Many students value Canisius’ small campus, Jesuit values and sense of community. Transfer student Abby Hughes is one of those students. Hughes is a senior majoring in political science and urban studies with a minor in women and gender studies. She is heavily involved on campus, being a member of Phi Sigma Sigma, WNY Prosperity Fellowship, Di Gamma, and the President of the Underground Student Association (USA).
She transferred to Canisius halfway through her sophomore year from the University at Buffalo (UB). She knew for certain that she wanted to be more involved at Canisius. She was involved in student government in high school, which she very much enjoyed, but had a harder time getting involved in that at UB. Although she was able to get involved, she claimed it was hard to be connected to the campus, and her role in student government felt so disconnected she didn’t even feel like a student there.
One of the first things she did after she transferred was apply for vice speaker of the Senate, though she did not get appointed. She claimed it was still a great experience in that others were very supportive and encouraged her to become more involved, she said this was something she didn’t experience at UB. “It was such an accurate and great glimpse into the sort of campus that Canisius is,” she said. “We are taught to see one another’s potential.” Because of this, she ran for Senate and was elected junior senator.
She also joined Canisius’ sorority Phi Sigma Sigma when she first transferred. She explained that she never saw herself joining a sorority but that having that support system has helped her feel empowered. It has given her more confidence and made it easier for her to get involved on campus. “I don’t think i would have felt empowered to run for senate my first semester on campus if i didn’t have that support system,” she said.
She discovered what she was interested in, that being student government, which led her to run for USA president around this time last year. “I’ve grown so much from that experience,” she stated. She described herself as someone who wasn’t a great public speaker and when she had to speak in front of different club leaders, she felt it was very much out of her comfort zone. She wrote down what she prepared to say. Today, this is something that is second nature to her. “I’m not sure if I would have been able to see myself having the ability to take on this role if the people around me didn’t see it in me and encouraged me to run,” Hughes said. “I definitely feel as though I’ve found where I belong and the people I want to surround myself with.”
She decided to transfer to Canisius from UB because she didn’t like that she never saw the same face twice at UB. The size of the campus led her to feel a lack of community. Her brother attended Canisius and graduated in 2017. She went to an event held by Campus Ministry that her brother was involved in and teared up at the event explaining to her parents that this was the college she wanted to go to. She didn’t know what type of college experience she wanted until she had a college experience that she disliked. “I felt such a sense of community and I wasn’t even a student at Canisius yet.”
Transferring was initially nerve wracking for her as she does not like change; however, she wonders what her experience would have been if she went to Canisius from the start. She realized that transferring when she did is what forced her to get more involved on campus. “I could not have asked for a better experience at Canisius,” Hughes stated.
Hughes had a few goals in mind when running for USA president that she was able to implement this year. Her goals included facilitating more connections between club leaders as well as clubs and USA, to make the USA committees more effective and implementing a workshop for club leaders to go to regarding diversity. In terms of her first goal, USA realized that a lot of clubs have questions about appealing and club credit cards. They were able to create a space for club leaders to go when they have questions. For her second goal, she felt that there was an unintentional lack of support in the past from the USA eboard towards the committee, now they do regular committee chair check ins and have been overall showing more support. She feels that this has led USA to be more productive as a whole this year. For her third and final goal, she acknowledged that the USA eboard isn’t very diverse. “It’s important that we’re conscious of our privilege,” she said. She explained that they are not fully representative of the student body and encourages club leaders to have the same mentality.
Her initial plan for her first goal was to create the marketing board which was meant to facilitate more effective communication amongst club leaders specifically to better promote events. This plan didn’t work out. Instead, the council of representatives started this semester and had their first meeting on Feb. 25. Their goal is also to facilitate more connections and facilitate spaces where club leaders can ask USA questions. This idea stemmed from club mixers that started this year that allowed club leaders to get in touch. They have had two so far; only one was required, and both had good turnouts.
Another goal she has stems from her involvement in the Jesuit Student Government Alliance (JSGA). This organization is made up of student government presidents from just under 30 Jesuit colleges across the country. “The previous USA President, Matt Smardz, really encouraged me to take on a leadership role within the JSGA, which was established during the 2018-2019 academic year, after being elected as President,” she said. She is currently the communications chair for JSGA which means she coordinates their activism throughout the school year. She does this by exchanging ideas for programs that they feel should be implemented on college campuses and coming together with other members to discuss statements that involve issues that impact students on each campus. “This organization has inspired me to open conversations on our campus regarding topics such as gender-inclusive housing and reopen the conversation on divestment from fossil fuels,” she stated.
Hughes graduates this May, and although she doesn’t have any concrete post-graduation plans yet she is hesitant to leave Buffalo. She enjoys the administrative meetings that she goes to which leads her to believe she may want to do a higher ed program at Canisius. She admires the Jesuit values and identifies with the mission in terms of social justice. For this reason, she is also considering working for a nonprofit. “I feel that ultimately I’m going to come back to Canisius,” she stated.