New Boise State student president Cheyon “Chey” Sheen and vice president Jason Holman stepped into office with a restorative mission this April.
The pair plan to lead the Associated Students of Boise State to heal the fault lines formed under pandemic restrictions and political division’s seismic pressures. As Sheen and Holman step into office, they do so under a new constitution that will dissolve the Inclusive Excellence Student Council as a government branch.
In a lively, wide-ranging conversation with Idaho Ed News, Sheen and Holman discuss their vision for a transparent and participatory ASBSU government body, their mission to reach and involve Boise State students in campus matters, their focus on student mental health, building community and how they plan to communicate and apply the new constitution in the 2023-2024 school year.
(This chat has been edited for brevity. Listen to the entire conversation below.)
Denis: Hey, folks, this is reporter Matthew Denis from Idaho Ed News. I am pleased to be joined today with newly-elected ASBSU President Cheyon Sheen and Vice President Jason Holman.
Sheen: Thanks, Matt. I’m Cheyon and I just go by Chey. I’m a civil engineering senior, minoring in Environmental Studies and the new ASBSU president.
Holman: Hello, my name is Jason Holman. I am a senior in the school of public service in the College of Business and Economics. I am the ASBSU vice president.
Denis: Great thanks to both of you for being here today. So, what was the motivation to run together?
Sheen: We noticed students having a hard time with the current student government, and we both felt like this was a space where we could step up, especially since we’ve been in leadership positions at Boise State since we were freshmen. After some convincing, we decided to run.
Denis: What did you see that you could help students with at Boise State?
Sheen: I think the biggest thing was transparency. There were a lot of things where students had a negative view of ASBSU. A lot of students expressed opinions, but suggestions weren’t considered. They were very selective in what student voices they valued.
Holman: There were attempts to communicate the constitutional convention, but that did not reach the greater student population.
Denis: What do you see as the role of the IESC going forward?
Sheen: IESC’s role is still the same. The idea of inclusion is for everybody, and IESC just happens to have special students on it who can reach every corner of campus. Jason and I plan on leading in a way that continues to ensure that all students have a place at Boise State where they can thrive and have the access to resources they need. It’s just unfortunate that IESC’s value wasn’t seen, and so was removed as a branch. Now, they’ll have less access to funds within the budget, and they’ll have less access to voting power with certain bills and resolutions.
We’re focusing on students who are underserved in our community — rural students, veteran students, other marginalized groups. We’re working with the Dean of Students and other departments on campus to make sure that students have access to resources.
Holman: I found that the Dean of Students always makes an attempt to attend student events. It’s good for students to see, especially for morale, that the administration does care and that they’re willing to make an effort to show up. That is going to help our success.
Denis: Have you received any pushback to your administration so far?
Holman: There were some rocky conversations, but we had those conversations, and I think we’re better off for it.
Sheen: We ran the entire campaign ensuring that we reach every single corner on campus. That means including everybody, not just people who are our friends.
Our intentions are to make sure that every single student has a voice and is advocated for. That’s our main priority. As students recognize that, they’re excited to work with us and excited to see how they can be involved this upcoming year.
Denis: When you talk about advocacy and talk about student representation, what do you want to get better at Boise State? What things might you want to see cut back?
Holman: We had the pleasure of attending the State Board of Education meeting, and one of the things they touched on was student mental health in Idaho public schools and universities. Through the pandemic, access to mental health resources was pretty limited. I think every institution tried to do their best, but the numbers show that it just wasn’t working.
Sheen: This is a place where student government can step up, reach out to our peers and say, “Hey, these are the mental health resources on campus. This is how you can access them. This is the cost if you have insurance. If you don’t have insurance, these are your options if you don’t have the resources to pay for them.”
We really want to help de-stigmatize mental health resources. When somebody is ready to get help, they can get help immediately.
Something that goes along with that is building community. What does it mean to be involved in the school community? We want to make sure that we push funding for clubs, so students can have the opportunity to be involved.
Holman: The benefit of Boise State is that there is quite literally a club for anybody. There’s a Jedi club. There’s a wizard club. They’re not as big as a fraternity or sorority, but not everybody wants to join Greek life. If we can connect people with those groups, that helps. For the high school graduating class of 2020, they didn’t even get their last few years of high school in person. How are they supposed to connect in college?
Denis: What are you looking forward to in your last year as seniors?
Sheen: I’m so excited to have a year where I can focus on the Boise State community because I’ve had two years of COVID, a semester where I was studying abroad and this past year has been super-focused on academics.
Holman: Personally, I found that a lot of people on campus are not having fun because it’s our first full academic year coming out of COVID. I want (students) to remember college as a good experience.
I’m pretty passionate about mental health, especially on campus. COVID reminded us that we’re not robots. We need to breathe. We need to rest. We have feelings and emotions that have been repressed for three years, and now we’re seeing the consequences of that.
Sheen: A lot of our students are from rural areas in Idaho. It’s really hard to come from a small town and then come to a big city where everybody’s already having these conversations. A lot of incoming students don’t know the resources that university can provide.
Denis: What are some of your strategies for connecting (with students)?
Holman: We have the benefit of having our assembly and that helps us reach a huge amount of students in the first place. Social media is important. I know we’re going to be using it quite a bit, especially with our commitment to transparency.
Sheen: The biggest thing is the people-to-people connection, face-to-face.
Holman: We want people to feel comfortable reaching out to their representatives.
Sheen: In the past, students come to ASBSU if you have problems. We’re trying to flip that. We show up to your events. We show up on the quad. You know who we are, how we can advocate for you, so when the time comes, you can reach out.
Denis: How often will you assemble — once a month, every couple of weeks?
Sheen: Last year, they met every other week. This year, we’re looking to meet every week, so things can happen a little bit faster.
Denis: You’ve talked about connecting with students quite a bit. What is your vision, and what you want to do at Boise State
Holman: I’m looking forward to working with students. And I’m very open to feedback and criticism if that is to come up because our vision for Boise State is lofty. We need to hear what students want and what they need. We’re here to support them no matter what.
Sheen: I’m so blessed and grateful that I have the opportunity to obtain a post secondary education and attend Boise State. And it’s my honor to try to make it a better place for my peers.
Student government doesn’t exist to govern students. We’re here to advocate and support them. I’ve been part of student government since my very first semester here at Boise State. I’ve seen it change throughout the years, and I’m confused when I read the constitution. We’re hoping that, before the beginning of the school year, we can clean it up to make sure that students know what’s happening and how they can navigate ASBSU.
I don’t want this interview to come out like there is a really poor view of the past administration. The biggest takeaway is that they claimed a lot of things, but didn’t do the work. Student government doesn’t exist to govern students. We’re here to advocate and support them. And that structure is very different.
Denis: What new challenges might be there because of the new constitution?
Sheen: The new constitution creates the judicial branch. The word choices that are used make it seem more official, but we’re not here to judge students and ASBSU doesn’t have that power. The language is misleading.
Another thing, it put the Senate Assembly and funding board all into one branch, and they call it legislation. The funding board, their sole purpose is to fund student organizations. They don’t write legislation. It’s really confusing.
I think that is also the reason why a lot of students voted yes. On the ballot, the reasoning sounded like a cool way to change things up, but the actual execution of it is going to look different.
Holman: On that vote, there were quite a few abstain votes, rather than students voting yes or no. So I think they didn’t have the opportunity to fully understand the constitutional changes.
Sheen: We’re hoping to write the code over the summer. The first day the new constitution is in effect is the first day of fall semester. The plan is to work a lot this summer to make sure that we’re prepared for the new constitution, and that we’re prepared to communicate to students.
Holman: On the first day of school, our ability to communicate will be a lot better.
Denis: How can students reach out to you to if they have questions about this?
Sheen: Email. [email protected].
Holman: My door will be open. Well, there’s certain times it’ll be closed, but we’ll have office hours, so I will publicly state when I will be in that office.
Sheen: This is something that we’re hoping to do this upcoming year — make sure all executive members have office hours. There’s this whole room in the student union building dedicated to ASBSU. We’re hoping to involve more Senate and assembly members, inviting them to host office hours.