A New Era Of Programming
Jack Fitzpatrick and His Term as Vice President
Mary Hamula | 3/17/16 4:37pm
| Updated 3/22/16 12:05pm
American Word Magazine
Disclaimer: This article was written by Mary Hamula who is also a member of the executive board of the Student Union Board, which is overseen by Jack Fitzpatrick.
The first thing that jumps out at you in Jack Fitzpatrick’s corner of the Student Government offices is the list on the whiteboard. What he calls his “Wonk list,” it is filled with adjectives that students use to describe what they care about, followed, of course, by “wonk.” Tech wonk, media wonk, environmental wonk, it encompasses nearly every group of students at the school. “I have this list, and whenever someone comes into the office,” Fitzpatrick said, “I ask ‘if you have any additions to the list…please add them and we’ll see what we can do.’ I’m all about trying to make sure that every student has representation through programming.”
Programming, which is the planning and scheduling of all major events and speakers that happen on campus, is one of the most essential parts of American University student life. Fitzpatrick, the current Student Government Vice President, oversees the three major areas of programming: Student Union Board, Kennedy Political Union and Founder’s Day, and he took the office determined to make everyone feel heard. With nearly every item on his Wonk list checked off, it’s clear that him and his cabinet have gone above and beyond to make all AU students feel as if they have been represented through university programming. “The big one was literature recently,” he said, “and guess who wrote a book profiling President McKinley? Karl Rove…[the Wonk list] keeps me very focused on attainable goals.”
In fact, each part of his cabinet had its own aim towards the office’s overall goal of increased diversity and inclusion. The Kennedy Political Union, led by Director Valeria Ojeda-Avitia, wanted to make sure at least 50 percent of their speakers were people of color. They have worked towards this through speakers like Patrisse Cullors and the upcoming Wonk of the Year recipient Donna Brazile. Tam Sackman, Director of the Student Union Board, approached the semester with a diverse list of genres she hoped to bring to campus, ranging from electro/pop, to hip-hop, to comedy, which all have been achieved through acts such as The White Panda and Rae Sremmurd. Lastly, Founder’s Day Director Sydney Baldwin wanted to make sure that this Founder’s Day Ball was the largest on record, and that Student Government was trying its hardest to make sure that every student who wanted to attend could. “She had the wonderful idea of splitting it up into classes to cut down on the rush for tickets,” Fitzpatrick said about Sydney, “and that really helped a lot. And food didn’t run out. We had food as a priority too, and we made budgetary changes, we adjusted so that that could happen.” Fitzpatrick felt it was important to the success of university programming to let his directors run with their own goals and have freedom. “I had goals, and I tried to make sure that the people I picked had goals that aligned with mine,” he said.
While his cabinet has achieved many of its goals and he has achieved many of his own, his term has not come without setbacks. “AU in general has a bureaucracy that is difficult to navigate a lot of the time,” he said, “And there are things that happen that we can’t foresee happening because that is the way we don’t think something should work.” He also acknowledges that not all the goals he laid out in his platform will be achieved, but discussed how he does his best to make sure the spirit of this goals at the very least comes through in some way. “I wanted to have a grant just for arts organizations, and that didn’t happen…But I made sure that we celebrated the arts in different ways. At Founder’s Day, we had On a Sensual Note perform.” But despite all of the success, Fitzpatrick still faces the scrutiny that with being an elected official. “I encourage discussion,” Jack said on how he deals with negative feedback, “and that’s something that I’ve always been about.” Recently, Fitzpatrick and KPU came under criticism for both neglecting the school’s politically conservative population and planning events to include those same students. But he has used this criticism to fuel his motivation to pursue his goals. When KPU received a tweet criticizing them for not bringing enough conservative speakers to campus, Valeria sat down with that person and engaged in a discussion that eventually led to an event. “That makes me really happy,” Fitzpatrick explained, “Listening to students and planning events for everyone…not just Student Government.”
Fitzpatrick’s favorite memory of this term, and an event that truly highlights this dedication to the inclusion of all students, is bringing Bill Nye to AU. When discussing the reception and reaction to this, Jack became visually emotional. “It’s Bill Nye, it’s childhood,” Fitzpatrick reminisced. One of his favorite parts of this event was watching science students and professors get so excited and engage with the event. “They’re always forgotten,” he said. The Kennedy Political Union, who oversaw the event, also planned a reception for the Science Department during which professors and others had the opportunity to engage directly with Bill Nye. “He knew some of the research they were doing,” he said, “Bill Nye was asking about that, and that makes me so happy.” Bringing Bill Nye to campus had been discussed and attempted for nearly three years.
With events such as Bill Nye, Patrisse Cullors, Rae Sremmurd, Jessica Williams and Mike Birbiglia, it is clear that this year was one of the most diverse and expansive for programming at American University. Nearly all of the items of Fitzpatrick’s list have been crossed off, indicating that almost every member of the student body has been directly targeted in some way, and had an event that made them feel heard and included. “I want to be known as someone who really listened to the students,” Fitzpatrick said regarding his legacy, “and reflected that in everything the cabinet did. We listened to students, we responded to problems.” With more events and speakers to come before Fitzpatrick’s term officially ends, his legacy and influence on the way programming is run is only bound to expand and grow.
Click here to read the full transcript of the interview and learn more about Jack’s term.