After 10 days of voting, the Class of 2020 elected three finalists for the position of Young Alumni Trustee (YAT). Chelsie Alexandre ’20, Jackson Artis ’20, and Nathan Poland ’20 will appear on the ballot in April.
Each spring, one member of the graduating class is elected to serve a four-year term on the University’s Board of Trustees.
This year, 28 students vied for the position. Online voting for members of the senior class took place from Feb. 25 to March 5. Alexandre, Artis, and Poland were named finalists on Thursday, March 5, after receiving more votes than the other 25 candidates.
One of these three candidates will serve alongside Sarah Varghese ’19, Myesha Jemison ’18, Achille Tenkiang ’17, and Azza Cohen ’16, the current YATs. According to the University, the position was created in 1969 “to ensure that the Board would always include four members with recent experience as undergraduates.”
YATs “have the same rights, powers and duties as all other trustees.”
The YATs comprise a combined one-tenth of the Board, which includes University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, basketball coach and executive Craig Robinson ’83, former N.J. Senate candidate Robert Hugin ’76, Microsoft President Brad Smith ’81, and sitting Reps. Terri Sewell ’86 and Derek Kilmer ’96.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Artis referred to the general election choice as a “win, win, win situation.”
“All three of us, when we found out, we were just excited,” he added. “I remember distinctly saying, ‘No matter what happens, I’ll be happy with who gets it.’ [Alexandre and Poland are] two people who I think are really powerful presences and forces around campus and people who I know will represent a wide range of voices really well.”
Poland emphasized the symbolic importance of having three black YAT finalists, given the position’s historical connection to black student activism.
The creation of the YAT role coincided with a period of heightened activism on college campuses, shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and during the height of the Vietnam War. In the same year that he helped lead the Association of Black Collegians’ historic occupation of New South, University Trustee Brent Henry ’69 became one of the University’s first YATs.
“There is no Young Alumni Trustee without the black student movement on Princeton’s campus and campuses all across the country,” Poland said. “It’s almost like a full-circle moment.”
“It really does speak to the direction of the University,” Alexandre added — a theme echoed by all three candidates.
Alexandre is a politics concentrator from Rosedale, N.Y. She is a member of two dance groups, Triple8 and BodyHype, and is pursuing certificates in East Asian studies and history and the practice of diplomacy. She focuses on international relations and is interested in the history, culture, and governance of Korea. She previously spent a semester abroad in Seoul.
In addition, she serves as Vice President of Princeton’s Asian American Students Association (AASA) and Publicity Director of Princeton for North Korean Human Rights (PNKR).
Alexandre said she often gets asked about how she became interested in Korean public affairs.
“I think it was mostly due to the high school I went to — I went to a predominantly white and Asian high school — so there weren’t many people that looked like me from the get-go,” she said.
When she arrived on campus, Alexandre said she was “immediately drawn to AASA.” She initially became involved out of curiosity, but said she has learned a lot from the organization.
Specifically, she pointed to affirmative action as one area in which AASA introduced her to new and different points of view, especially because African American and Asian American students are often construed to hold widely divergent views on the policy.
“Having those two perspectives on that kind of contentious issue — I find that very important,” she said.
In a previous statement to the ‘Prince,’ she described herself as “someone who has managed to enter into spaces where I don’t look like everyone and completely immerse myself in the relationships.”
Alexandre emphasized her wide-ranging experiences.
“You kind of want to represent the interests of the student body, which is hard to do if you’re not involved in literally every club and major here,” she said. “But I felt like my experiences, either in AASA or in my dance groups, or in PNKR — that experience of being in rooms and conversations about things I might not be well-versed in at first, but still being a part of those communities — would help me in this kind of role.”
Artis is a mechanical and aerospace engineering concentrator from Plainfield, N.J. On campus, he is a member of Fuzzy Dice Improv comedy, the Co-Host of All Nighter, a member of the club Powerlifting Team, a member of the Princeton Christian Fellowship, and a residential college advisor (RCA) in Rockefeller College. He also acts in the theater department and is a member of the Meal Plan Music Collective — a four-person music group that recently performed at the Terrace F. Club.
On why he ran, Artis said he has had a very positive experience at the University through the friendships he has made and extracurricular activities he has participated in. He knows many students, however, for whom this is not the case.
“This University, in a lot of areas, does not do all it can to cater to all the populations it’s trying to bring in, in terms of changing the general demographics — to sort of help them acclimate,” he said. “I’ve had a really enjoyable time here, [...] but I know many people who don’t feel that way at all. It’d be really irresponsible and selfish of me to take this opportunity, graduate, and move on, and do nothing to help fix things for people who have had those experiences.”
A private high-school graduate, Artis said he came in with an advantage when it came to acclimating to the University, knowing how to navigate certain University-specific experiences. As a Rockefeller College RCA, he has sought to help other students acclimate, but he says he believes he could do more as a Trustee.
“I definitely have a responsibility to do anything I can to help students who may have similar identities to me, or different identities to me, navigate these spaces that may be completely foreign to them,” Artis said. “But I think I owe it to those students to not make all the work be their own.”
Artis believes the University could be doing more of that “acclimating work.” As a Trustee, rather than “trying to teach people how to avoid roadblocks,” Artis said he would want to “do the work to prevent those roadblocks from being there at all.”
Poland, an African American studies concentrator from Rockville, M.D., is involved with the University’s Mock Trial Team, the Petey Greene In-Prison Tutoring Program, and Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR). He is also a RCA in Rockefeller College.
He participated in last spring’s Title IX reform protests, as well as the Ban the Box campaign, which aims to remove the conviction-status question from the University’s application.
In October, he co-wrote a piece in the ‘Prince’ condemning “Double Sights,” an installation that attempts to acknowledge the complex legacy of former University president and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879.
“Advocating for inclusivity and justice through activism at Princeton has given me a unique perspective on our university’s history, a practical knowledge on where we stand now, and profound hope for where we can go,” he wrote in a previous statement.
Though not delving into specific policy issues, as YAT candidates are not permitted to campaign in any capacity, Poland did speak to pivoting from an activist role to that of a decision-maker.
“I can’t say I can continue to lobby,” he said. “But I think I get to carry with me some of the values and principles that I’ve absorbed from my fellow students about what’s important to them — what’s important to workers, what’s important to faculty, what’s important to staff — and I get to take that into whatever conversations I have and set what the standard is for the school.”
Though the YAT position carries weight, Poland said it does not necessarily seem like the place for advocacy.
“It’s a deliberative body. The way that I’ve been talking about it is — it’s not Congress, it’s the Supreme Court,” he said. “Things approach the Board of Trustees, and they deliberate as a body and make a decision [...] rather than being an active force necessarily in policy-making on the day-to-day level.”
Like his fellow candidates, Poland said he was grateful to the seniors who allowed him to advance into the final round of voting.
“I’m just really proud for the possibility to represent my community on the board in this capacity,” Poland added. “And, to both honor and respect the traditions that Princeton has set in place, but to create new ones that make Princeton live up to everything it could be.”
Members of the classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 will be eligible to vote in the general election online from April 28 to May 20.