The 2021-2022 school year will welcome an all-female chief leadership team for the 74th Session of the Student Government Association, or SGA, including Student Body President Natalie Parks, Speaker of the Student Senate Iman Ahmed and Judicial Court Chief Justice Karissa McIntosh.
“The best way to describe it is ‘inspiring,’”Ahmed said in an email to The Battalion. “Being surrounded by strong women who have worked immensely hard to get to where they are, who lead so graciously and are so dedicated to serving students is nothing short of uplifting. As we each lead in our respective roles and come together to meet our mutual goals, I constantly feel grateful to work alongside such phenomenal women, and [to] also lean on them for support when needed.”
Parks’s election makes her the sixth woman to serve as student body president in A&M history, as well as the first Panhellenic woman to be elected to the position. Parks said she hopes to inspire the Greek life community as a leader on campus.
“For me personally, being able to serve as the first student body president who is also a sorority woman at Texas A&M is pretty monumental for that community, specifically because within the Panhellenic community we very much like to talk about just the importance of women empowering women and supporting each other and leaning on each other,” Parks said. “Hopefully, when people see that there is someone in this role as student body president, who was also one of them, who came from that community and loves being a part of that community, that it’s very possible to get to the different spaces that maybe people hadn’t ever really thought of going before.”
Parks previously served as the junior class president and was the youngest member of former Student Body President Mickey Jaillet’s cabinet.
“My time serving as the junior class president over the course of this past year reminded me how much I love the relationships with people — how much I love hearing people’s thoughts about different things,” Parks said. “Through all my different leadership opportunities and experiences being able to serve students in various capacities in various organizations in my time at Texas A&M, every single one of those experiences very much shaped my desire to think about running for student body president.”
Parks’s campaign, “TAMU by You,” focused on improving student wellness, inclusion and tradition on campus. Parks said she is looking forward to meeting and interacting with students to create their ideal campus environment.
“I’m a very relationship-oriented individual,” Parks said. “I love meeting people. I love connecting with people, I love making new friends. That’s something that is super exciting about this role is just the sheer amount of opportunities that you have to do that. I’m very excited for the upcoming year and seeing students on campus again, that’s probably one of the things I missed the most over this entire year and a half, this entire COVID[-19] era, is just walking on campus and saying ‘Howdy’ to people and seeing your friends and seeing maybe someone from high school that you haven’t seen in a really long time. So overall, I’m very much looking forward to being able to connect with students, hopefully, entirely in person.”
Ahmed began her time in SGA during her freshman year on campus when she ran for a senate position. She has since climbed the ranks to now step into the top leadership role.
“When I ran for Student Senate as a freshman and every year since, I never thought I would be in this position today, as the speaker of the Student Senate,” Ahmed said. “Making the decision to run for speaker was not a decision I took lightly. It took months of deep reflection and deliberation, to ensure that I was the right candidate for this role and was ready to give it my all.”
With the chief female cabinet, Ahmed said the milestone shows the progression from an all-male military school to a university that encompasses those who have taken advantage of opportunities presented and forged a new path for the university.
“It’s necessary to celebrate this historic milestone, to see how far we have come,” Ahmed said. “It demonstrates that regardless of your background, you have a place at Texas A&M University and a seat at the table. This is a step in the right direction, but there are so many more steps to go on this journey.”
Serving as the first Sudanese American, Muslim, Black woman speaker of the senate, Ahmed said she hopes to inspire women, specifically those of color and religious minorities, to step out of their comfort zones and reach any goals they aspire toward.
“I know at times, women can feel self-doubt, imposter syndrome and so much more, but never let fear or doubt hinder you from pursuing your goals. Never let anyone or anything make you feel small, inferior or incapable,” Ahmed said. “You have the capability, you just have to believe in yourself and have that self-confidence.”
McIntosh served as the judicial court chief justice last school year and has become the first chief justice to be confirmed for two sessions. She said she hopes to build off of what was developed last year and make more connections with the judicial branch.
“It’s not customary to do it again,” McIntosh said. “But just the way that events happened I was asked to come back, which was a huge honor to be the first chief justice ever to do it twice. I learned a lot last year. And so this year, it’s much more of a seamless transition.”
McIntosh said she is looking forward to developing staff and working to pass on what she has learned during her terms as a leader. McIntosh strives to help younger members in the cabinet to pass on her legacy.
“I always love mentoring. My younger people within Student Government Association, especially whenever I get a younger judicial advocate who’s coming in as a freshman girl, or just younger justices,” McIntosh said. “Any opportunity I can get to help other people, whether that be through the pre-law society, or through student government, if people are like, ‘Hey, I have some questions, you want to grab coffee?’, that’s my favorite part of the job is getting to build those relationships with other people and be a part in helping them get to where they want to be.”
Before her freshman year, McIntosh said she scheduled coffee with the then-chief justice to get an idea of what the judicial court was like. She said she was inspired by that meeting and hopes to inspire others in the same way.
“I hope to be able to inspire people the way that I was inspired as a freshman and to see my role is giving everyone else their opportunity,” McIntosh said. “I always say my role is chief justice, [but] my vote doesn’t weigh more than everyone else’s. My role is to make sure that [members] get opportunities and experiences.”
The inauguration of the all-female SGA leadership team coincides with the appointment of M. Katherine Banks, who began as the 26th university president on June 1. Banks is the second woman to serve in this role, following former President Elsa A. Murano in 2008-2009.
“President Banks is the person to lead us into a positive future for A&M and also kind of aligning with Karrisa, Iman and myself who are great to lead us in the student government level of things into a positive future as well,” Parks said. “That overlap is really inspiring to me because it just so happens that we were all kind of appointed or elected at the same time, and I very much believe that everything happens for a reason.”
Parks said although this is the first year of an all-female cabinet, she knows it will not be the last and hopes to set an example for future cabinets and women seeking leadership positions.
“Maybe there’s three females representing student government down the road, I really hope that it’s more consistent in the future, because I think that it’s so powerful and so positive for women in the world and the society that we live in, and just the different constructs that we’ve had to face and those obstacles,” Parks said. “The world is progressing past points where maybe we were even a couple years ago, and I think that is amazing, and I’m so excited to be able to say that I’m a part of that. But I really hope that it doesn’t stop at Texas A&M anytime soon.”