Student Government Spotlight: Shakima Williams-Jones

Shakima Williams-Jones is a Student Representative for the CUNY Governing Council and Co-Chair for the CUNY SPS Student Association. At CUNY SPS, she is pursuing her MS in Business Management and Leadership. For her career, she operates her own accounting and business management firm, Love Movement, LLC, serving clients within the entertainment, education and non-profit industry. In addition to being a mother of five, she also serves on the board of several non-profit organizations and schools. 

Were you always actively involved in student activities or the student government before SPS?

I wasn’t really involved in the student government when I was studying at CUNY Baruch College. At 20, I was going to school and going to work, then I had babies and switched my school from full-time to part-time. It didn’t really leave time for me to get involved in student government. Honestly, at that age, I probably did not see the importance of it. In high school, I was involved in a lot of things; I sang, I danced and I wrote scripts. I was also studying accounting in high school because I found out I was good at it. I had been so involved in high school and knew that it was great to speak your voice, but I also saw how difficult it was to get changes implemented, especially in a bureaucratic environment. When you go from a city public school to a city college, the bureaucracy is even worse. 

Baruch is a huge school and it did not take me long to figure out how unlikely it was for me to make the changes I wanted. I’m super busy, so I’m thinking whether or not it’s worth taking the time out of my schedule to get involved. I would have to ask myself: is it really going to matter? Is it really going to make the changes that students feel need to be made? How is it going to work? For lack of better words, it did not really compute. It was really low on the totem pole of priorities for me. 

SPS is a newer school, and what we have a say in makes a difference.

What inspired you to get involved with the student government?

When I got to SPS, I was older. My five children are 19, 18, 15, 12 and five years old, but I have greater management of my personal family and school life. I no longer have to commute for classes, so when I attend class it is purposeful and I enjoy it more. But I also feel that since SPS is a newer school what we have a say in makes a difference and I think that has a lot to do with our dean. He really listens to us. Our dean and all of his associate deans and staff really take the time to listen to us. I think part of why they understand us is because they are working adults and a lot of them are also attending school. Some of them even attend SPS. They understand what it is to be an “adult learner.” Most of us are going to SPS because we have busy lives and it is hard to say whether I can be somewhere on Tuesday and Thursday between 6-8 PM for 12 weeks or 15 weeks. If you say it is online learning and I just have to make sure we submit our assignments in when they’re due, I can do that. So, I can say I’m only going to school because SPS enables me to be able to participate in online learning and I’m grateful for that. 

Another inspiration was the student association, itself. The fledgling student association wasn’t something that already existed with prior issues and problems that needed to be fixed. It was brand new and I could be a part of building it and making it something great. It really appealed to me because I feel that I have a lot of different perspectives. Being a mom, being a person who works, and working towards a bachelor’s, and now a master’s, degree. I am genuinely able to say that I would not be in school if it were not for SPS. I was looking for someplace to go that would enable me to keep my work schedule and this was the first opportunity that I found that fit and worked for me. I liked the infrastructure. My accounting, logical brain enjoys that infrastructure and building a foundation from the ground up so that it works logically. That was the appeal of the student association to me. And I also like helping people, I love helping people. I sit on the board of some non-profit schools and one of the things I love to do is to go to the schools and talk to the teachers and the leaders, give them hugs and tell them that we appreciate them.

For me, sitting on the board of the student association is like giving a hug to all of us, even though I can’t necessarily hug every single student. I can, however, be here and advocate for the things that they tell us are important to them. I can give them a hug that way and help them by planning the events that they want to see and participate in. That’s a hug to me, helping to take care of all of us. When you’re as busy as all of us are, it’s nice to have someone take care of you. Someone that sees the struggles that you have and the obstacles that you’re going to face and who tries to set things up to make it easier to deal with. 

What was it like running for a position with the SPS student government?

It’s really weird, campaigning at SPS is different because you literally put a statement up online and people read it. Since we are an online school, you’re not going around and putting up posters and giving out cupcakes because it’s a completely different environment. That makes campaigning super easy because it’s literally just putting up your statement and hoping people read it and choose you. Of course, you let people that you know that you’re running and hopefully they let other people know but it really is just people reading your online statement or word-of-mouth being passed around. I really was just hopeful that people would read my statement and vote for me. 

What were the top three changes or goals that you had in mind when running for the position?

Once I was elected, my main goal was to build a bridge between the students and the staff. The very first student association did a survey and students said that they wanted a sense of community. So the goal from the very beginning has always been helping to build a sense of community. I’m so proud to have served on the student association for so long because of the things we have been able to accomplish. The things we’ve accomplished seem like simple things but they have been impactful. Every time we have our Spring Reception, more and more students show up. Doing our Student Leadership Conference, getting SPS into the National Honor Society, and other things like that are important. Those are things that we accomplished together and I’m super proud of that. 

My main goal was to build a bridge between the students and the staff.

I don’t know how quickly those things would have happened if we didn’t advocate and take on the work to do it. The staff at school already have so much stuff that they have to do. SPS has a small staff for the number of people that they serve and the school does a lot of things outside of campus, working with NYC to train workers and doing high school outreach. The SPS staff are busy doing great things and also still advocating for students to CUNY Central to show how important online learning is. They face the difficulty of people not understanding what we are because they don’t understand how we operate. Traditional schools are afraid of us, even though they are starting to embrace online learning because they have no choice, but they are afraid of us and what we do. We continue to grow our enrollment rates, our graduation rates and our staff. 

I went to Baruch, which is a top school. It was great being a well-known school. It rocked! But student life was not as great. I don’t have any current friends that I went with to Baruch. I have a ton from SPS! I still keep in touch with people that I met through student organizations or some sort of a meeting we had on campus, people that I still reach out to. It’s a very different experience. I think being online allows us to be more intimate that way since our classrooms are small.

The thing I am proudest of is us creating a sense of community.

What would you say was your proudest achievement being part of the government?

I don’t think it’s one accomplishment, per se. It’s students saying that they want a sense a community and us being able to create that community. Getting people into our building purposefully when we do any kind of event is a big deal. The CUNY SPS Abilities and Resources Committee hosts events focused on disabilities, and that makes me so tremendously proud. When these events are well-attended, that makes me proud. When we have our student leadership conferences, when we have our Spring Reception, when we have #GivingTuesdays, so many people show up. The thing I am proudest of is us creating a sense of community. Being able to give people what they say they want, by giving them opportunities to come into our building, meet with their professors and fellow students. There was just a Bachelor’s Degree meet-up where faculty from different disciplines were able to meet students and it was amazing.

You have to advocate for change and being part of the student association is a great way to do that.

Why is it important that the student body get to know how the student association works and how to potentially participate themselves?

It is a gateway to just participating in general. This year, I am also a poll worker. For the first time, we’re enabling early voting on weekends and on weekdays prior to Election Day. I did it because being part of the student association taught me how important it is to be civically involved. It taught me that you can’t complain about something if you’re not willing to go out and do the footwork. If you really want to see change, you have to be a part of the process that makes the change. You have to advocate for the change you want and being part of the student association is a great way to do that. I have met so many people that I would have not met otherwise by being a part of the student association because they were interested in what we had to say and became advocates. They help us to do the things that we want to do and to stop things we want to see stopped.

Wanting to see change also doesn’t mean that there’s something bad that needs to change. There are tons of good things happening. It’s just that something that could be really good is not happening or that it would be great if it was happening. It queues you up and tunes you in, on how you are as a single person and how you, as part of a group, can create change and bring more people in to create the ripple effect to create more change. It’s a gateway to understanding how important it is to be involved. It really helps with understanding how voting and advocacy work in the government by being involved at school. It matters, it always matters. It matters at our school. If you need something, there’s at least one other person that needs it and more than likely, there are a lot of other people that need it too.

It’s important for people to get involved in SA and our student community, because that is what we are.

What would you want students to know about participating with the Student Association?

We’ve had plenty of times where we had just enough people run, or at the last minute, we’re trying to convince more people to run so that we have enough votes. We’ve had instances where, due to life circumstances, people had to resign. I want people to understand that it’s important to get involved and that it pays back exponentially. It’s worth the time and work involved. But it is work. It’s important for people to get involved in SA and in our student community, because that is what we are. 

It’s almost like a different demographic overall, in terms of who CUNY SPS targets. Rather than competition or a threat, we are almost an extension of what the CUNY ecosystem can offer. 

Exactly! For example, we don’t accept freshmen. Anyone who comes to SPS must have attended college elsewhere first. That’s why we’re not a danger to other schools, we’re not going after college students directly from high school. Our students have gone to other colleges first and then they come to SPS because they would not be able to attend school any other way, so there is no danger there. We work in tandem with other CUNY schools. We operate differently, we have a different demographic and we advocate our other CUNY schools.

For more information on getting involved with the CUNY SPS Student Association, e-mail [email protected]

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