If junior Audai Shakour is elected Student Association president, he would become the fourth black student in six years to win the top position of a student body that is 7.9 percent black.
This year, three black candidates – Lamar Thorpe, Audai Shakour and C.J. Calloway – threw their hats in the ring for SA president. Shakour, who finished second in last week’s presidential election, is slated compete in a run-off after spring break against Ben Traverse.
Stephen Harris, co-president of the Black Student Union, attributed the trend of blacks becoming leaders to a desire by minority students to get involved and the fact that minority students can rely on one another.
“We support each other fully,” he said.
Lee Roupas, who ran unsuccessfully last year against SA President Omar Woodard, who is black, said it’s “encouraging to have strong minority candidates.” He added that black students make up a powerful voting constituency.
“The BSU is definitely a strong voting bloc on campus,” Roupas said. “Last year, I had first-hand experience of the difficulty of a real united front that Omar was able to pull together.”
Roupas said he gives credit to Woodard for being able to unite many student groups such as the BSU and get them to vote.
“I think I underestimated last year how strong Omar’s voting block was,” he said. “Especially among the BSU, the NAACP and (the Organization of Latin American Students), I just didn’t realize until we actually got the election results how strong and how diverse his coalition really was.”
Woodard said the trend of minority SA presidents is a “beautiful thing” that represents the type of atmosphere GW fosters.
“It shows that the GW community is socially progressive and it speaks volumes for our generation’s tolerance to racial and ethnic issues,” he said.
Woodard added that an expansion in black enrollment in 1998 and 1999 allowed for a stronger and more politically active community at GW.
The SA’s first black president, Kyle Farmbry, was elected in 1991, but it wasn’t until 2000 that another black, David Burt, took office. Following Burt, several minorities took over the post. Indian Roger Kapoor was president from 2001-2002, and Phil Robinson, a black student, succeeded him. Kris Hart, who is white, was president from 2003-2004.
Woodard, who said his candidacy had nothing to do with race, thinks that seeing minorities involved in SA politics inspires other blacks to run who would otherwise be discouraged at a white-dominated University.
“We have so many blacks running for office,” he said. “That shows the strength of the black community and says that race isn’t an issue here.”
Harris added that organizations such as the BSU focus on bringing people together and strengthening unity within the GW community, which can help prepare members for leadership roles.
“Just because you’re black doesn’t mean you can’t represent the entire GW community,” he said.
Of the past three black SA presidents, all were involved in the black community and belonged to University organizations such as the BSU or the NAACP. Woodard, a previous BSU president, said he took much of what he learned from his experience in that organization and applied it to his SA presidency.
On his Web site biography, Shakour boasts of his position on the NAACP’s executive board and his role as programming director for the Organization of African Students. But Shakour, who is half Indian and half black, said he did not run his campaign only through the support of the black community. Shakour failed to garner endorsements from any black organizations on campus, though he received support from Hindu, Sikh and Indian organizations.
He said, “When you run for office, you have to appeal to everyone and not just one group of people.”
contributed to this report.