Jerry Toussaint is currently the president of the Student Association (SA), the president of Kappa Alpha Psi and a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law at Binghamton University. Toussaint was a former intern and chief of staff under former Student Association (SA) President Jermel McClure, ‘18.
What made you run for SA president?
It’s interesting because I always wanted to be in a leadership position, but I didn’t know I wanted to be SA president, at least at first. Initially, during my sophomore year, I ran to be vice president for multicultural affairs. I lost that race to Joshua Gonzalez, ‘18. But when I lost, I just realized that there was a reason it happened. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and once I lost, it just told me that, “Hey, this may not be necessarily the position for you. Maybe there’s something else out there.” And that’s where I sort of turned to the president position. What really pushed me was the idea of setting an example for a lot of other young minority men and women who attend BU and feel as though they don’t belong. As someone who came into BU and just struggled initially with finding themselves and how they could fit in, I really wanted to be in a position where I could help others and show them if I can do it, you can, too. [I wanted] to be in that position where I can have all the resources of the SA at my disposal to help those students who actually need that development and need that reassurance that they’re here for a reason and that they’re not just lucky, especially with Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) kids and the notion that EOP kids aren’t smart or they’re a product of affirmative action. I just really wanted to go against that and be something that the younger students could look up to.
When you had those feelings of not belonging, what did you do to make BU feel like home?
Initially, I found a mentor. I feel like that’s one of the most important things for anyone just coming into college, but especially for young minorities who just feel very lost — someone who’s been through a lot of the things you are going through as a young freshman. I found my mentor at the end of my freshman year. He was former Vice President for Academic Affairs Raul Cepin, ’18. I asked him to be my mentor, and then at the beginning of my sophomore year, Raul connected me to Jermel, who was vice president for multicultural affairs at the time, and because of that connection, I became an intern in Jermel’s office. So he was already plugging me in different places, just trying to get me to excel within myself. And Jermel really liked the fact that I connected with him early, so he made me his head intern that year. I gained a lot of experience that year, and the year after, when Jermel became SA president, I went along with him and became chief of staff. So with two years of experience within the SA, I was aware of how the office worked, the different resources that were provided and what can really be done with the right person in charge.
Being that you’re the second black male SA president, what does that mean to you?
As far as being the second black president, I think it just means a lot, especially within our political climate. Some would argue that Trump was elected due to ‘whitelash.’ [After] eight years of Obama, people just grew tired of it, and they retaliated by electing Trump. I feel that, just in the scope of our campus — this microcosm society that we have in BU — it means a lot as far as the students seeing me as someone who’s adequate. They’re seeing beyond race. I mean, it’s always about race, but they’re seeing beyond that to some extent and just seeing me as someone who can adequately lead them. That just personally means a lot to me — that the students believed in me and they showed that through their votes, which I really appreciated. It also means a lot in the sense that it says Jermel wasn’t lucky; this wasn’t luck. We’re here as black students, we’re here to stay and we’re here for a reason. We deserve to be here and we’re showing that through the different positions each of us are in.
How will you advocate for students of color with your position?
As far as how to go about representing black students, I’m always looking to help young, black leaders in any way I can. I have been to BU over the summer multiple times to speak during orientation sessions. I also came during BU Enrichment Program (BEP) weekend and had a barbershop talk with some of BEP ‘18, answering a lot of their questions that they had. [I even gave] them some of my contact information, and some of them contact me on the side with any personal advice they may need. I just try to be an asset to them however I can, whether that’s just being a mentor or providing them with leadership opportunities.
PRISM has edited this interview for length and clarity.