Sabinna Estephania Pierre will be the new ASUO president, along with Vice President Montse Mendez, after their slate, Ducks Empowered, emerged victorious in this year’s ASUO election that ended on April 11. They are set to take office May 25.
The slate won in a clean sweep, taking all 30 positions they were vying for. Pierre and Mendez won with 955 votes out of 1,646 total votes for executive candidates. In doing so, they outcompeted challengers UO is Yours and Oregon Alliance.
It marks the end of a somewhat rough election season in which all three slates filed grievances against each other regarding alleged defamation when the Oregon Alliance VP exited from the race after controversy over a Facebook post.
When the elections were coming to a close Thursday evening, Pierre said she was hosting a gathering at her house to celebrate the work that her slate accomplished throughout the campaign season.
“Win or lose, we wanted to throw a little celebration for our slate members because they have put in a lot of work. We have put a lot of hours into campaigning, and I felt like everyone deserved some celebration,” she said.
She was on her way to pick up some supplies when one of her slate members, Rahim Sharma, called her to say, “Congratulations, Madam President.”
“I was freaking out. I had to pull over a little bit because I was freaking out,” Pierre said. “I thought it was really surreal because we put so much work into it.”
Pierre, a junior, grew up in Portland. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti before she was born. She originally wanted to be a doctor, but when she came to UO, she met her mentor, Kellie Johnson, a former district attorney for Oregon. She said seeing a Black woman in law piqued her interest in politics and inspired her to pursue a legal studies minor.
Mendez, also a junior, was born in Brazil and lived in Mexico until she was 12 years old. She graduated from Lincoln High School in Portland after moving there from Ohio during high school. She is studying planning, public policy and management.
Both Pierre and Mendez got involved with ASUO early in their college careers. Pierre started on the EMU board and was a senator as a sophomore, while Mendez served as the EMU budget chair and was also president of the senate.
This year, the duo said their slate is one of the most diverse in ASUO’s history. The two women said they have faced additional challenges as women of color in politics, trying to navigate their political platform with their marginalized identities.
“Being in a position of power is already so hard,” Mendez said. “Being in a position of power while holding a marginalized identity has so many things that no one prepares you for.” She said that while she’s been working with ASUO, she’s “toughened [her] skin a bit” but said the pair still faced challenges surrounding racism and identity politics along the campaign trail.
Ducks Empowered’s key positions included fair student wages, engaging students in tuition decision processes and increasing marginalized groups’ access to mental health care, issues that proved to be personal to them while campaigning. Both said they suffered from anxiety during the campaign process but grew stronger throughout it.
“I saw Sabinna blossom so much during this campaign,” Mendez said. She said though Pierre tends to be more introverted, Mendez was “thoroughly impressed at watching her grow and gain more confidence.”
Pierre said she’s looking forward to inspiring other marginalized groups on campus. During the campaign, younger students and even high school students told her how much they look up to her, she said.
“It's hard for me to go to a school and not see a lot of representation. There's not a lot of representation for Black students here. I think it's really crazy that we haven't had a Black [ASUO] president since the ’70s,” said Pierre. “I just feel really happy and feel really proud because I want other Black students here to know that this is something you can do. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do this — you have it within you, you just have to push yourself.” The Emerald has not yet confirmed that Pierre is the first Black president since Jan Oliver, who was elected in 1977, according an ASUO document.
The two reflected on the fact that even through a difficult campaign season, they made a lot of memories with members of their slate, from roasting each other to having inside jokes.
“I’m not really an emotional person, but this campaign kind of emotionally challenged me a lot. There were a lot of times when I felt really overwhelmed,” Pierre said. “Our core team, as well as our slate — we’re like a family. We all get along together, and we all have inside jokes, and we all look after each other like a big family.”
With the conclusion of elections, the current ASUO administration said that watching the results was exciting and brought back old memories.
“It was really exciting to see two women of color slates come out and want to run,” current ASUO President Maria Gallegos-Chacón said of Ducks Empowered and UO is Yours.
She explained that it was heartening to see candidates who were inspired by the victory last year of Ducks Together, the slate she was a part of.
“When we won, we hoped that younger generations of leaders would see this and see themselves represented,” Gallegos-Chacón said. “When we were running last year, nobody wanted to run because they were like ‘ASUO historically is hoity-toity, it’s not a space that values activism or people of color or queer people.’”
“It made me very nostalgic to [our election],” said Internal Vice President Imani Dorsey. “I can’t believe a year has already gone by.”
Ivan Chen, external vice president, was encouraged by the turnout of those wanting to run for office.
“It’s exciting to see a younger generation actually want to the take the leadership on this campus, even if there’s conflict between different political views,” Chen said.
They said they feel that passing the torch to Ducks Empowered will make for a relatively smooth transition. “I think the values are similar,” said Gallegos-Chacón.
“For a while, things were unclear on what was going to happen, and how it might affect our course of action,” Dorsey said, “but now it feels like it’s really going to be transitional. I have good faith they’re going to carry on some of the things we couldn’t complete.”
When asked what advice they would bestow to the newly elected, current office holders stressed the importance of remaining steadfast given a taxing working atmosphere. “Make sure everything you work on is part of your greater purpose,” said Gallegos-Chacón. “This institution will exploit you until the wheels fall off, so you just have to figure out where those wheels will fall.”
Until the transition occurs, the executives said they will not stop working on issues like advocating for affordable in-state tuition, bargaining on the GTFF contract, student code of conduct reform and the campus police disarm legislation.
“People take advantage of the fact that ASUO changes every year, and nothing else on campus really has that kind of turnover,” Dorsey said. “It’s really about introducing policy and planting seeds so that students have some sort of lasting protection that doesn’t change when their advocates change.”
On the horizon, Pierre and Mendez anticipate a major learning curve and intend to solidify their goals over the summer and select a cabinet. They explained that they would design positions for graduate and international students, and a position for mental health.
“I know there’s a lot of work to done. It’s heavy work, but we ran a campaign, we have faced things a lot of people would have broke down from, but honestly I feel very ready for it,” Pierre said. “I feel ready to tackle these things and do what we can to make things a little bit better for students, especially students of color.”