The Hustler sits down with the newly elected Commons house presidents


Claire Barnett

Vanderbilt on Saturday, August 18, 2018. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Elijah Sheridan

The start of the Commons Leadership Council (CLC) presidential campaign season began Sept. 7.  For the next five days until the conclusion of the voting period on Sept. 12, the walls of the 10 Commons houses were coated with posters as candidates strove to win the hearts and minds of their fellow residents.  

Featuring a 25 dollar budget cap and a town hall meeting that allowed would-be presidents (along with vice president and Vanderbilt Student Government senator candidates) to present their platforms and answer questions from their constituents, the CLC election process concluded with the instantiation of 10 new presidents. Their responsibilities this year include weekly attendance and house representation at the CLC meetings, facilitating and setting agenda for their weekly House Advisory Council (HAC) meetings.  The HAC meetings involve the CLC representatives, resident advisors, head advisors and faculty head of house from each respective house, who meet to plan and promote activities for the house, including Commons Cup events.

The Hustler had the chance to talk to the 10 presidents and get to know them, find out what led them to be interested in these leadership positions and get a sneak peek into their goals for their houses and the Commons as a whole this year.

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Amanda Nolan, West House

Newly elected West House president and prospective political science major Amanda Nolan hails from Mt. Juliet, a city 20 minutes outside of Nashville, and she recognizes how her proximity to Vanderbilt’s campus throughout her childhood had a distinct impact on her college aspirations, particularly how she wanted to be involved in student government.

“The Vanderbilt name’s always been in my house,” Nolan said. “I’ve always wanted to go here … and I looked into [the HAC] and I was thinking ‘if I make it to Vanderbilt, I’m going to try to take on one of those leadership positions.’”

Now that she’s here, Nolan has immediately gotten to work uniting her house. She has identified her house’s love of karaoke and working to implement an official West House karaoke night, and recognizes the power of music to bring residents together, regardless of language barriers and varying nationalities or cultures.  Nolan sees connecting her entire house as one of her biggest challenges for the year ahead.

“My biggest challenge [will] probably be breaking the divide,” Nolan said. “People are so easily grouped up and don’t want to step outside of their box, and reach out and see what else is out there once they’re comfortable.”

Despite running unopposed and potentially lacking popular support from her residents, Nolan is dedicated to engaging in servant leadership, prioritizing the population of West House and their opinions first.

“I like to listen to everyone else before myself,” Nolan said. “I put myself last, you want to be serving other people, not doing things because you have the power, but working for the people that have elected you. Not putting yourself on a pedestal, just being on the same level with everyone.”

Nolan wishes to use her position as West House president to instill the very same love and passion for Vanderbilt that she has grown and fostered in herself her whole life.

“I’m only a freshman, but I’m already so in love with it,” Nolan said. “I want to bring that love to everyone else because for some people, Vanderbilt might not have even been their first decision, but they’re here, and I want to show everyone how great our campus can be, and what we can all work together to create.”

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Jack Slatton, Hank Ingram House

Jack Slatton, a prospective medicine, health, and society (MHS) major and pre-medicine student from Cumming, Georgia, is another new president who, similar to Nolan, was unopposed during the election process, except his absence of opposition is made even more unusual due to his residence in the most populous Commons dorm, Hank Ingram.  

Despite not having to campaign in order to secure a victory, Slatton has formulated a platform around three primary pillars: community, academics, and service.

“A big criticism people have is that [Hank] is not super tightly knit, because of its size,” Slatton said. “So I wanted to combat that stereotype this year … and make sure everybody is super involved.”

For his community pillar, Slatton wants to place an emphasis on inclusive programming alongside improved house-wide communication, which would include the use of cell phone-based tools like Remind and GroupMe, event posters distributed through Hank, and the “Potty Press.”

“We have an idea that we stole from somebody a couple years ago called the ‘Potty Press’,” Slatton said.  “We’re going to put a little sign up on the backs of the bathroom stalls … so that people can get refreshed on what’s happening in the house and see what events are coming up, what opportunities they have to get involved.”

From his community pillar, Slatton’s academics and service pillars revolve around the Hank Ingram’s size, not as as a weakness, but as a force for good that can be applied toward establishing an academic support network and taking on service initiatives in and around Vanderbilt.

“It’s important to know that people are on your side when you’re transitioning to such a difficult school,” Slatton said. “A lot of people have had a hard time making that change so I want to start some programs that help people deal with that.  I [also] think it’s so important to give back to the school and the community around us that does so much for us … I just wanted to reward those people in return for giving us so much.”

But at the end of the day, despite his hefty aspirations and numerous plans for the house, Jack realizes that a large part of his job as president is just getting to know his residents and making sure they’re happy during their time here in Hank Ingram this year.

“I want to know everybody’s name, before the end of the year, that’s 300 people, that’s a lot, but I think I can do it,” Slatton said. “My job is getting to have fun with my friends, and just being responsible for planning that fun in advance, a good president is able to take that, have a good time, and make sure that everybody else is enjoying themselves.”

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Kyle Schroeder, Murray House

Perhaps the most unusual election stories this year is that of Cincinnati, Ohio native and Murray House president Kyle Schroeder, who is a prospective neuroscience major on the pre-medicine track.  Schroeder went through the election process unopposed as well, though not as a presidential candidate, but rather a hopeful vice president, following his interest in the Commons Cup, the multi-faceted, inter-house competition that culminates in one houses’ victory at the end of the school year.  However, the CLC elections produced no elected president for Murray House, so Kyle rose to the occasion.

“I was planning to stay as the vice president and wait for somebody to be interviewed to be president,” Schroeder said.  “But then I got an email from Natalee Erb asking me if I would be interested to step up and take over the role of President, I was like ‘what the heck,’ you know, I just went for it.”

Schroeder recognizes the challenges of the position, particularly for someone who wasn’t initially prepared or expecting to accept them, especially he would have to (at least temporarily) operate without a vice president.

“I’m hoping that I’ll figure it out as I go, because I’m not exactly sure what the workload for my presidential duties will be like so far,” Schroeder said. “We’re going to have a VP, but last night at the [CLC] meeting everyone else in every other house had a [president-vice president] pair to work on the agenda and then I was just by myself.”

Schroeder isn’t intimidated though: he’s confident that with the support of his HAC, he’ll be able to do big things within Murray this year, and create a community within the house that extends outside of it.  

“I think I have a lot of other good officers that, we can all work together to figure out what needs to be done and still get everything done. I really love the group of officers that we have this year, it’ll be a great year.  I want to put together events that can [allow] a lot of people from our house to have fun with each other, just get to know each other, and people from other houses as well

Schroeder hopes to organize events such as a spikeball tournament or a trip to a waterpark, with the hopes of allowing people opportunities to relax, chill out, and destress.  He believes his brief stint as vice president may actually equip him to be a better president and work more effective with whomever his new vice president ends up being.

“I might be able to know [and] be better equipped to understand what how the vice president and president can work together, and what they can accomplish as a pair,” Schroeder said.

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Noah Barboza, Memorial House

Like Schroeder, Jacksonville, Florida resident, prospective economics major, and Memorial House president Noah Barboza sees teamwork skills and the ability to cooperate as one of the primary characteristics of a house president. Barboza prioritizes the principles of delegation and respect during collaboration as fundamental parts of taking on a leadership position in the CLC.

“[As president] you need to be able to work with others,” Barboza said. “It’s you have to do everything, so just making sure you know how to work with other people. You don’t want to steal the whole show, it’s a team effort.”

Barboza is very excited to actually be in a position to be able to work with his HAC in order to turn Memorial into a powerhouse, using its intimate structure as a strength.   

“I ran knowing that I could make an impact on the house,” Barboza said. “Now I have the opportunity to really do something here, we do have the smallest house but that just means it’s easier for everybody to really get to know each other. It’s very important for me to try and grow that and foster that sense of community [and] cohesion in our house.”

One of the activities Barboza hopes to organize consistently over the course of the year are Memorial House picnics, happening at Centennial Park or other local venues.  He sees this as an excellent way to promote inter-floor mingling for Memorial residents, which is something that may not happen on its own.

“Right now it’s really easy to get stuck with the people on your floor,” Barboza said. “But in doing more of these big group activities, you can meet people on other floors, and bring everybody closer together.”

Barboza guesses that the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the CLC and his HAC were both contributing factors to both his election and one of the proponents of his success this coming year.

“I’m definitely the type of person to take charge of a situation,” Barboza said. “Obviously the position of president lends itself to that.  I definitely think my energy had a part in why I won, it’s very infectious, I can get people riled up about something, I’m not afraid to keep asking people about [events] if it means that it helps the house.”

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Andrew Lupton, Stambaugh House

Former Dallas, Texas resident, prospective Human, Organization, and Development (HOD) major, and Stambaugh House president Andrew Lupton shares Barboza’s affinity for immersion within the population of his house.  Like Barboza, Lupton is not anxious about getting personal with his residents, and is looking for a very immersive experience within his house this year.

“I just love talking to people, getting to know them, that I think will allow me to build a community here, and also allow that community’s concerns to be heard,” Lupton said

Lupton especially prioritizes the establishment of community because of the benefit he sees it providing his fellow residents in the years to come.  Lupton has plans for events like a house-wide game of assassin, a secret santa-style holiday gift exchange, and a music event on Stambaugh’s balcony featuring a Stambaugh resident who has previous DJ’d at Bonnaroo.  Although the house may go its separate ways at the end of this year, Lupton hopes to have created something a little more meaningful and long-lasting through activities like these.

“[I want] to really bring Stambaugh together as a community, especially going into next year,” Lupton said. “The goal is to let people make connections now so that next year they have a broader social network.”

Lupton wanted to participate in first-year student government at Vanderbilt while he could in order to explore his interest in politics and to see if it’d be something he’d want to continue to take part in.  But Lupton’s extracurricular pursuits do not stop at the CLC. Lupton is attracted to everything from being a Vanderbilt tour guide, to business-related student organizations, to greek life, but at the same time understands the level of discipline and organization that level of involvement will require.

“I don’t even have any of those [other activities] on my plate yet and I’m still finding it hard to manage time,” Lupton said. “So really getting that balance of putting aside time to get all of my presidential stuff done as well as my school work, my social life, et cetera, is going to be very difficult for me.”

Despite this, Lupton wants to go the extra mile and personally involve himself in the community-forming process in Stambaugh.  He also sees himself as not a higher-ranking tenant, but rather as just another resident, with a lot to learn from his peers during the process of creating a truly united Stambaugh society.

“I can’t say I want a community here and not be part of the community,” Lupton said. “I want to be present, super friendly, really open-minded to anything, open to people and open to their ideas, what they want for the house. On the HAC, there’s a certain level of humility, just because I got elected president doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else, you’ve got to be able to listen.”

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Alyssa Bolster, Sutherland House

Nearby Clarksville, Tennessee native, prospective law, history and society (LHS) major and Sutherland president Alyssa Bolster also emphasizes leadership by example in her own CLC position, similar to Lupton. She believes that she should be setting the standard for the kinds of residents she wants her housemates to be.

“[The] house president needs to be willing to act as they want other people to act in the house,” Bolster said. “[They need to be] showing enthusiasm, showing that they are interested in the things going on.”

Bolster also wants to act as an example for her fellow house presidents, and promote a culture of uninhibited communication on the CLC through her own actions there.

“I love to speak, talk and debate and just hash things out,” Bolster said. “I’ll bring that to my role on the CLC, and bring a new kind of attitude to the stage. I want people to say what’s on their mind and what they’re thinking.”

Bolster is no stranger to leadership positions, having done everything from hosting parties to planning her high school’s prom in the past.  This experience has instilled a passion of planning and administration in Bolster, who hopes to only foster that spirit this year as she takes her leadership skills to a whole new level through the CLC.

“I want to grow as a leader and take on more responsibility than I had before in high school or in my life and balance that with school,” Bolster said.

Bolster campaigned for the presidential position on a platform she called “Alyssa’s Agenda,” which was a list of over 20 programming and activity ideas for Sutherland throughout the course of the school year.  These include plans for a house olympics competition between the floors of Sutherland, a voter registration drive, and an extensive earth day celebration with a little college flair.

“I’d like to do Earth Day, Commons-style, planting some flowers in red solo cups, I think it’d be fun,” Bolster said.

All of Bolster’s events are formulated with the intent of maintaining the Sutherland House community as the Sutherland residents inevitably become busier and busier.  Bolster has focused her planning around the spring semester, knowing that as first-years transition into their second semester, the chaos of coming back to school and beginning participation in Greek life will be a deterrent to Sutherland tenants wanting to hang out on Commons.

“Everyone’s going to be busy,” Bolster said. “Not everyone wants to participate all of the time. It’s hard for college students to balance everything that’s going on, and I know there are going to be a lot of things drawing people’s attention away from here, but I feel really invested in the Commons community so I would like to foster that as much as I can.”

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Jingi Ma, Crawford House

Jinqi Ma, hailing originally from Guangzhou, China, but more recently from Massachusetts, a prospective pre-medicine student, and newly elected Crawford House president, has a similar leadership background to Bolster.  Ma split his high school career between China and the United States, and took on student government roles in both settings. In China, he was the class president for two years, and then in America he took part in his school’s student council, while also taking on a leadership role in a local church.  Ma looks forward to the opportunity to grow as a leader and create an environment in Crawford similar to the ones he helped create in his previous locations.

“I just enjoyed the happiness and the communication that we built with the student body [in China],” Ma said. “So much so that I want to continue this path of building my leadership [skills] and build communication [in Crawford], arrange events and make people happy.”

Ma selects these specific qualities of communication and general happiness as he hopes to establish a community founded on harmony.  In fact, Ma campaigned for his presidential role on a platform built around that very principle.

“I want this house to be very harmonious and supportive, “ Ma said. “In both academics and social life.  I think this is very important because I would want to build a community that we can thrive in so that people can rely on each other.”

For a lot of college first-years, the sudden displacement from the home they came to know and love for 18 years can be hard to cope with.  Ma understands this, and wants to create a home-away-from home culture within Crawford, in order to ease this difficult transition.

“We know we are all far away from our home,” Ma said. “[Some of us] don’t go back to our house more than maybe twice a year, so I really want to emphasize our home [here] in Crawford, [so] for everyone that stays here . It’s like their second home.”

To solidify these senses of harmony and belonging, Ma sees the recognition of diversity of the Crawford residents as being an important step for him to take as president.  Ma hopes to implement an “international week,” where the vast array of nationalities present in Crawford can be celebrated by the house. Ma sees diversity as being crucial to a more completely harmonious community, as to him, without diversity, harmony is one-dimensional, and only by accepting the plethora of cultures Crawford contains is the true depth of harmony unlocked.

“We have to emphasize diversity because if there’s only one element of harmony, we don’t have a lot of color in our lives here: it’s going to be boring,” Ma said. “Harmony and diversity actually combine with each other to [create] a different layer.”


Samuel Ray, North House

Another president with a student government background who sees the importance of

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diversity in their role would be Samuel Ray, former Gainesville, Florida resident, prospective philosophy major on the pre-law track, and North House president.  Ray believes one of his strengths within the CLC this year will be his appreciation of all cultures present at Vanderbilt, something that has come from a childhood that took place across a variety of environments.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places, including outside of the US,” Ray said. “I think having that kind of appreciation for the entire spectrum of life is a unique trait I’ll bring to the table.”

Ray has had no shortage of high school leadership experience either, acting as his high school class’ president for three years, and then as student body president for a year as well.  This extensive history has led Ray to develop stringent time-management and self-regulation habits, which he thinks will allow him to survive and be successful as a house president at the already academically-demanding Vanderbilt University.

“Google calendar really is a lifesaver,” Ray said. “Putting in everything that I have to do, every meeting, essentially blocking out the time for my day, after classes.  I set up my schedule so that all of my classes are done pretty much by one o’clock, after which I divide my time … usually take a two hour nap, studying, doing reading if I have to, then wrapping up by doing something where I [can] tone down.”

Ray’s diligence with his scheduling seems to have paid off, as he’s already been able to start a game of assassin within North House, and hopes to continue to organize events that encourage in-person interaction between North members.

“We have to foster [and] cultivate this air of community,” Ray said. “This idea where you can go to any floor in the house, knock on any door, and you’ll be able to speak to a friendly face.  [I want to do] anything that will get people out of their dorms, into the sunlight, speaking to each other face to face.”

Ray doesn’t exclude himself from this mission either.  In fact, he’s challenging himself to go outside of his own comfort zone and reach out to as much of his house, and the Commons as a whole, as possible.  Ray also hopes to establish himself as an approachable, down-to-earth leader, so that his constituents feel equally as comfortable reaching out to him in return.

“[I want to] make friends with those who I usually wouldn’t interact with go outside of my way, to reach out and build a real experience” Ray said. “My goal is just to make that experience as vivid and beautiful as possible, and not just for myself but for all North House residents and everyone on commons.  I don’t want someone to see me and think ‘oh no that’s our house president, I need to look other way.’ I want to be someone that they can approach, and feel at ease around.”

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Madison Woods, East House

Madison Woods, hailing from Mooresville, North Carolina as a prospective HOD major and the new East House president, steps into her position on the CLC with a similar mentality to that of Ray.  She wants to foster a community in which residents can be comfortable, and feel as if they matter to those around them.

“I like to describe my leadership style as ‘the hugger style,’” Woods said. “I really like forming relationships with people and I really really like getting to know what makes them tick, and getting to know how I can best make them happy. [East House] should be a safe space where you feel comfortable talking to people in the hall and really feel like we’re one big neighborhood family.”

Woods notes how much she’s learned from watching her older brother (five years her senior) go through college, and she’s developed an appreciation for the importance of the first year of college, and first-year-specific leadership, as a result.

“Seeing [my brother] grow as a college freshman and the difference between his high school graduation and the summer he came home after freshman year,” Woods said. “It was like he was a completely different person, but in the best way possible … so the idea that I would have a direct impact on how my first year experience went, and how first year experiences for others would go … was super super important to me.”

Woods adopts a people-first mentality in her leadership position, wanting the best for everyone in East House, and wishing for her residents to take advantage of Vanderbilt’s resources in this important time in their lives.  She also hopes to start commons-wide traditions like fall festival, or a winter bash, that all Vanderbilt first-years can take part in.

“Because East is a smaller house, obviously making sure that we feel like one big family is super important to me,” Woods said. ”This is a time that you don’t really get back in terms of personal growth, academic growth, and service growth, in the sense that we’re in a really unique community that wants us to improve and wants us to learn who we are, and is fostering that sense of exploration and discovery taking full advantage of that is super super important, because this is an opportunity to find out who you are that you don’t necessarily get back.”

Creating an environment where all of this can happen is a lot of pressure for a house president, and Woods recognizes this.  Woods hopes to act as a companion to all of her house president peers, and wants to make sure she’s there to help and encourage good mental health practices for all of them.

“[It’s about] looking out for my presidents and stepping in when I can to support them, that’s super important because I think as a leader especially sometimes our own needs and our own baseline level of happiness gets pushed to the side. reminding both my other presidents and my HAC of that and making sure that they’re taking time for themselves too, because if we’re not thriving then our house can’t thrive … [house presidents] also need to take a break and put [their] mental health and physical health first sometimes.”

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Daniel Kang, Gillette House

San Diego, California native, prospective economics major, and Gillette House president Daniel Kang also possesses Wood’s desire to emphasize mental health for freshmen at Vanderbilt.  From the moment Kang’s campaign began, his personal experiences drove him to prioritize this important, sometimes-overlooked subject.

“The foundation of my campaign was a promise I made to my friend back home,” Kang said. “He actually was a year before us, who unfortunately had to drop out, because of medical leave, and one of the main contributing factors to that was his mental health, and I just wanted to create a community where everyone was included and everyone’s inclusive and where we help each other in that regard.”

Kang also shares Woods’ recognition of the significance of freshman year, and hopes to do everything in his power to allow people to achieve their goals in this exciting new time in their life.

“This is freshman year of college,” Kang said. “I really believe that it is what you make of it, and I believe that as long as me and the rest of the HAC put our all into it, and we also get the support of our wonderful RA staff and of course Dr. Dobson, that sky’s the limit. I [want to] make sure that everyone’s first year college experience, Gillette experience, is really something that’s special and that will be remembered for a long time.”

Some of Kang’s ideas for programming this year include the Gillette Goblet — an event similar to the Commons cup in which individual floors would compete for a giant trophy made out of, in fact, Gillette razors — and a Gillette thanksgiving event.  Kang has adopted a mentality of trying to achieve as much as he can, but no more: Kang hopes to strike a balance between apathy and impossibility this year.

“I think a big initial challenge will be gauging what we can and cannot do and the limits of our stuff,” Kang said. “I would definitely say one unique quality that I have is the fact that I’m very pragmatic, I’d say that I have a healthy mix of pragmatism and idealism, so that I’m the type that I can come up with very interesting, highly ambitious goals.”

Kang believes his greatest asset this year might just actually have nothing to do with himself, but instead may be his residents, and all the the ideas and leadership skills that each and every Gillette member can provide.  Kang hopes to utilize this resource and involve his peers as much as possible this year, and make sure their dreams become a reality.

“I really want to get the community involved, Vanderbilt is a very good university and I think one of our strengths is the people, all of us worked really really hard to get here, all of us have had experience in leadership. I want to help elevate every single one of the residents of Gillette to feel that each and every single one of them are leaders in their own right inside this house, that it’s a mutual partnership among the HAC as well as just the residents of Gillette.”