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Hodges makes College history

Kate Antonacci | Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Junior Kimberley Hodges arrived at Saint Mary’s College in the fall of 2004 wanting “to be the first at something,” a goal she quickly accomplished when she became the first black student to join the College’s softball team. But last week’s victory in the student body president race marked an even bigger first for Hodges and for the College – she became the first black woman in the school’s 152-year history ever to hold the position.

“Going into it, I knew it – that there had never been an African American student body president. And I just thought, ‘Hey, this could be really cool to be the first,'” Hodges said. “But beyond that I felt really blessed to know I was the best candidate despite my color.”

After what she called a “crazy” run-off election where she was “going against two great leaders,” Hodges – a first generation College student – made history.

“[African American students] have run before and they’ve lost…to my knowledge there hasn’t even been a class president who has been African American,” Hodges said.

Hodges was admittedly a different type of candidate.

“I’m not Catholic. I’m not the typical ‘what people would view Saint Mary’s as being’ type of student,” Hodges said. “But I live my values and when you do that, you truly push diversity. When you truly defy diversity, it’s far beyond ethnicity and race.”

Although Hodges will be taking on a new title, she is certainly not a beginner at addressing issues of race and diversity on the Saint Mary’s campus.

As the student diversity board vice president this year, Hodges was active in recruiting black students to the College. Her interest was peaked when she realized that there was only one black student in the class of 2009. She marched into the office of Dan Meyer, the vice president of enrollment management and said, “We need to do something about that.”

Meyer agreed and began to work with Hodges to do “what was necessary.”

“I went to high schools throughout Chicago and recruited. I did multi-cultural calling. I said, ‘You need to apply.’ And I turned in at least 50 applications [for students of diverse backgrounds],” she said. “And I did more calling after students were accepted to make them come to Saint Mary’s.”

Hodges’ hard work resulted in another first for the College – a record-high number of black women in the freshman class.

“There were four black girls from my high school alone and we made history with 13 black students [in the class of 2010],” she said.

Her role on the Student Diversity Board (SDB) – which Hodges said has had black and Hispanic presidents – is one that Hodges cannot take on again.

“I know that we’ll have students next year that will step up in my position, but I’ll always be a loud mouth and a huge voice for Saint Mary’s wherever I go,” she said.

Still, the goals she set out to fulfill on the SDB remain high priorities for Hodges. Though diversity was not an issue addressed on her presidential platform, Hodges plans to continue her efforts during her term.

“I’m a huge advocate on our campus,” she said. “I find [pushing diversity] to be something that we’ll have to do.”

And throughout her three years at Saint Mary’s, Hodges has recognized a need for such an advocate’s presence. She said she has had many conversations with young women of color of the College’s campus who do not think they fit in.

Luckily for those students, those are feelings she understands well. Hodges came to Saint Mary’s from Seton Academy, an all-girls college preparatory school in South Holland, Ill., where she was “president of everything you can name.”

Though she called the school a “mini-Saint Mary’s,” there was one distinct difference – it was at least 90 percent black.

So when she arrived at Saint Mary’s to find that she was just was one of just three black students in her class, she “wanted to leave.”

Hodges prayed and decided to stay at the College, recognizing her importance as one of only a handful of black students on campus. Instead, Hodges propelled herself to find her purpose at SMC, which she found relatively fast. At the start of her second semester freshman year, she was elected to the first year board.

“It’s funny because freshman year I was like, ‘I’m going to be student body president.’ I made that up in my mind before I came,” she said. “And I decided to run because I knew that I wouldn’t be complete or be fulfilling my mission if I didn’t.”

Next year, Hodges imagines her duties being a bit more “structural” than in years past – focusing on issues of programming and retention. She said that she will not be able to do as much grassroots work as she is used to.

Rather than traveling to local high schools and meeting with potential black Saint Mary’s students, Hodges will use her new position of leadership to “make sure that diversity is not just in our student body, but also in our faculty.”

“We have literally one handful [of black faculty members]. We just had a few leave,” she said.

Hodges is inspired by the Saint Mary’s diversity initiative, which states that with the hiring of faculty and staff there must be at least one multi-cultural or diverse candidate before the hiring actually occurs. As student body president, Hodges said she will be part of that hiring committee.

Hodges lives, breathes and sleeps thinking about diversity issues – literally. She lives on the inter-cultural floor in Regina Hall and shares a room with her sister Kristle, a freshman.

“It’s amazing because we have people from all different nationalities – some from Bulgaria, from China, some African American and some main-stream Saint Mary’s students.”

Since her victory last week, Hodges has received “tons of emails” from different people in the administration, who she didn’t “even know were rooting for me.”

And Hodges’ family was just as excited. Her sister was “crying and praising God” with her once the announcement was made. Her mom came to South Bend the night before with her pastor from back home.

“They were ridiculous. Of course they were excited,” she said. “I feel like with my parents, they know that I’m kind of always involved and always active.”

Hodges appreciates all the support she can get. While she said the student body president “is for the students of course,” she acknowledged that sometimes in order for goals to be fulfilled, alignment with the administration is essential.

“For me to have that support, my job will be so much more meaningful,” she said.

And when Hodges takes office on April 1, she will be sure to hit the ground running.

“Everything that we put on our platform we will definitely accomplish. If we needed to do them tomorrow, we could,” she said. “I am almost positive that I can deliver that, if not before the first semester is over.”