By Ella ShermanFor Mitzpeh@Mitzpeh“My cultural experiences, of being a young Jewish woman, really shaped my aspirations for the future,” said Denise Burroughs. (Photos l r: Burroughs, Josie Shaffer and Racheli Cohen were recently elected to SGA) Photo courtesy of Denise Burroughs, Josie Shaffer and Racheli Cohen.
Many of this university’s newest Jewish Student Government Association officials believe their campaign and their upcoming term may be influence by their religious backgrounds.
Josie Shaffer, recently elected SGA Vice President and junior government and politics major, grew up in Pikesville, Maryland, which has one of the largest Jewish populations in Baltimore County. Although she doesn’t consider herself very religious, she has never felt disconnected from her Jewish community back home.
“Even if you’re not the one observing the High Holidays, your friends are, so you are still connected to that part of faith even if you yourself aren’t practicing,” Shaffer said.
After she fell in love with the idea of “doing well for others and improving your community,” Shaffer says was motivated to work in government and policy. Now as the vice president of SGA, she wants to turn this idea into a reality at this university.
Shaffer plans to facilitate a three-year SGA pilot program that will fund free menstrual products in 25 bathrooms across campus in the fall in the hopes of making it a permanent program funded by the university in the future.
She also wants to maintain the UMPD Student Advisory Committee she started this year with Nabila Prasetiawan, the former SGA vice president.
“It’s not just like we come to this meeting with [Police Chief David Mitchell] and vent. We come to a meeting with Chief Mitchell, vent and then propose solutions,” Shaffer said.
Denise Burroughs, a junior communications major, was elected this spring as a College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) Representative for SGA and the University Senate. Her Jewish experiences as a counselor at Camp Louise and a member of BBYO in high school influence her interest in public relations.
“I just want to be able to make a change in the community, whether it’s through public affairs and like advocating for policy or just helping out somebody at a nonprofit organization,” Burroughs said.
One of her goals is advocating for a student advisory board for diversity, equity and inclusion in her academic college.
“I think that there are some amazing people in the College of Arts and Humanities that can really make a change or bring a student perspective to these board meetings every year,” she said.
Burroughs emphasized how important it is for students to have a say in this university’s decisions and that a student advisory board would be “something to give students a bigger voice around the decisions that the college is making.”
Another new Jewish SGA elected official is Racheli Cohen, a sophomore government and politics and sociology major. Cohen is an Off-Campus Neighboring Representative who will represent students living within the 20740 zip code. She said her advocacy has been influenced by her mother’s involvement at their synagogue as Chesed (kindness) Chair.
“She for a lot of years was kind of the one in charge of coordinating meals for people who had lost a relative or had surgery or had a baby,” Cohen said.
“I really want to continue getting more creative with initiatives that will actually make a difference,” she said.
Cohen said she specifically wants to focus on sexual misconduct training within the Interfraternity Council at this university because “they don’t actually have control over what happens in off-campus housing.”
The Jewish communities surrounding these new SGA officials have not only been influential to their growth, but also to how they approach leadership roles.
“It just made sense that I would join something that was all about kind of giving back and supporting the student community here,” Cohen said.