After an uncontested election Ashley Ancona and Jacky Arness are declared next year's student leaders
News | Matt Kelley
Ashley Ancona, right, said, "Sometimes we get stuck doing the same old thing. Those events are awesome, but as we grow, we need to challenge ourselves to do things a little differently."
With the recent approval of juniors-to-be Ashley Ancona and Jacky Arness as next year’s BSA president and vice president, the student body will be led by candidates who ran unopposed for the second consecutive year. The pair was still subjected to standard scrutiny of Student Life, and a vote – admittedly of meager turnout – took place online Feb. 26 and 27.
“I think BSA is really lucky, because I know they’ll have a fantastic team for next year,” said Austin Laroche, current student body president. “Honestly, even if there were five teams running against them, it wouldn’t matter. I think this team’s going to do a great job, and I’m really excited to work with them. I feel like this is the team that God has brought to BSA.”
While Ancona and Arness are both excited to be in leadership roles, they both said that they would have preferred to campaign against opponents.
“I think that a competition excites people,” Arness said. “If they see people actually running against each other, they want to know what they’re running for. ‘What do you stand for? What is BSA?’ Those questions come to the front of people’s minds.”
Both of next year’s leaders were bothered by the trend of unopposed elections. Arness said that it’s difficult to pinpoint a reason why so few students have welcomed the challenge of leading BSA the past two years, but she indicated that it may be due to a comfort-zone mindset. “People are very much routine-oriented – at least that’s been my perception,” she said. “So often trying new things doesn’t sound very appealing. If they haven’t been involved in the past, it’s not really on their radar.”
Ancona attributed the trend to early graduation – the same problem plaguing enrollment numbers and the university coffers – and the popularity of study abroad programs. It appears to be getting more difficult to find good candidates. By the time students are mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared to lead, many of them are seeking off-campus opportunities or already starting their careers.
Another problem is that the student population lacks knowledge about BSA and its leadership, something that Ancona and Arness want to address directly. The leadership team indicated that its early priority would be “bridge-building,” connecting BSA to other organizations and institutions in the school. The goal is that educating and engaging involved students in other areas will increase participation and leadership.
With capable students having to decide where to allocate their time – as an RA, in athletics, for Welcome Week, as a part of BSA or in countless other ways – it’s easy for these groups to contend for the attention of those who want to get involved.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re competing against each other, when really we’re working for the same cause: to make everyone’s experience at Bethel University the best it possibly can be,” Ancona said. “My biggest goal is to see how we can work with those other organizations so students don’t feel like they’re picking between one and another.”
Ancona pointed directly to the athletic department as an example, saying that BSA needs to do a better job supporting teams and athletes if it wants to tap into the leadership potential already present in sports.
Arness reiterated the goal of building connections, adding that Bethel’s size gives its student body the opportunity to be more collaborative, compared to larger schools where factions are more common and divisive.
While Bethel’s size isn’t new to Ancona, the campus itself is. A year ago she was at Indiana Wesleyan University, frustrated by certain school policies and searching for an alternative that better fit her academic needs and personality. After finding a home at Bethel this year, she’s poised to take over as the BSA president, who also serves as president of the student body.
Some may see her limited time on campus as a hindrance, but Ancona sees the experience at IWU as an advantage. She said that time at another school has helped her see more clearly what Bethel’s true assets are and where the university needs to improve.
The next step in the process is hiring a team of executives to manage specific facets of BSA and work directly under Ancona and Arness.
With the exception of a few select tasks reserved for the BSA president – namely meeting regularly with President Jay Barnes and occasionally with the Board of Trustees – the president and vice president are free to divide responsibilities as they see fit. Although they have months to adjust, the pair sees Arness in constant communication with the executives, with Ancona’s input reserved for final decisions.
At this point, Ancona and Arness don’t know all the nuances of what their jobs will be next year, but as Laroche trains them, the picture will become clearer. According to Laroche, that learning process is one of the most rewarding aspects of the position.