Rachel Berns ’24 is a health sciences senior on the rise, determined to make a difference before she graduates. As Chapman’s new SGA (Student Government Association) President, she’s that much closer to achieving her goal.
A history of leadership
Berns’ interest in student engagement began in middle school and continued through high school with ASB (Associated Student Body).
“When I got to Chapman, I knew I wanted to continue those roles in student advocacy,” she said. “I wanted to take a behind the scenes approach and focus more on legislature and policies; how I can bring the student experience to the next level.”
Inspired by student leadership in high school and previous boards at Chapman, Berns joined the SGA as a freshman. “I started my first year as the Underclassmen Senator,” she said. “I oversaw all students who had 60 credits or less.”
From her sophomore to junior year, Berns held the position of Senator for Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, connecting more with her major. “I felt honed into my major and connected to my constituency. I was also the Speaker of the Senate during my junior year,” she shared.
Berns’ role as Speaker of the Senate last year allowed her to step into a leadership-focused position within the organization. It was at that time where she felt she truly understood what it would take to be president of the SGA.
“I got an inside look at what it would take to pull a presidential seat. I ran in February, was elected in March and sworn in by April.” Berns shared that since being sworn in, she has learned of the complex history of the organization and Chapman and cultivated her own executive council. The work started right away.
“There has been a lot of preparation for next year,” she shared. “Getting my board and supporting staff sworn in, training new senators and lots of meetings around strategic planning. It’s been a lot to wrap my head around, but it’s really fun and exciting.”
Hobbies and jobs on campus
Berns is involved in various areas of Chapman other than the SGA. Chapman is home to over 190 student organizations and clubs, some of which Berns not only participated in, but ran as president.
“Some clubs I served as president for were our B+ childhood cancer foundation, Women in Science and Technology club, as well as the Pre-Physical and Occupational Therapy Club.” Dancing with Chapman’s Floor 13 hip hop team and working in research labs in the health science field are some of her other favorite pastimes.
Berns also works as a tour guide for the Admission office, a position she’s held for the last three years. “As long as I’ve been in student government, I’ve been heavily involved in our office, wearing multiple hats,” she says.
What is the SGA capable of?
Presidency on a student government board isn’t easy. It comes with a set of obstacles that most students aren’t aware of. “One of the biggest challenges is understanding our scope, and communicating that scope with students. Sometimes there’s an expectation to do everything and be everywhere. There are only so many things under our control,” Berns shared.
Some student concerns are bigger university issues that can’t be taken care of within the SGA scope. “Most of what we can do is advocate and make sure the student voice is being heard. That doesn’t always translate into a big change or a big action,” she said. “It’s hard because we want to see the changes just as much as our fellow students, but sometimes things can’t be solved with just a few conversations within student government.”
Berns’ plan of action is to focus on navigating what is realistic within the realm of the executive board. “I’m figuring out where our influence best lies and where we can be the most efficient with our work,” she says.
Taking inspiration from the past to make a brighter future
On the other hand, there is a lot that Chapman’s SGA has accomplished in the past, which is where Berns finds hope and pride in her role. “Knowing how many avenues we do have an influence in such as providing financial assistance for clubs, individuals and academic conferences.”
She excitedly shared her inspiration from past executive councils, saying, “Every time someone refills their water bottle on campus, or uses the Henley Fitness Center, those are reminders of student government initiatives. Maybe they weren’t ones that I saw in my time, but that was the work of a senate from years ago.”
As for what students can expect, Berns believes that her own presidency will be unlike any other, as the needs of the students are always changing. “I can’t predict what all of those needs will be. I’m sure things will come up along the way that will take precedence.”
However, there are a few initiatives that she would like to start in the new school year. “Campus space is one that comes up a lot as we’re growing as a university and expand our operations. We’re also looking forward to more SGA involvement in the diversity, equity and inclusion realm.”
Berns also described a passport initiative, which involves financial assistance for study abroad students for things like passport renewal fees, application fees and other costs. “I could go on and on,” she said. “The list of initiatives are endless and will likely change.”
For the remainder of her time at Chapman, Berns hopes that students use their voices so that the SGA can amplify them. She encourages students to get involved and feel empowered. “Stay in conversation with us and hold us accountable for things we say we will do,” she said.
To learn more about student government and meet this year’s senate, visit their open meetings every Friday from 1-3 PM in the AF 212 Boardroom. You can also email your questions or concerns to email@example.com and visit their Instagram page @chapmansga.