Wagstaff ’14: "A USG where people feel comfortable"
USG social chair Benedict Wagstaff ’14 — who has organized the past three Lawnparties, Friday night’s Hoodie Allen concert, Saturday night’s bonfire and many other social events on campus — is hoping to take on a more prominent role in the USG next semester.
Wagstaff began campaigning for USG president this week, running on his experience in the USG’s executive committee and a platform of encouraging students to actively participate with their student government.
After joining the equestrian team, the chapel choir and the club sailing team during the fall of his freshman year, he decided to run for USG social chair that spring. Though the position had not traditionally been held by rising sophomores, Wagstaff handily defeated his opponent, a rising junior.
As social chair, Wagstaff brought Far East Movement, Childish Gambino and Third Eye Blind to campus in the three Lawnparties concerts he led. Last spring, the USG extended Wagstaff’s term by a semester in order to align the social chair elections with that of the rest of the executive committee.
Wagstaff instituted a survey system that allowed students to provide feedback on Lawnparties artists. As USG president, Wagstaff said he will similarly encourage the student body to be fully engaged in USG decisions in order to “harness the creativity for a collective good.”
“I would definitely try to create a USG where people feel comfortable with sharing their ideas,” Wagstaff said.
He cited his experience as a member of the executive committee as a distinguishing factor between him and his opponent, Class of 2015 senator Shawon Jackson ’15. The skills necessary to be a good social chair are best aligned with the skills a good president needs, according to Wagstaff.
The goal is to be “running an organization in a way that gets results but also has people in the organization engaged,” Wagstaff said. He hopes to show transparency and accountability both internally within the USG and externally with the student body.
Wagstaff is in a relationship with vice presidential candidate Carmina Mancenon ’14, currently the USG’s campus and community affairs chair. According to Wagstaff, they each decided to run independently and would work well together.
“The end result if we end up working together would be just as positive, if not more positive, than if we are working with other candidates,” Wagstaff said.
Next year, there will not only be a new USG president but also a new University president. Wagstaff said he is confident he will be able to effectively work with a new administration to achieve results.
“When working with administrators, it’s all about finding things you can agree about and things where there is mutual benefit,” Wagstaff said.
Wagstaff said there are a lot of situations in which the interests of University administrators and students clash, but he said he thinks the USG should approach the issues in a constructive rather than aggressive manner. As a result, he said both parties will leave the table happier than when they sat down.
Other members of USG praised Wagstaff’s abilities to lead the organization and effectively liaise with a new University president in the coming year.
“He is a master of working toward compromise,” USG senior executive secretary John McNamara ’14 said. “He shows a lot of respect for the people, and he recognizes competing interests.”
McNamara has officially endorsed Wagstaff in this election and said he believes Wagstaff has the ability to bring tangible results to the student body.
“Benny is in a much better position to run an organization,” McNamara said, adding Wagstaff has the leadership style best suited for the position.
Wagstaff noted one concern some voters may have is his lack of experience making policy decisions, since the social chair is not as involved with these. But with the help of a strong vice president and the rest of the USG, Wagstaff said he is confident in his ability to lead the organization.
“Benny does a good job with whatever he does,” U-Councilor Sarah Wiley ’13. “He is calm, cool and collected.”
“He is really a people person all around,” said Yasmin Murphy ’14, a member of the social committee who has also publicly endorsed Wagstaff. “He listens to people. He knows how to read people and to react to different people.”
Though Wagstaff attended high school in Washington, D.C., he is from an English and Italian background and lived all around the world as he was growing up.
“I still don’t know what I consider my home,” Wagstaff said. “It would be nice to consider everywhere home.”
Wagstaff is studying in the Wilson School and is specifically interested in development economics. He is currently working on establishing his own NGO.