Q & A with Katie Finney and Sterling Harer.
By Abby Petersen
Bethel students elected Katie Finney and Sterling Harer as student body president and vice president for the 2017-2018 school year Feb. 23. Finney, a junior business major, was a part of Student Activities before campaigning with Harer, a junior business and political science major who has served as the Executive Chair of Student Senate. Armed with a campaigning budget of $300 and only one week to advertise, the two attributed their success to their face-to-face interactions with voters. The day after election results were announced, The Clarion interviewed Finney and Harer to see what’s next in store for them and the Bethel community they will serve.
Why did you decide to run?
K: Well I had been really impacted I guess by Zoe and her desire to run and how she has ran. Just being friends with her and so I’ve got to see a lot of the presidency and BSG (Bethel Student Government) as a whole through her. And so that has pushed me along with the leadership skills that I do have that I wanted to develop more and I have a passion for Bethel and so I thought this would be a good way to do it.
S: And I love BSG and I’ve been in it the last two years. I think I’ve gotten to do a lot of things through that and it’s opened a lot of cool doors and I would love to be able to like turn around and be able to provide those opportunities for other students to be in BSG and I just think of like Taji who has invested a lot and has been kind of like a mentor to me and I would love to be able to serve as that role for other people. I kind of view it as a position that you can like invest in other people in addition to serving as vice president.
Tell me a little about how the campaigning started. Walk us through how that started. How did that come to be? What are the steps?
K: We started talking about running together late November, early December.
S: It was a very quick turnaround for us. I know some of the other teams had been knowing they were going to run for a long time. We just kind of jumped in and applied. There was a candidates’ meeting and then we had four days to get our material together. So we put our platform together and then we had to pick our pamphlets and our handouts and stuff.
K: And then you have to get all of it approved by the election committee. So it’s a lot of making sure you have your posters and all your material ready but also approved.
S: And then that Thursday (before election day) you can start marketing. So that was an exciting day. It was kind of the first day we had done anything publically.
Why do you think you were successful in your campaign? Why do you think you were elected?
S: I think our strategy put a big emphasis on face-to-face interaction. So we went door knocking at the dorms. A lot of people… don’t know (who is) running, so if you can just talk to them and introduce yourself, I think that makes them more likely to vote for you.
K: We thought it was really important that people have a hard copy of why they should run for us. We could tell people ‘you should vote for us’ and people could tell their friends, but the question is ‘why should I vote for you guys?’ And so, with that, those flyers we were able to give … this is a reason why and people could keep it and read through it and keep it throughout the week. I think that that was pretty beneficial for us.
How did you find out that you were elected?
K: We got an email. All the candidates were going to get an email between 6 and 10 p.m. (Feb. 26) … We got emails though at 11 in the morning so I was not expecting it. Sterling actually called me and I didn’t even think ‘oh, maybe he found out,’ I thought ‘why is he calling me? I’m going to church right now.’ And he just freaks out! I didn’t think it was him! I honestly said ‘who is this?’ I thought someone was messing with me.
S: I was sitting in Sunday school at church and I checked my phone and I saw (the message). They didn’t want us to tell anyone, but I got up and I walked out and I called Katie and I called my mother to tell her. Saturday and Friday I was pretty anxious about it, though. It was nice just to have an answer.
Now that you are elected, how does the transition work? What do you do for the rest of the year?
K: We’re going to be training underneath Zoe and Taji. So (we’ll have) meetings every week with them, getting introduced to different concepts. Also, applications for the executive team are coming out right now so we’ll have to go through the process of (hiring) them.
S: We’ll have to interview a lot of people … and I’m really excited for that. This year I love being on the executive team and just having that community. We’ve become really close this year, so I’m really excited to see what kind of dynamics we have next year.
What are your first plans for when you’re in office?
S: We think Zoe and Taji have done a really good job this last year. BSG has a really good reputation with professors and administration. We want to be really intentional about reaching out to faculty and administration to make sure those relationships are good.
K: When we get in office, I think one of the first things that we will do is – what Sterling said – being intentional to make and build those relationships, because we know that it’s important to have a foundation of a solid relationship where you can build up from there.
What’s the biggest thing you hope to accomplish in your time in office?
K: I want to see a shift in the culture here at Bethel … I know that students don’t always feel like it’s an inclusive culture, that it’s a very stereotypical Bethel culture. I want to see (the community) be more inclusive, for people to feel welcomed and decide not to transfer because they actually want to stay here. And I think that can happen in a variety of different ways.
S: I want us to think outside of the box and really push BSG. There’s a culture in BSG that’s great but it kind of does the same things every year. I would really like us to reevaluate departments and think ‘Hey, what’s something new we could do this year that hasn’t been done before?’ And so I think it would be really cool to keep pushing BSG to try new things and experiment. Not every new event is going to be awesome, but I think it’s good to give it a shot.
I remember that you mentioned in the debate that you wanted to change the culture. What does taking steps toward that look like to you? What do you think you could do as president and vice president that could do that?
S: One of the things we ran on was opportunities for commuters and upperclassmen. When I was a commuter, we had events for commuters every month and I would like to see something like that happen again. But we just really want to be making sure that your non-traditional students feel like they can be a part of BSG and that their voices are being heard. Even with students of color on campus, we want to be really mindful of going down to the Cultural Connection Center and talking to people there. We want to be examples of what it means to engage in dialogue with all people, regardless of their background and viewpoints. I think that will start to change the culture when people know that we can still disagree and we’re still Bethel students at the end of the day.
Suppose something like what happened with the rock in September were to happen while you were in office. How do you think you would approach something like that? How do you want to deal with race issues at Bethel, or conflicts of that nature?
K: I think one thing that they did well was engaging in conversation about it. And I think I would push that more conversation needed to happen about it. I don’t think it’s acceptable to say “Can we not talk about this anymore?” I think it needs to be talked about, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. That’s hard. People do not like to do that. But I think it’s completely necessary.
What do you think will change for the average Bethel student with you being in office?
K: With Zoe and Taji having two years of leadership here in BSG and then us coming in, I think it’s going to look different. It’s going to be something new. I think that we’ll give a new look … of pushing BSG and doing new things. Students can expect to see new events and even new forms of advertising or new ways of communicating with the students.
S: I would want the average student – all students – to know that we’re advocates for them, our roles are as liaisons between student body and administration. I would just want students to know their voice is being heard. If they have concerns, we want to be able to be there to help address them and just really take their feedback into account.
How do you plan on being accessible to students?
S: One idea I have at least is to send out a survey to the student body periodically. One thing I think would help is advertising office hours more. Zoe and Taji have those every week but students don’t really come. I know some of our opponents running said ‘we would like to do office hours in the BC.’ I think that’s a great idea. Just to come out of the Loft and BSG offices and just go out to where students are. That’s something we did with our campaign. Don’t make voters come to you, go to them. We really want to go to where students are.
What are you nervous about for next year?
S: I’m nervous just with having the title of vice president. Having people look up to me for leadership and expecting me to make decisions is a super cool opportunity. But I was just thinking the other day how much Taji does. I was just thinking ‘Oh, that’s going to be me next year.’
K: I am extremely excited to be in the role of student body president, but I don’t want people to see me as superior, that I am not their classmate, that I am not their friend … I want people to be themselves around me. I really think it has to do with how I hold myself. That I am able to still engage in, just a normal, everyday conversation with someone.
Who do you think BSG, as a whole, isn’t reaching? Or, what do think is a weakness BSG has?
S: I would say a weakness in BSG right now is advertising who we are. I think that there’s this perception that there’s Student Activities, and then there’s Student Ministries, and then there’s United Cultures of Bethel. We’re all under the BSG umbrella. I would like BSG to move forward in a unified front.
How do you plan to address disagreements students have with the covenant, especially LGBTQ concerns?
S: I would just say we want to make sure students’ concerns are being heard, while also recognizing that students can’t change (the Covenant) a whole lot, because it is up to the Board of Trustees. So I don’t know if we’re going to push a lot to have it changed. But definitely making sure students’ concerns are being heard.
K: Also I think something that is important is that just because LBGTQ students might not feel that they are supported in the Covenant doesn’t mean that they’re not supported by students on campus. That’s part of the culture and the community that is extremely important. The support and the love needs to be shown regardless, and I think that’s a choice that we make by coming to Bethel. We’re choosing to be a part of this community. I think that embodies all people, not just people that abide by the Covenant, but everyone here that is a student.
S: I think it’s just in the way we talk about the Covenant, too. I think leadership at least needs to approach the covenant not as just this thing that’s like a bunch of rules for us to keep. I think we need to view it as an opportunity that sets standards for our community. I think the Covenant is a really cool document that shows an example of what we should aspire to. But how we frame the covenant discussion is important.
You mentioned in your campaign statements that you want to make faith an important and integral part of BSG and who you are when you’re in office. What does that look like for you? How do you tangibly intend to live that out?
K: I think we’ll do this through our executive team. With the amount of things that we will be doing, I think it would be very easy to go through the motions, running BSG like a business. But we don’t want to do that. We want to be able to build those relationships through our faith … And that’s something we’ve seen from Zoe and Taji. They’ve been very intentional about doing creating a culture within BSG that spills out to the rest of the campus.
S: I want to see a focus on the gospel. I think at Bethel, there’s this assumption that everyone is Christian and everyone’s saved, and I think we kind of have this culture that perpetuates that. But I want to acknowledge that Bethel can be like a mission field. We have the opportunity to share our faith with other people and show what it means to be a follower of Christ and be in relationship with God.
All of the candidates made promises. Some of those promises you’ll be able to keep, some you may not be able to. What is one promise you made that you know you can keep?
S: Our strategy was ‘don’t make any promises,’ because I’ve worked on the executive team this year. Plans are always changing. You can have a goal but you don’t always know what kind of circumstances are going to come up to effect that. But I would say students should know we always have their back. We are committed to them.
What do you really want the student body to know about you?
S: I would just say, kind of reflecting what we’ve said … You are wanted at Bethel. We appreciate the contributions you bring to our community, regardless of your background or where you come from or anything, we want you to feel at home here. And we want you to know you are welcome in BSG. We really value having you in the organization. Even just going to events. That’s awesome.
K: What I want students to know about us is that we truly are passionate about Bethel and that we want the next school year to be something special. We want it to be a year that you will remember. Whether it is something that BSG does directly, or has a hand in indirectly, we want you to be satisfied, happy and excited about your decision to either come to Bethel for their freshman (year) or to stay here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.