The Daily Gamecock

Student Body President Luke Rankin looks back at first semester in office

With a new decade beginning, the time is ripe to set new goals. Over the last semester, Student Body President Luke Rankin and his staff have been working towards an endgame: the goals outlined by Rankin’s campaign.

The third-generation Gamecock said he believes the magnitude of the student body president role has been with him since immediately after his election, when the death of Samantha Josephson, a fourth-year student at the University of South Carolina, occurred. 

“Thursday night was when, kind of, the events happened, and that was actually when inauguration took place at Rutledge Chapel, and then that Friday was when the news broke and my first day in office," Rankin said. "Dealing with the heart-wrenching tragedy of that event was something I will never forget."

Over the next weeks, Rankin experienced a whirlwind of interactions surrounding Josephson’s death, including working with President Pastides on the “What’s My Name” campaign for safer ride-sharing, meeting with executives at Uber to discuss the layout of downtown Columbia and attending a vigil for Josephson with her family.

“I did a press conference with President Pastides about that, just talking about a national level of coverage out of something terrible, and a tragedy, having something positive come and that be making sure that events like this don’t happen again,” Rankin said. 

In the months that followed, the election of President Caslen by the board of trustees, on which Rankin sits, rattled the student body with controversy.

“I did not run off of a political party, my job is not to represent one group, it’s to represent all students, and so at times I have to be impartial; most times, even. I take that very seriously, and so making sure I’m representing everything I’ve heard from students, and taking what I’ve heard and bringing it together,” Rankin said. "That's what I did in that case."

After a summer of working alongside his staff at the university, the core of Rankin’s platform promises — those made regarding programs and amenities to the students — could start to be implemented. 

Rankin emphasized an on-campus 9/11 memorial as one of his highest priorities for the fall semester. Rankin campaigned on the plan that the memorial would take place at Williams-Brice Stadium, but the event was held on Davis Field. Rankin also initially compared the event to USC Dance Marathon in his endorsement interview with The Daily Gamecock.

“It’s going to be something where you build teams and you have community members, so businesses, people that live in Columbia, South Carolina — that live in South Carolina, period — coming together,” Rankin said in his endorsement interview. 

Instead, the daylong event featured a 9/11 themed workout and a table where students could pledge to take certain actions in memory of those lost during 9/11. Students could also write letters at the event that were hand-delivered to local first responders.

Rankin said he wanted this event to be annual, not just a one-time event.

“I think it's important that this is something that can be sustainable, that is not just going to happen one year, and, 'Okay, great, yeah,'" Rankin said. 

Rankin and his staff faced challenges in implementing programs during the fall semester. According to Karinna Rao, Rankin’s deputy chief of staff, event attendance was generally low, with the exception of the Veterans’ Day race, which saw over 400 runners. This was due to the limited marketing strategies utilized by Student Government over the course of the semester.

“With such a big campus, it’s so hard to reach every single student. I think expanding so that we have more flyers up and more announcements up in residence halls and the schools that have bulletin boards that you can place stuff on,” Rao said. "Because upperclassmen, a lot of them won't come back to campus for events that aren't held throughout the day."

This 9/11 memorial was followed in November by the Veterans’ Day 5K race, organized by Student Government. The event was a benefit for the Fisher House, an organization that hosts veterans’ families near Veterans Affairs hospitals while their loved ones undergo medical procedures. 

Stigma Free USC was also a part of Rankin’s campaign promises. A continuation of previous years’ events, last semester’s Stigma Free USC featured a week of mental health awareness events such as suicide gatekeeping and available support systems. Rankin’s chief of staff, Sam Mayberry, worked closely with the secretary of health and wellness, Chase Arledge, to showcase the “real experiences of students with mental health struggles.” 

“If we aren’t real and we aren’t willing to have the hard conversations, then it’s kind of stopping us from moving forward as a campus,” Mayberry said. 

Now, Rankin and his team are looking forward. There are plans for a workshop series tackling “adulting” through topics such as changing a tire and managing personal finance. Environmental sustainability partnerships are on the rise in Student Government, specifically the Russell House recycling programs and waste reduction in student tailgating lots. With the next election season approaching in February, Rankin has three months left to fulfill his promises.