This is the third in a series of stories on LSU Student Government presidents, which will appear in future issues of LSU Alumni Magazine.
Stories told by LSU Student Government presidents from the 1950s to the present are a reminder of how much things change and how much they stay the same.
Elaine Abell (1963-64), LSU’s first female student body president, remembers rolling up her long pants and putting on a coat to walk across campus. Coeds weren’t allowed to wear slacks on campus.
Roger Ogden’s (1967-68) resume reads like a one-man “who’s who” of service to LSU. He talks about the cultural diversity of his undergraduate days and the ethnic diversity of today’s campus.
In Stephen Moret’s term (1993-94), the biggest issue was the state’s underfunding of Louisiana’s flagship research university. Moret, who was an undergraduate when some LSU students pitched in to help paint classrooms, thinks little has changed in that regard.
Stewart Lockett (2018-19) is the third black student elected to head the LSU student body. LSU, he thinks, sometimes echoes the divisiveness of his home state. The students who elected him president represent a different demographic, Lockett said.
Chancellor Sean O’Keefe, VP Josh King and Cassie Alsfeld. Photo: 2008 Gumbo
Cassie Alsfeld (2008 BACH MCOM), president in 2007-08, thinks LSU alumni have something many graduates of other schools lack – “street smarts” and a built-in fan club. “ … It makes me happy to see LSU shirts and hats everywhere I go, from Capitol Hill to Cancun, Boston to the Bahamas. I even met someone from LSU on a work trip to Amsterdam! We look out for our own. That is the most impressive and important thing about our school and community,” Alsfeld said.
Alsfeld encounters LSU alumni at all levels of the business and corporate world as owner of Shoreline Strategies, a communications consulting company specializing in copywriting, editing, email marketing, and online fundraising. She started the company after more than a decade in national, state, and local politics. “I live, primarily, in Washington, D.C., but I come to home to New Orleans every few weeks or months,” she said.
Alsfeld lived on campus three of her four years at LSU. “I enjoyed living on campus. It made me feel like I was truly a part of the community,” she said. “It made it easier to get to and from classes, meetings, and events. I built so many strong relationships that I still enjoy today.”
The big issues during Alsfeld’s time at LSU included emphasis on making the University a walking campus, a safer campus, and trying to achieve “top-tier status as a university under the ‘Flagship Agenda,’” she said. “We had a capital campaign running which raised close to $1 billion, and we were preparing for the LSU Sesquicentennial.”
Like other LSU leaders over the years, Alsfeld would have liked more help from the legislature. “It’s discouraging to see the legislature strip away or neglect critical components of LSU – from courses to professors to entire programs to buildings.”
“It’s time the legislature put politics aside,” she said, “and put the students and state first. We shouldn’t put higher education and the TOPS program on the chopping block every year.”
Alsfeld includes in her successes as SG president a safer campus, improved bus routes, work on the Rec Center (now UREC), the “Magnolia Bowl” between LSU and Ole Miss football teams, and testifying before the legislature “on key issues and funding” for LSU. Her vote on the LSU Board of Supervisors gave students “a voice and a seat at the table for every major decision” made during her presidency. She helped maintain access to football tickets for students, implemented “Chats with the Chancellor,” and developed Travelin’ Tigers bus trips to away games, Alsfeld said.
What she took away from LSU led to her “stepping out of my comfort zone to move to D.C. and working my tail off to get jobs on Capitol Hill, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee, and the Romney presidential campaign.”
Colorado Robertson. Photo: 2009 Gumbo
Colorado Robertson (2009 BACH AGR, 2011 MPA), assistant director of risk management at LSU, was named a 2016 Risk All Star by Risk and Insurance Magazine for leading the effort to save the University’s risk management department $10 million.
His year as head of Student Government in 2008-09 was marked by a lot of things, large and small, that meant something to students. “Believe it or not, debit and credit cards were not accepted in the Student Union when I took office in 2008,” Robertson said. “Students had to pay cash or use a pre-loaded Tiger Card, but our administration changed that.”
“Little things” accomplished during his time as SG president included keeping the library open later, passing out Scantrons and blue books during finals week, moving the tutoring center from the basement of Allen Hall to Middleton Library, and leading the transition from the Baton Rouge bus system to a private company managed by LSU.
Turning to less seismic rumblings: Some students wanted the “Oh Wee Oh” chant back at football games. The chant ended in a rude declaration. It was allowed briefly before the band director pulled it. Again.
Robertson credits SG officers Shannon Bates, vice president, and Amanda Gammon, senator, with leading efforts to bring students together and get them involved in SG initiatives. “We had a great program called ‘Straight Talk with SG,’ Robertson said. “We staked out a spot in Free Speech Alley and talked with students about their everyday issues. We followed up on them throughout the year. Again, I think it was a lot of little things that my executive staff did that truly made our year successful.”
SG at LSU exceled after Hurricane Gustave wrecked Baton Rouge in August 2008. “Our executive team and senators volunteered to assist in the shelter set up at the PMAC, going door to door in local apartment complexes that had no power for several days to let students know they could get food at campus dining halls and a hot shower at the Rec,” Robertson said.
“We also did our fair share of testifying at the Legislature and Board of Regents as LSU faced budget cuts in 2008 ... I remember one morning we were out in the rain covering car windows that had been broken by flying debris (from Gustave) when I found out the Board of Regents was discussing the new funding formula. They hadn’t told the Council of Student Body Presidents. Within thirty minutes, I was in line to testify against the proposed funding allocation model while wearing the same wet clothes, just covered up with a sports coat.”
Anything else stand out? “Most importantly, I met my beautiful wife at LSU and fell in love,” he said. Robertson married Elizabeth Miller (2009 BACH MCOM).
“LSU has given a farm boy from St. Helena Parish so much, and, now, I’m able to return the goodwill. As a risk manager for LSU,” Robertson said, “I help ensure that our institution that is loved and cherished by so many is properly protected when the storm clouds gather.”
John Woodard and SG VP Taylor Parks. Photo: 2013 Gumbo
John S. Woodard (2014 BACH BUS), president in 2013-14, is back in Louisiana after a few years away – in Washington, D.C., working for then-U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and in Shreveport, La., working in Dr. Trey Baucum’s unsuccessful campaign for Congress; and for the Small Business Administration.
He’s working on an M.B.A. at Tulane, hoping to resume what LSU prepared him to do. “LSU gave me a couple of things, a passion for Louisiana and for where I’m from,” Woodard said. He left LSU with “great friends” and wanting to “contribute to the economy. I got that from LSU.”
The big issue during his presidency was state funding for LSU, Woodard said. “TOPS was fully funded, but budget cuts were affecting the University and students. We started “Unite Louisiana” to lobby Baton Rouge and Washington elected officials.”
The “we” was Woodard, president, and Taylor Parks, vice president. “We ran as a ticket,” Woodard said. “We worked well together. Today, we’re close friends … It was baby steps. Some of the Student Government leaders who followed us did a good job of picking up where we’d left off.”
Unlike early student body presidents, Woodard was a voting member on the LSU Board of Supervisors. “University President King Alexander’s first year coincided with my year as SG president,” Woodard said. “We had a good relationship. My philosophy was consensus building. Leaders before us were in the news. That was neither Taylor’s nor my way. We avoided the media. We handled our business behind the scenes. King Alexander was helpful.”
“There was a lack of diversity among minority students,” Woodard said. “We worked on that. Taylor [an LSU Ambassador] and I had broad experience with classmates in a ton of different backgrounds. We involved our classmates and friends for their ethnicity and experiences. [Ambassadors] are, essentially, orientation leaders. They hosted students and their families on tours. They are the face of the University. High-energy people.”
Working with the LSU Ambassadors and the Freshman Council, Student Government under Parks and Woodard helped freshmen fit into campus life. The Division of Student Affairs STRIPES program, was aimed at in-state and out-of-state first-year students. It helped students, especially out-of-state students, learn the campus, Woodard said. “They were introduced to the Tiger tradition. It was, like, earning your Tiger stripes. It wasn’t an SG program, but a lot of SG people were involved with STRIPES,” Woodard said.
They also worked with LSU Athletics to readjust the point system for how students were allocated tickets for football games and bowl games. “Student attendance was declining,” Woodard said. “Especially for hot, day games and games against weak opponents. Rather than lose student seating, students’ cards were scanned when they showed up at athletic events – not just football. There were Student Point Nights for gymnastics and basketball, too.”
Woodard worked in Hurricane Katrina relief as a high school student. At LSU, he made mission trips to Central America as a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. The trips were “mostly Greek with a religious tilt” arranged through Magnificat Travel in Lafayette. “Students were of different religions,” he said.
Woodard, looking back from the advanced age of twenty-six, thinks his best work at LSU was getting scholarships into the hands of deserving students. “There were twenty scholarships allotted to each member of the Board of Supervisors,” Woodard said. “I was able to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Photo: Stewart Lockett
LSU students elected the first black SGA president, Kerry Pourciau, in 1972. When Stewart Lockett, a black biological engineering student from New Iberia, La., was elected head of Student Government in April 2018, it was still no small thing, Lockett feels. “It’s a big deal,” he said, “because of the climate on our campus and in the state. It’s sometimes divisive. My election showed some progress. The people who voted care and want to see change.” The students who voted for him represent “a different demographic,” he said.
Lockett, on schedule to graduate in May 2019, has applied to medical schools inside and outside Louisiana. Whether he stays in Louisiana or not, he’ll take away good feelings about LSU, Lockett said. “LSU transformed me,” he said. “My thinking about the world and my ability to impact it changed. I got a more mature outlook on life.”
It was deep summer as Lockett talked about his time as SG president with days moving slowly toward fall and a new semester. “I’ve only been in office four months, and most of that time has been summer,” he said. Still, he can point to helping rally support for the TOPS program during the Louisiana Legislature’s third special session. His and the efforts of other students, LSU administration. and legislators headed off a $2,200 cut in each student’s scholarship funding.
Lockett served on a Greek Life task force that made recommendations following the fraternity hazing death of freshman Max Gruver in September 2017. Eighteen-year-old Gruver was one month into his first year at LSU when he died in a hazing incident. His death led to passage by the legislature of the Max Gruver Act, which made hazing a felony and increased penalties, especially in cases of excessive alcohol consumption. “One of the Task Force’s recommendations moves tailgating to the fraternity houses with restrictions,” Lockett said. “We recommended hard alcohol be banned everywhere on campus, alumni included.”
The Task Force’s recommendation to move tailgating off the Parade Grounds came from testimony that some of the bigger problems, including fights, were caused by “outsiders,” Lockett said. “One of the biggest things we struggled with on campus is student engagement,” he explained. “Many of our students don’t know the names of campus administrators. Some don’t know who the LSU president is or the dean of students or the vice president of student affairs.”
While many students can name F. King Alexander as president of the University, a surprising number cannot, as a video poll of students walking across campus showed a few years ago. Another such poll is planned, “not to embarrass students,” Lockett said. “It’s more, ‘You should know these people exist.’”
“A lot of students don’t know who I am,” said Lockett, citing his social media attempts to keep students informed on issues affecting them. Why the disconnect? “They’re focused on their social world, internships, research,” he guessed.