By Danny Priest
At Springfield College, Thursday, Apr. 11 2019 began just like any other day. Students had only one added responsibility: to go on to PrideNet between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and vote for a new Student Trustee Elect.
Of course, this may not have been prevalent in every student’s mind, but if they opened up Instagram, they’d be meet with a good reminder.
In the stories tab on the top of the screen, the username “krisrhim” continued to pop up at the front of the list, showing he had posted a new story. Click on his name, and the same messages were being advertised on his story over and over again.
“Vote for Kris Rhim, Student Trustee Elect!” “Vote for Kris!” “Today is the day, don’t forget to vote for your boy!” etc.
Rhim, a sophomore in the communications/sports journalism major at Springfield, had gotten dozens upon dozens of shoutouts from fellow classmates and friends.
Some of the people urging others to vote for Rhim did not even go to Springfield College. Instagram stories are meant to be short, 10 seconds at the most, but on that day, Rhim’s extended on and on and on and on. At least 30 people had posted to their own stories advertising for him and he then reposted them on his own feed.
Rhim did not ask for the shutouts, they just came, and he even feared the long stories may have turned some people off. “I was actually worried that people were going to unfollow me because that was so long,” he said.
The shoutouts may have come from only a small chunk of Rhim’s overall number of 1,532 Instagram followers, but it got the job done. Rhim went on to be elected as the Student Trustee Elect for the 2019-2020 academic year at Springfield College.
Rhim will serve as the 50th Student Trustee Elect in Springfield College history. He will take over in his senior year following Alex Goslin, who will serve as next year’s trustee. The role of a Student Trustee is to represent the voice of all students on campus.
Student Elects are voting members of the Springfield College Board of Trustees, which is the College’s primary governing body when it comes to voting on major changes and decisions that affect the College.
By having a Student Trustee, Springfield College is part of a select group. According to a 2016 study by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, only 21 percent of private institutions have a student on their trustee board.
Come his senior year, Rhim, a Philadelphia native, will be one of a small number of students with a real opportunity to create change.
That opportunity was almost all for not, as Rhim did not have interest in applying until learning about the grants he would receive of $750 and $1,500 his junior and senior year, respectively.
Yet the more he read into the role of Student Trustee, the more interested he became. “I saw this position and when I was reading about it, I felt like ‘if I’m in this position, I can have real power with people who make change,’” Rhim said.
“Also there aren’t many people on campus in leadership positions who are of color and look like me,” he added.
What Rhim quickly realized was he had an opportunity to help a student body that he connects with strongly.
Rhim is a member of the track and field team, has attended Leadership Summit, was an editor for this year’s edition of the Alden Street Review, works with both SCTV3 and Springfield College Radio, and is the Vice President of the Men of Excellence club.
All of those experiences have helped him connect with many students on campus, and now he will also draw on his high school experiences to build a plan moving forward.
Rhim attended Central High School in Philadelphia, a school that is consistently rated as one of the most diverse high schools in America, according to Niche. When Rhim was a junior there, the school was rated as the most diverse in the country.
“I was around different kinds of people every day. I learned a lot in high school, not in the classroom, but from the people and my lived experiences,” he said.
“I remember when Trump got elected, we had people who supported Trump and regardless of what my views were, I needed to be around that to see people who don’t think like me and accept that it’s okay. I needed to be around that,” he added.
Rhim grew comfortable with diversity and understanding in high school, but his environment in college has not been the same.
“When I came here (Springfield College), this is the least diverse place I’ve ever been to. Institution wise at least.
But for a lot of people, this is the most diverse place they’ve been to. A lot of kids here, they grew up in these towns where the only people of color they saw were people who weren’t like them, who came in from a different place and just came to their high school or something,” Rhim said.
As the next Student Trustee Elect, Rhim wants to strive towards creating a more inclusive and welcoming campus. He again draws on a high school experience when talking about the need to educate people on other cultures.
“I was in a classroom my freshman year (of high school) and a kid said ‘I’m too lightskin to be Muslim.’ I said that’s just not the case. Anyone can be Muslim. You can be Muslim, I can be Muslim. You just have to join the faith.
I think situations like that not only are bad, those situations can be the reasons why a student leaves, and that affects retention rates,” Rhim said.
It is those type of experiences that he does not want to have happen at Springfield College.
“So if we’re in a classroom and I’m Muslim and I hear a kid say that, that might be the nail in the coffin for me. I’m outta here, I can’t do this s— anymore. So that was my platform,” he said.
Rhim still needs to narrow down his exact ideas, but right now, he would like to create clubs, workshops, or even bring in speakers of color to help educate others on diversity and being accepting of other people and cultures. All of that is part of his overall effort to make Springfield College a better and more diverse environment.
Now that he’s been elected, Rhim’s philosophy is simple. “You have this position that represents that student body, because how can you really make changes, if you don’t hear from the people who pay to go here?”
Maybe now those Instagram stories will change from promoting votes to celebrating change. Only time will tell.
Photo Courtesy of Kris Rhim