First woman of color to lead KU’s student body as president

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Tiara Floyd, KU student body president-elect, stands on campus outside the KU Memorial Union. Floyd is the first woman of color elected to the position in the student government's 50-year history.

A chance encounter between two students during a networking event last year led to University of Kansas students recently electing the first woman of color as their leader on campus.

Tiara Floyd, who will be a senior at KU next fall, was elected as student body president in an uncontested race earlier this month and will officially take the reins during a KU Student Senate transition meeting on Wednesday.

Floyd, who is originally from Junction City, told the Journal-World that she has been a part of the student government for only one school year, having served as the policy director for outgoing student body president Noah Ries. Additionally, Floyd said she didn’t even know she was interested in serving in student government until she encountered Ries during a networking event in 2018.

“It wasn’t really me seeking it out; he kind of sought me out,” she said.

Ries said that when he met Floyd during the event, she casually mentioned that she wanted to get more involved on campus. After the event, Ries said he kept thinking how she would be a good fit for his executive team if he were elected student body president.

“She jumped at the chance,” Ries said of approaching her to join the campaign. “Within two months she went from just another person we added to our campaign to one of the directors managing diversity and inclusion.”

Ries and his team went on to win the election, and Floyd wound up serving on Student Senate committees along with being an executive staff member.

“You don’t see that kind of meteoric rise anywhere,” Ries said. “It’s truly a testament to her ability and charisma as a leader.”

Floyd’s decision to run for student body president took a similar route. When Student Senate members were discussing who would run next, Floyd said she — jokingly — put herself up for consideration.

“I put my name out there, like ‘Hahaha, maybe I’ll run,'” she said.

But the next day, Student Senate chief of staff Zach Thomason asked her to seriously run.

“Everybody started talking to me saying, ‘Tiara you are somebody who could break barriers and implement change in the university and Student Senate,'” she said. “Those people inspired me to go for it and see it in myself to be the one to break the glass ceiling.”

Floyd’s run resulted in the first woman of color to hold the position in the student government’s 50-year history, according to KU History assistant researcher Andrew Moore, who is also a student senator. Floyd, who is African American, said she hoped her election created a path for other women of color.

“I’m glad I’m the person to do it,” she said. “I just hope it doesn’t take another 50 years for it to happen (again).”

Dorthy Pennington, an African and African American studies professor at KU, said she met Floyd two years ago in class and she has been impressed with her academic and leadership skills. She said she thought Floyd would be a good leader because of her critical thinking abilities.

“She studies texts and issues carefully and makes informed, timely decisions on them,” Pennington said of Floyd in an email. “She speaks out for causes of social justice and equal rights and wants to see that the silent voices are represented. While she incorporates underrepresented voices into her carefully-crafted public communications, she, at the same time, has an ability to ‘speak the truth to power,’ and to use her leadership ability for the common good.”

Although she ran unopposed, Floyd and her running mate, Seth Wingerter, have several platforms they want to focus during their tenure, including opening up more free-parking times for students, bringing electric scooters to campus and finding a larger office space for the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity, among others.

While student elections often include goals that are unattainable, Floyd said she and Wingerter met with several departments on campus to find platforms to work on that they felt were achievable.

“I didn’t want to come in with flashy platforms and big ideas and then August comes and they aren’t doable,” she said. “I feel confident (these platforms) will be implemented.”

Shawn Alexander, a KU professor who has taught Floyd in the African and African American Studies department, said he’s proud to see Floyd elected. Alexander will also be working with Floyd in University Governance, as he is slated to serve as the Faculty Senate president at KU the same school year.

Alexander said he’s worked with Floyd in university governance when they both served on a senate executive committee during the current school year.

“She has demonstrated excellent leadership skills and I look forward to seeing her lead the student body through a very difficult time on campus,” Alexander said, referring to the university’s current struggles with a $20 million budget cut. “They could not be in better hands.”

Although Floyd did not serve in student government until the current school year, she has served in student groups on campus, she said. She previously served in leadership positions for her scholarship hall, participated in the Black Student Union and is a member of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. She also served an internship this spring for State Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, at the Kansas Statehouse.

After she graduates from KU next spring, Floyd said she wants to pursue a career in law. She also may consider a career in state politics, she said.

“If you asked me a year ago, I may have said national politics,” Floyd said, with a laugh. “But after serving an internship at the Statehouse, I really like state politics and looking at a local and state level to make quicker and real change.”

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