The power couple behind GV’s 2018-2019 Student Senate

Courtesy / Rachel Jenkin

Courtesy / Rachel Jenkin

McKenna Peariso

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With the conclusion of their time on Grand Valley State University’s Student Senate, President Rachel Jenkin and VP Morgan Mattler divulge to Lanthorn Associate Editor, McKenna Peariso, the relationship they managed to keep mostly ‘on the DL’ all year. 

McKenna Peariso:Tell me about each of your ventures into student senate. 

Morgan Mattler: Student government was actually something I had done senior year of high school, my good buddies convinced me to get involved and I kind of regretted not doing it all of high school. So I thought why not immerse myself into college through student government? I was one of those lucky couple of freshmen that applied for the freshman seat and got in. 

Rachel Jenkin: I was just the opposite I didn’t do anything my freshman year. Then I was walking through Kirkhof and people from Student Senate were tabling for elections and they gave me a free coffee mug which made me feel obligated to run because of that free coffee mug. I knew one or two people that were on student senate but I didn’t know anything they did and I wanted to get involved in some way and I absolutely loved it. 

MP: What do you think are some of your biggest accomplishments from senate?

RJ: Probably the thing I’m most proud of… would be the student speaker at graduation. That was huge. Not just to be the very first speaker but to ask for that and have administration say ‘that’s a great idea, but it’s not gonna happen right now. Then to completely turn around and ask me to be that person, see what that process looks like, how many people have applied for this upcoming commencement. It’s been really exciting. Probably the Board of Trustees thing [too] has just been huge because that in and of itself has been a lot more political than I ever expected. To go through the rollercoaster of being told ‘no this isn’t going to happen’, being tossed around by the administration to then coming up with the resolution that some people support a lot and some people are very against. It kind of challenges you to be like ‘do I want to do this?’, ‘are people gonna be upset with the results’. I think I’m proud of taking that chance. The Ottawa County Commissioners Meeting was huge. That was something that I’ve been talking about with Greg Samuels since like June. To see how many people came out for it, the results of it, the relationships that got started with the water initiative, with transportation and the meetings that have come out of that I’ve been really proud of. We did a protest for the Title IX changes … that was the first time I ever led a protest and that was really, really cool. At a student government conference like a month following a lot of people were asking how we did it and that was really empowering. This is kind of a smaller thing but one of the things I wanted to work on was safety and I was talking about that with the dean of students in the fall. He suggested a safety walk, and it was just a couple of students we had there but the fact that the administration turned around our notes from that safety walk.That was really cool to know our concerns were being heard out like that.

MM: Mostly my role is behind the scenes, logistical stuff. I mean I truly did enjoy supervising all the committee vice presidents, that was a true honor. Some of my highlights were working with Rachel on the Ottawa County Commissioners Meeting as well as the night walk. That was something I was really passionate about. A big part of the executive VP is to invite [certain] guest speakers and I had a lot of fun with that this year. A lot of people complained about bringing in too many cause then meetings would run long, but we got some really cool people to come in this year. Between Brian Calley, President Haas came twice, Scott Vansingel which was huge. 

RJ: He definitely doesn’t visit every university in the State.

MM: Absolutely not and that’s truly because Rachel spoke at Lansing and advocated [for more funding] so well that he wanted to come in. 

MP: What were some of your biggest challenges this year?

RJ: To give some context about the VP roles, this year was very odd with the amount of turnover we had. Normally we have to fill about six seats in the fall and I think our number overall reached to like 14. To kind of be the guidance process for people, we were the only people returning to cabinet and everyone else was new, it takes a lot of emotional energy. Trying to get everyone on the same page takes a lot of work. 

MM: Yeah, I mean it was very weird year. We had a lot of people leave in the beginning of the year so that made BOV (Battle of the Valley’s) all the more challenging. Although a lot of freshman that had just joined did step up for the occasion. For me, my biggest challenge was trying to both manage delegating to people that I know would follow through as well as just getting more people involved. The academic hardship as well as just the general stress and weight of it all. There really is a lot of pressure put on you.

RJ: I think for me it was probably the balancing of everything. One just within senate because you have to be able to talk to administrators in a way they can consider you a coworker but also deliver student needs in a way they find important. You also have to talk to students so you’re empathetic and listening to them. While also trying to guide and run a cabinet and senate meetings. Everything else that I was doing [outside of senate] benefitted the role of being President. I think it really challenged me to define what being a student meant.

MP: When did your relationship start? Did senate bring you together?

MM: Yes, senate did. We were both on cabinet last year, she was the VP of campus affairs and I was the VP of public relations, so we already had a really good working dynamic together. Even at that initial cabinet retreat I thought Rachel was cute and super smart, really funny and so we immediately struck up a really good friendship. We stayed really good friends through the fall semester and then got closer in the winter.

RJ: It was right before elections, like two weeks before, we went to El Azteca and that was like our first date. There was a lot of conversations about senate because before this year their weren’t very many senate relationships and they were really lowkey. So, we didn’t want to be those people, especially in the roles we were wanting to hold, but we kind said let’s just take the chance. We kept it a secret for awhile. A couple of people knew about it. We didn’t tell anyone on cabinet until our cabinet retreat which was in July. There was a lot of shock.

MM: Yeah we were so nervous but we thought it was best to tell cabinet first because these are our closest friends that we’re going to be working with all year. We needed them to be on our team before anyone else.

RJ: And there was never really a big announcement to everyone else on the body, they kind of just found out through Instagram or whatever. We told cabinet they weren’t responsible for telling people but if they ask to just not gossip about us but be straight up with them. For the most part people were really chill about.

MM: People have been really receptive and we do a good job of separating our personal and our work overall. 

RJ: Although the first person that did find out is Bob Stoll. That was probably the scariest conversation I had because we weren’t close at the time. Now Bob is like my second dad.

MM: We love Bob Stoll. Get that on record, I love Bob Stoll.

RJ: After knowing him for two or three weeks being in this role and coming to him like ‘Hey, just so you know Morgan and I are dating’. I was really afraid of how he would respond but the first thing he said to me was ‘congratulations’. Which was really cute and made me really happy. He then proceeded to tell me for the next 25 minutes all of the senate relationships that have ever happened and how someone proposed during a GA once. And I just thought if Bob is okay with it than everyone else can be okay with it.

MP: Tell me about holding these powerful, influential roles in senate while being in a relationship that was on the down-low.

RJ: Senate has definitely been a huge part of our relationship. People say you shouldn’t work with who you date and that it’s an odd dynamic but I feel like it’s made us stronger than anything else. I’m a huge senate geek so to have someone be on the same level of understanding, it’s really empowering. We save a lot of conversations for after meetings, trying to put things into context of putting on our business faces so to speak. We would meet before or after each meeting and kind of debrief not just for our own relationship but there is a power dynamic between our roles in and off itself. So trying to manage that has been interesting.

MM: I think equal time. We each put so much time into senate a week, easily 20 hours a week. And we always ensure to cut out a lot of time to just hangout together. Whether that’s after a meeting or just other nights of the week, we really do try to spend time together. We kind of can have that separate senate life and personal life, while recognizing that it’s going to intertwine. It always does.

RJ: I don’t know. I really think it does have it’s benefits in that you have someone who knows what helps you destress at the end of the day and already know what your biggest worries are. I think it makes that time when you are personally together a lot easier to detach from, because you may have the same shared worries already. Knowing that they have something big on their plate and being able to say ‘I know you can do it because I’ve seen you do it before’. That’s not something that everybody can attest to so I think that’s special.

MP: Who still doesn’t know?

MM: We are out of the open, like everyone knows. I think it became that way early fall. All people senate-wise know. President Haas definitely doesn’t. 

RJ: I feel like that’s just because he’s kind of naive because I’ve brought Morgan as a date to every single event. Also, Bob tells a lot of administrators for us and I know that he told the dean because he told me afterwards. The dean was like ‘I had no idea’ like well we aren’t going to be holding hands in our meetings, so I wouldn’t expect you to. 

MM: A lot of administrators still I would say don’t know. Felix Ngassa knows. Felix is the chair for the university academic senate.

RJ: Andy Beachnau in housing knows. But not a lot of people I feel like know, which is interesting.

MP: What is your favorite memory together on senate?

MM: I have one it’s really funny. We worked so hard on the Ottawa County Commissioners Meeting and it was really historic. A big accomplishment for the both of us. And Greg DeYoung wrapped up his meeting with the Ottawa County Commissioners and said ‘I want to thank Rachel Jenkins and Morgan Matters then he banged his gavel it was just a really funny moment.

RJ: *laughs* That was a quote for the rest of the year, him getting our last names wrong. Mine’s a little different. This was before people knew about our relationship. But I think cabinet retreat was a huge thing for me, to be able to plan that together. It wasn’t so much the event itself but I think revving up for the senate year together. It put a lot of exciting emotions in me and I think both of us bounce off each other really well for that. It’s really exciting to see the person you love doing something they’re passionate about. It was really cool to plan that together, I really enjoyed that.

MP: What do you think each other’s biggest accomplishment on senate was that you’re most proud of?

MM: I would say it’s a double-sided thing, one is the student speaker at commencement. People think it was a simple Rachel asked and Rachel received but she had to jump over a lot of hurdles. All of the administrators had said no at first so for her to push the administration, stand up to President Haas and everybody else. Then for them to come around and say we want you to be the first … it’s just really cool and really inspiring she did that. Then seeing both professional and definitely personally as her boyfriend, what she’s gone through with the Board of Trustees stuff this year. She’s fought so hard for student representation as well as a student seat. You know, she may have ignited the fire, started the war… but for her to kind of start that and write a resolution that the administration can somewhat get behind was really big for her too.

RJ: It’s hard because most of the things I’m proud of you for are with the fraternity. I feel like you carry this kindness and responsibility towards others in everything that you do. Being able to balance the work of the fraternity and senate has been huge, you’ve invited so many guys from the fraternity to senate some people were like ‘AEPi is taking over’. But I would view it as the exact opposite in that some people once their done with GA are done talking about Senate. But you brag about it in every context. And I think that really puts the word out there as to what we’re doing and what we’re good for and that gets other people excited to join. Even beyond that, the fact that you have stepped up in so many different places. Like this Haasta La Vista thing is not in your job description but you have put so much energy, time and commitment into that. Not like a specific accomplishment but being able to be a humble leader because so much of what being E-VP is behind the scenes and people don’t recognize that at all and you don’t get many thanks. So being able to continuously put in the same amount of energy and care even though no one is seeing that is really admirable. 

MP: What are your plans for next year?

MM: I am (stepping down from senate) and I’m really sad about it. A little part of me wishes I wasn’t but at the same time I have a lot of career things to figure out. I’ve been on senate since the first week of my freshman year of college I have never not been on student senate. So, it is time unfortunately to turn the page and start a new chapter. Kind of put myself into whatever post-grad is going to look like.

RJ: As much as I think the senate is going to miss Morgan I give him a lot of props for taking his senior year off. I wouldn’t trade this year for anything in the world but I am taking a gap year because of the sole fact I lost so much time during my senior year and I have no idea what I want to do. So I’m hoping I’m going to get a job at Grand Valley and then apply for grad schools and study for the LSAT during this next year to try and figure some things out. So that’s the plan for me, I’ll definitely still be in the area. I mean Grand Valley has given me so much and I don’t want to just leave that, I think there’s still a little bit more for me. I don’t know, I feel like they’ve taught me so much and part of my future might be working at a university and to learn about that more from a worker standpoint than a student one could be really beneficial. It’s also kind of the easier year I’ve needed after being so busy. 

MP: What do you want the GV community to know?

MM: I truly believe this is the best university in the state of Michigan for a number of reasons, going from student support all the way to affordability. Everything. I truly believe Grand Valley is a staple and Student Senate has such amazing power to make great change, big or small. I know there’s thousands and thousands of students that don’t know who we are don’t what we’ve done with our work, but I want them to know that we really tried our hardest. Whether that was the outreach to students I started two years ago, trying to get senate out into Grand Valley community more. Or in knowing that they had, in my opinion which is completely objective, the best Student Senate president in recent memory. I truly believe Rachel was a student-centered student senate president. Just for every reason and for things that make common sense. She has this passion for improving the student community here, that’s why she’s been so successful. I just want the Grand Valley students to know we tried our best to serve them well.

RJ: One that, you have ownership of this place, I think that’s something a lot of people forget. This experience, senate in general not just being president, has been so empowering to realize that you can ask for anything. If you feel like you’re not getting what you deserve than you can fight for that. You don’t have to grit your teeth through it, and I see a lot of students doing that. To know that you paid for this you have a sense of ownership with it, therefore you can make it whatever you want. Pay attention I’d say also, be aware of what’s going on and if you don’t like it, interject yourself into it. Because you are a part of it, you paid to be here, you chose this. People owe you what you thought you were getting. I feel like it’s our job as senators to hold people accountable to that. I have been really proud to be a part of that experience but I hope that I also don’t stop after this year. I want to continually realize, if you were in a space you own part of that space and be able to mold that to the way you think is right. I want people to feel that everywhere that they go.