Lamar Richards, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), is making history as the first black gay man to be elected UNC’s Student Body President. He was officially sworn in May 20.
When he learned of the campaign results, Richards posted a message on Twitter: “They told me I was too young, too black, too gay and even too outspoken to be Carolina’s next Student Body President … I guess God had other plans.”
UNC’s history includes some unpleasant reminders of a time when racial discrimination was considered acceptable: black students were denied entry to the school until 1960. Even in the 21st century, one of UNC’s campus buildings was named Saunders Hall, in honor of the former North Carolina Secretary of State William Saunders, a graduate of the school who was also a Confederate soldier and a leader of the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan. Efforts by students and other concerned individuals saw the building renamed Carolina Hall in 2015.
Despite those aspects of the school’s past, Richards believes the path for a positive future is to keep moving forward. He hopes to access a broad spectrum of perspectives by including the opinions of those with diverse experiences into his presidential decisions.
In an interview with UNC-Chapel Hill, Richards explained: “It was always a challenge to be outspoken. But in this space, in particular, I was really compelled, and I felt like if I didn’t speak up, nobody else would.”
“My call to really speak out and be active on campus was from when I entered that space and thought, ‘This is unacceptable. Nobody should feel like they don’t have a space in Student Government.’”
In May 2020, Richards became the chairperson of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity. Working with UNC faculty and staff, Richards was able to create a stipend for students who did not have access to the internet during COVID-19.
Response to Richards’ election has been overwhelmingly positive.
Former Senior Class President Preston Willis recently sent a message of encouragement to Richards. “In 2006, I was the first black male Senior Class President at UNC. I’m overjoyed to see the road is still being paved. Huge congrats!”
“I’ve really done something with my life so far,” Richards says, “And it gives me hope that I can continue to influence change no matter where I am.”
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