yang said.
He said his friends’ ideas “inspire and motivate me” and he invited all his fellow students to share their questions, concerns, and recommendations.
In a statement Thursday, Zevallos congratulated Yang on his victory and thanked his supporters for the aid and encouragement they provided through the campaign. “I am confident in Zi’s ability to bring people together and advance a positive agenda for our school, and I look forward to supporting him toward that end,” Zevallos said.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
Yang said his goals for the coming weeks are to set up a “supportive and accountable” cabinet, pursue an expansion of college library hours and take the first steps to confront challenges facing the college’s LGBT community, which were identified by a recent SGA report. Yang said he hopes to create a support group that will coordinate efforts to tackle the issue from a grassroots level.
Yang said that past events aimed at raising the visibility of the LGBT community on campus have consistently attracted the same group of students and have done little to expand awareness. Yang said he hopes to encourage small-scale conversations through initiatives such as events co-sponsored by the college’s Gay-Straight Alliance, visits by informed students to faculty department meetings and meetings with students one hall at a time.
Here’s the roster of all the new student officials elected in this week’s Category II elections:
- SGA President: Zi Yang
- SGA Vice President: VJ Brown
- Union Board President: Veronica Hudson
- Union Board Vice President: Kieran Lenahan
- Activities Tax Council Vice Chair: Stacy McElroy
- Civic Engagement Council Chair: Ana Pinheiro
- Committee on Campus and Religious Life Members: Ela Hefler; Max Feinstein; Sam Riehl; Sana Alimohamed
- Student Defense Advisors: Karl Wold and Rebecca Surratt
- Student Solicitors: Susanna Vogel and Robert Hagerty
Feb. 2, 2014, “Davidson College SGA voters guide 2014″