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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

End of term Q&A with 2021-22 Student Body President and Vice President, Hannah Bruns and Kayla Prowell

Bruns and Prowell discussed their accomplishments in office, advice for future administrations and favorite moments as student body president and vice president.
Sally Johnson
Screenshot of Hannah Bruns and Kayla Prowell from their campaign Instagram account, as taken on April 28, 2022. (Hustler Staff/Sally Johnson)

Editor’s Note: This piece contains brief mention of sexual assault. 

Senior Hannah Bruns served as student body president with junior Kayla Prowell as vice president for the 2021-22 academic year. In an April 28 interview with The Hustler, they discussed their time in office and their hopes for the future of VSG. 

The Vanderbilt Hustler: Can you talk about your major accomplishments in your time as student body president and vice president?

Prowell: Something that we celebrated a lot was that we accomplished about 90% of the things that we promised on our platform, which I’m super proud of. Implementing the permanent thrift shop was a huge, huge part of that, as well as finalizing the permanent food pantry. These are ways that we are really proud of bridging that economic divide and economic gap on campus. Coming in and seeing the diversity and range of socioeconomic backgrounds and having the permanent thrift shop and the permanent food pantry as options for students is just something that I’m really proud of. 

Furthermore, we’re also proud of our implementation and expansion of the Adriel Bineza Graduate and Professional School Application Assistance (GAP) fund. We donated $33,000 this year to students for graduate assistance. That’s another way that we worked to bridge that economic divide on campus. So those are huge hallmarks that we’re really proud of. 

What did your campaign platform look like? How did that platform structure what you accomplished as student body president and vice president?

Prowell: Our platform was split up into five main points: sustainability, economic inclusivity, diversity and inclusion, academic affairs and safety and wellness. We really tried to promise big things and little things. For safety and wellness, we really wanted to add more lights on campus and push for more accountability and responsibility regarding sexual assault on campus. For academic affairs, we wanted to expand the book drive, as well as expand AXLE requirements and ensure that Indigenous Studies and Asian American Studies become more solidified minors and that there are more expansive classes in those disciplines. 

Those are just small examples of things that we did that led to us talking to more students and doing more things. Something that wasn’t on our platform that we did this year was make all the executive members of VSG mandatory reporters as a way to hold our student leaders accountable and to a higher standard, as well as to promote safety and wellness on our platform. 

Regarding academic affairs, we really wanted to restructure AXLE and make a cultural studies class a requirement. While we didn’t fully accomplish that this year, we got a lot of the conversation started. We talked with a lot of students and student leaders from different backgrounds and just tried to get the ball rolling on a lot of different things. That really structured how we navigate our relationships with people because our platform wasn’t everything that needed to get done on campus. It wasn’t all of the problems and all of the issues that needed to get solved. It was just the tip of the iceberg of what we could show the student body that we would try to get done. 

What kind of interactions did you have with the student body?

Bruns: Overall, our interactions were pretty positive. That was part of what we ran on, just trying to get VSG more in tune with the student body and more involved with the entirety of the student body. Obviously, there were some sections of the student body that, once we said that we had won the election, we could tell that we were going to face pushback from them, which was to be expected. But I really enjoyed my time as president, and interacting with students was overall a positive experience. 

Prowell: I think this is the most amount of people that I’ve ever spoken to and the most diverse types of people I’ve ever spoken to.

I never thought that I could care so deeply and so passionately about topics that did not pertain to me at all.

I think that was the best part about our relationships and interactions with other students. Because we don’t really get that exposure everywhere, but, coming to a private institution where students come from all different backgrounds and all parts of the world, you really get to see a variety of perspectives. As a student leader, that was one of the most enriching and beneficial parts about this experience.

What advice would you give to future student body presidents and vice presidents?

Prowell: My favorite piece of advice that I always say is, every day, do stuff scared. If you are not comfortable doing something, if you’re nervous, if you’re afraid, that is okay. You’re supposed to be a little bit worried when you’re doing something new or something scary or something that’s not in your comfort zone. That’s the fun part of growth, and that’s the fun part of being a leader. Once you can get through that, you can keep doing more cool stuff and more fun stuff.

So don’t hold yourself back. Just be scared for a little bit. Hold your breath and do it. Just be brave.

Bruns: I would add that these positions are not worth compromising your morals over. Don’t give up your character. It can be hard, and it can be scary.

But if you’re going to do something and everything in your gut is telling you that it’s the wrong thing to do, do not go through with it.

You’re in a position of power and use that power for good, use it to stand up for people, even if you’re the only person out there saying, ‘help them.’ Take this opportunity and run with it, even if it is really scary, because, if you look back 10 years down the line, you want to be able to say that you did the right thing in those moments. You’re going to heavily regret it if you think that you didn’t do everything in your power to follow your conscience and do what you thought was right.

Are there any areas in which you think that VSG could improve? 

Bruns: Definitely. I think we still have a long way to go in creating a better reputation and better connections within VSG and with the student body. VSG can come across as being cliquey or as being a social club where you have to be a certain type to join. I hope that starts to fade away in the years to come. We definitely have a lot of growth that we need to do as an organization when it comes to being more involved with the student body and recognizing that we are an advocacy tool for students. 

While VSG is fun and we should be creating connections together, our main goal is to advocate. We can’t forget that we shouldn’t be an entirely social club. We need to remember what our purpose is as an organization. I hope that, in years to come, VSG doesn’t stray too far from being an advocacy tool.

Prowell: I will also say that we need to remember that VSG is a student run organization. It’s really difficult to run such a large organization. Over time, especially with experience, it gets easier. It gets easier to understand how things work, why things don’t work and how to fix things that don’t work. That can’t happen overnight, especially if you just figured it out with only a couple of months left. 

Especially as student leaders, we need to be patient with ourselves and understand that we’re not going to know everything right off the bat.

We’re going to make mistakes and forget stuff. That’s why the organization sometimes has problems. We’re students. We make mistakes, and we forget stuff. We’re not always on top of it. And that’s okay. That’s how things work. You have to take care of yourself. 

In terms of fixing VSG, it’s just about growth. It will be about how the administrations go and how the school progresses and how the advisors progress with the organization. I think, under our administration, it was fluid enough.

What were your favorite moments in office?

Prowell: I think one of my favorite moments was turnover. I loved being student body vice president. I loved working for VSG and working for students. But seeing turnover happen at the end of the year and seeing all the administrators, chairs and senators that we worked so hard with along the way, it felt like everything had come full circle. All the work that we did was so fully recognized and honored. I felt appreciated and appreciative at the same time. I felt like turnover was a way for me to say thank you to everybody in one place in a very easy way and to pass the torch off to the next administration. I think it felt just the right amount of dramatic, and I’m all for the dramatics, so I found that it was a really good experience. I think it was a great way to end an amazing year and a great way to start the next school year for a new administration.

Bruns: I would say my favorite memory was speaking at Founder’s Walk.

I remember my Founder’s Walk freshman year and hearing Tariq Issa, 2018-19 student body president, speak to us and thinking how badly I wanted to do that my senior year.

It was also exciting to see all the student orgs who showed up to welcome the Class of 2025.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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About the Contributor
Sally Johnson
Sally Johnson, Former Staff Writer
Sally Johnson ('22) is from Franklin, Tennessee, and is majoring in political science and English with a minor in Spanish in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at [email protected].
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