CINCINNATI -- As Xavier University students Blair McKee, Desmond Varner and Alfredo Mercedes thought about how to brand their campaign for student government, they turned to a campus tradition for inspiration.
In years past, students running for office named their campaigns based on the first initial of their first names.
After originally calling themselves BDA, for Blair, Desmond and Alfredo, they took it one step further and decided to refer to themselves using the moniker "Better Days Ahead."
The message worked.
The trio became the first all-black ticket to win the Student Government Association's top spots in campus elections earlier this month.
That wasn't the only reason the elections were historic. They also saw the highest voter turnout for a student government election in Xavier's history.
"There was just no better feeling to know that we won, not because we were the best but because everyone else saw we were the best," McKee, the president-elect, said. "We got people to be engaged in this campaign that had never been engaged before."
McKee said seniors came up to her and said it was the first time they voted in the four years they attended Xavier.
BDA's message was right on point, Xavier assistant director of student involvement Molly Dugan said.
"I think they really had the right mix of major, involvement, opportunity, who they know on campus and what their social circles were," Dugan said. "It wasn't just about, 'Oh, we're going to get the student of color vote and win,' it was, 'We're going to get the vote and win.'"
McKee, Mercedes and Varner are all involved in different organizations -- Mercedes is an army reservist and international studies major, McKee is a marketing major and Varner wants to be a nurse -- but they came together for the sole purpose of creating change.
"We didn't run because we were black students and we wanted to run; we ran because we are diverse in our thoughts and our expressions and our organization, and being black is just an added bonus," Mercedes said.
Choosing leaders on all levels
The elections also had the added bonus of being right around the same time the voter registration deadline was approaching in Ohio.
Dugan, who is also the board of election adviser for student government, said the candidates were telling their fellow students to not only vote student government elections, but also to be sure to register to vote in statewide elections in November.
"There were lots of pushes on our campus to become involved in democracy at all levels, so I think that kind of goes hand in hand," Dugan said.
"Better days ahead"
This campaign came down to what McKee, Mercedes and Varner could do for students walking the halls of Xavier every day, they said.
There wasn't an issue too small for BDA to listen to and want to address, Varner said.
"The change is eclectic from everyone because each student has different wants and needs," Varner said. "So there's dining needs, there's safety needs, there's needs about Title IX. There's also small pragmatic needs just about access to printers and laundry."
The trio also campaigned heavily on student-run businesses, Mercedes said. When they take the helm in January, they want to get started on creating a starting a student-run daycare and a student-run clothing bank. The clothing bank would help students get clothes to wear to interviews and help students who don't have warm enough clothes in the winter.
BDA is also addressing the issue of food insecurity on campus. Xavier already has a food bank, but McKee said she'd like to get more options on campus so that more students have access to food both on and off campus.
McKee will also work to make sure students are engaged, updated and that her government is being transparent, she said.
Keeping the momentum
McKee is a busy Xavier University junior and current student government senator, but it was Mercedes' kind encouragement that gave her the final push to run.
"Initially it was really Alfredo that wanted me to run with him," McKee said. "I always said that if I did want to run for student government that I would do a ticket with all students of color because I recognize that there is a need for more students of color to be involved on campus."
McKee said she hopes this experience gives her the tools to navigate and change the workforce in the same way she's navigated and changed her college experience.
"I just hope that I will be able to use this experience and this platform to kind of set the example and the set the standard for what leadership looks like moving forward," McKee said.
As a nursing major, Varner said he knows politics and nursing don't necessarily go hand-in-hand but that there's value to this kind of leadership experience.
"Just being able to connect with people and make real, visible change is really, really impactful," Varner said.
Mercedes said his message and that of BDA is that there isn't anyone who shouldn't have representation on student government at Xavier.
"Your voice matters," Mercedes said. "You're powerful and you can create change on campus. I think that's something that we really strived for on our ticket."