Growing up in Montgomery County, Ireland Lesley originally had no intention of attending the University of Maryland. But after learning more about the school, she was hooked.
A junior government and politics major, Lesley is running in this university’s Student Government Association elections in a crowded field as a presidential candidate for Empower Maryland. She wants to improve transparency between the administration, the student government and the students themselves.
“One of the main issues that I’ve heard students talk about is that they really don’t know what SGA is doing or why SGA is doing it, and obviously, that’s a big issue because we’re supposed to be directly representing them,” she said. “If they don’t understand why we’re doing things, I don’t think that’s very representative of the student body.”
To combat that disconnect, Lesley said she has reached out to over a hundred campus groups — including the HELP Center, the Interfraternity Council executive board and Terps for Israel — over the course of her campaign, to find out what changes they want to see at the university.
“We have so many amazing student leaders and student groups on this campus that sometimes are not taken seriously, but they know their issues incredibly well and know exactly how those things are affecting their communities,” Lesley said. “What SGA really could do is uplift those voices and allow those students to have a greater say.”
Sophomore psychology major Elena LeVan, who is a member of Preventing Sexual Assault, said she experienced Lesley’s engagement firsthand. When the presidential hopeful attended an event hosted by the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault about how sexual violence affects undocumented and international students, LeVan took note.
“She and members of her ticket are already doing the things they say they’re going to do next year — they’re not waiting until they get elected, and that goes for the entire ticket,” said LeVan, who is a registered ticket affiliate for Empower Maryland.
Lesley first joined the SGA a year ago as the deputy communications director, having worked with the Envision Maryland campaign last election cycle. During the campaign, she was tasked with creating social media posts. But after the election, she wanted to get more involved, and began writing more for the organization — crafting tweets and official statements for both current SGA President Jonathan Allen, and the body as a whole.
In October, she was promoted to senior policy adviser, working closely with the body’s directors to create policy. But after a year in the SGA — seeing an insufficient response from the body when it came to campus issues, such as a proliferation of mold in at least 10 dorms and apartments — she felt the organization wasn’t doing enough for students. It needs to have stronger public stances on issues affecting campus, she said.
“There’s a general culture in SGA that sometimes says ‘Why would we comment on that? The administration doesn’t care,’” she said. “And after a year of hearing that, I said that shouldn’t be the case anymore. We are the governing body for undergraduate students — they should care.”
Given her experience in the body, computer, math and natural sciences representative David Rekhtman — who is running with Lesley on the Empower Maryland ticket — said he is confident she will be transparent and lead well.
“She’s done well with all the opportunities that she’s had,” the sophomore biochemistry and neurophysiology major said. “I trust her because she’s got a new perspective, meaning she’s not bogged down with the politics of SGA. She’s got really great ideas, but on top of that, she also has the experience. She knows what it would take to really make sure that the administration is accountable.”
Aside from her work in the SGA, Lesley spends three days a week on Capitol Hill as an intern for Senator Kamala Harris (D-Ca.), who is running for U.S. president. As a legislative intern, Lesley is responsible for assisting legislators with research, attending meetings and writing memos.
“It’s pretty crazy,” she said.