Baron Crawford, the new president of Western Carolina University’s Student Government Association, sees some of the challenges of his term of office reflecting national trends, socially and politically.

“I think we are at a time, on campus and off, where we need to encourage expression and views, but just as importantly we need to keep the discourse reasonable and civil,” he said. “With a presidential election coming up, express your views but keep in mind everyone comes from different perspectives so having respect is imperative, whether you agree or disagree, on any issue.”

Crawford, a rising senior from Gastonia, is a communication major with a concentration in public relations and a minor in Spanish. Previously vice president of SGA, he said he was compelled to run for president because he knows the strengths of the organization and has seen the benefits it provides to campus, which has a personal appeal to him. The first-generation college student said he also recognizes the demands it will place on him.

SGA President Baron Crawford

SGA President Baron Crawford

Crawford’s election as SGA president comes as the university is grappling with issues related to free speech and diversity that have included anonymous postings on social media platforms and chalked messages on campus sidewalks during the spring semester. Some of the social media postings have contained language deemed racist, hurtful, offensive and frightening to many members of the campus community.

In response, the university held a series of campus conversations about issues of race, diversity and civil discourse throughout the month of April, with additional activities planned for the summer and for fall semester. In addition, a chief diversity officer will be joining the university on June 1 to lead campus inclusion and diversity initiatives.

In spite of the rhetoric and recent news headlines, Crawford, who is African-American, said he does not feel there is a racial divide on campus. “Sure, students like people anywhere come together in groups, as friends outside the classroom, because of shared backgrounds and similar interests, and can relate to one another. If you’re from a place or have an interest or identity, you gravitate toward others like you. That creates a community, but we’re collectively part of a bigger community ― the Catamount community. Part of coming to college is about coming together with people who aren’t like you, opening your eyes to things.”

Crawford said he does see his duties as SGA president having an impact in light of recent events on campus.

“SGA represents the student body, so we have a key role to play,” he said. When WCU was making the news on those topics, “I took a moment, sat back and tried to see where students were coming from. I have talked to some students who feel they aren’t being heard. SGA has a responsibility to them.”

Whether the issue is potential racial tension, rising tuition, lack of parking, crowded dining facilities or actions within the University of North Carolina system, Crawford stressed there is always time to listen and have a dialogue.

“I think WCU tackles issues head-on and does listen,” he said. “Hiring a chief diversity officer was a key move. The construction and renovations going on, the new building at the top of the hill, all the improvements planned for the future, all these things show that Western Carolina University cares and is moving forward.”