SGA presidential candidate, Tate Gooch has a name you won’t forget. He jokingly assumes his last name originates from the small town of Goochland, Va., but he’s “not too big into the history of it.” When asked his age, he thinks about it for a second, finally replying, “twenty-one… it’s the first time I’ve ever had to say that.” His birthday was over a month ago. Classwork is the only thing he feels like he does anymore, he’s busy.
Gooch and the three other 2020 SGA executive candidates are simultaneously running a race they’ve all already won. For the first time in the University of North Alabama’s SGA history, all candidates are running unopposed.
“[It makes] you think, ‘Well, what could we have done?’,” Gooch said regarding the unopposed election. “Because I think a good [representation] of the student body is having their options of who to pick.”
Gooch has called Florence home since moving here from Nashville at the age of six. UNA wasn’t his first, second or third choice for college during his junior year of high school, but the stigma of not going to the school of his area stuck with him.
“I just couldn’t get past that [stigma],” Gooch said. “I thought about it over time and realized [UNA] was the best choice for me and I really haven’t regretted it since.”
Gooch has held multiple positions around campus from the Social Committee Chair of the Freshman Forum, SGA Chief-of-Staff and he’s currently a member of the Student Welfare Committee. When it comes to being president, he has a clear understanding of what he believes the role encompasses.
“I really believe the main role of [the SGA] president is… being [the] liaison between university administration and the students,” Gooch said. “It’s… trying to push [the student’s] values and setting the students as the number one priority and making decisions revolving around that idea.”
Gooch is currently pursuing a business and finance double major with hopes of going to graduate school and completing his CPA and CFA. He’s always been business minded. He recalls a time during his childhood when his dad gave him $5 to do yardwork.
“I didn’t like doing yardwork,” Gooch said.
He went on to pay each of his two neighbors a dollar to complete the work for him, he pocketed the remaining three dollars and business has been his interest ever since.
Gooch was initially thrown off when he learned he would be running for president unopposed. SGA’s publicity among the student body is a critical factor in question by Gooch.
“Most people really don’t know how important [the] legislative process [is],” Gooch said. “[An unopposed election] honestly gives us another opportunity to restructure if possible… making [elections] a priority.”
Running alongside Tate Gooch is the candidate for senate vice president, Carson Brite. Brite is no stranger to the title of “vice-president.” He currently serves as vice president for Alpha Tau Omega as well as vice president of administration for UNA’s IFC.
Much like Tate Gooch, UNA wasn’t Brite’s first school of choice. Ultimately, he fell in love with the campus and the feeling of home he felt here.
“I love the community atmosphere [UNA has],” Brite said. “I love how I never see an unfriendly face on campus… I feel like I’m walking into my home.”
Before learning he would be running unopposed, Brite’s campaign slogan was everything you’d expect it to be from a guy with a last name so memorable: “Shine with Brite.” He’s found his last name to be a motivation to accomplish simply what it implies. His focus is set on illuminating the achievements of SGA.
“I really like to lift things up,” Brite said. “[I like to] celebrate things and [to] make sure people know all the great things we’re doing in this organization.”
Brite and Gooch both share a concern for legitimizing the SGA and the senate on campus. Brite hopes to educate students on the roles and importance of SGA through his future position.
“It’s really a prestigious thing to be on; to serve your peers and the student body,” Brite said. “I want [the senate] to become more involved in the everyday works and operation on campus.”
A persistent issue SGA has faced throughout its history is its major participation involving only a select demographic of the student body.
“If you look at the current makeup of the senate, it’s not a very diverse senate,” Brite said. “We’re only hearing the voices from people in this certain demographic.”
The inclusion Brite felt when first coming to UNA, the feeling of being home, the smiling faces, the welcoming atmosphere, aren’t attributes most students share when they think of SGA. SGA’s validity among the student body is increased the more active SGA is among the campus. “I feel like if you have a strong, legitimate senate and a strong, legitimate SGA, then the relevancy [of SGA] among the students’ lives is raised significantly,” Brite said.
The solution to an unopposed SGA election is emphasized by the goal to make SGA more relevant and understood by the general student body.
Callie Olinger, current chair of SGA elections and recruitment, says the orginization is doing everything it can to ensure students know who the candidates are despite the election being unopposed.
“With these circumstances,more so than ever, it’s important for [the candidates] to really get out there and show the students who will be representing them,” Olinger said.
Olinger is serving her first year on SGA as a sophomore. The welcoming environment of UNA and the ability to affect positive change is what led her here and to ultimately be a part of SGA.
“I love how you can make an impact here,” Olinger said. “You’re not overwhelmed by being in a sea of faces, you can actually be a name, not a number.”
Olinger says the obligations that come with candidacy are a big factor in this year’s election being unopposed. Originally there were eight candidates, two running for each of the four executive positions, but many candidates dropped out after the responsibilities became too great.
“I think it’s really important for [potential candidates] to understand [the commitment and requirements],” Olinger said. “Some of those factors [are] classes and people wanting to stay on top of their academics if they’re going to run [and to] be able to fully put their all into what their doing.”
Rachel Pierce, the candidate for SGA treasurer, said the qualifications for her position are the main reason she’s running unopposed. The previous candidate for the position was forced to drop out of the race because of certain requirements they didn’t meet.
“You have to have taken Accounting 291 and be either taking or completed 292 when you assume office [to run for treasurer],” Pierce said.
Peirce is the youngest of the four candidates, but her qualifications for the position still stand strong. She is a part of the student budget oversight committee and is currently working towards a major in accounting.
Although a member of the budget committee, Pierce complains that her own budget for buying clothes is stretched too thin by her love of thrifting. Pierce is not afraid to tell people what items of her outfit were thrifted, nor is she hesitant to ask for what thrift store they’d recommend.
There’s a contagious excitement in her tone when Pierce talks about practically anything, but that excitement is especially clear when she talks about UNA. When asked about the unique thing UNA offers above other schools, she doesn’t have to think about it long.
“Well, of course [it’s] the lions,” Pierce said.
Peirce hopes she can find new, creative ways to fulfill her future duties as SGA treasurer.
“There’s not many ways you can be creative with the budget,” Pierce said. “[But] treasurer does [organize] the SGA scholarship fundraising and the fundraising for the lions. [It’s] really cool. [It] makes [the position] even more interesting.”
Pierce believes the SGA has an importance much greater than the student body lends it and she hopes that will change in this upcoming year.
“If students believe [SGA] can make a difference, it really can make a difference,” Pierce said. “It’s an avenue for students’ voices to be able to be heard and taken further to who needs to hear [them].”
Makenzie Bullard, the candidate for SGA secretary, emphasized the importance of SGA and believes it’s something that every student needs to know about.
“I think it’s really important that students [who] maybe aren’t involved, know about SGA,” Bullard said. “It’s really important to know who your senators are and to get involved.”
Bullard, although a native of the Shoals area, never thought UNA would one day be her home. She decided to choose UNA after her parents moved to Wisconsin following her high school graduation.
“I told myself that I would be in an area that was like home, but it would still be so new to me because my parents were going to be across the country,” Bullard said. “It was really a unique situation for me.”
Bullard says her experience at UNA has given her a new outlook on just how special her home is.
“I always thought that everybody that I would meet [at UNA] would be just like someone I met in high school,” Bullard said. “[But] my mind has been blown by all the different religions and cultures I’ve been exposed to. It makes me see that my hometown in Florence, Alabama, is so much bigger than I ever thought it could be.”
Bullard became a part of Freshman Forum when she first came to UNA, going on to be selected as vice president. The experience she gained from the position revealed the leadership potential that she never knew she had. Bullard continued in SGA, going on to be senate pro-tempore during her sophomore year.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get to be in [SGA exec] since my freshman year,” Bullard said. “I knew that I wanted to continue that, so I thought that secretary was the best step for me to take next.”
The position for SGA secretary was the last to be announced as unopposed. Bullard was disappointed to find out she wouldn’t have an opponent.
“I was so looking forward to the excitement of a campaign and getting that experience,” Bullard said. “It’s not an accurate representation of the student body that we’re running unopposed.”
Despite the disappointment, Bullard is certain that each of the candidates are excellent in their respective positions. The uniqueness of the situation is amplified by the individuality of each candidate.
You wouldn’t know it by just seeing it, but like the other three candidates, Makenzie Bullard’s name is unique. Named after her great grandmother, she didn’t realize just what it meant to her until her grandmother passed.
“It really made me realize what legacy is held in just the power of a name,” Bullard said.
As the University of North Alabama’s SGA continues to evolve, finding its own name and the importance of its position on campus, the legacy it leaves behind is backed by the four unopposed candidates. Much like their own names, this election is uniquely theirs.