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Changemaker, local activist and Whitman College senior Salma Anguiano puts her community first.

As the 2021-2022 academic year gets into full swing, Whitman’s student body government has a new leader: senior politics and Chinese major Salma Anguiano, who was elected president of the Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) in May 2021.

One of ASWC’s primary roles is to ensure that the student body’s values are represented in the college’s high-level decision-making. And this year, the college faces one very crucial decision: selecting a president to replace Kathleen Murray, who will retire at the end of the academic year. As president of ASWC, Anguiano is also a member of the Presidential Search Committee, the group of students, faculty, staff and trustees tasked with helping to select the college’s 15th president. When asked what qualities she wants to see in candidates for this vital position, Anguiano says they are similar to the traits she aims to exhibit during her terms as ASWC president: passion, authenticity and transparency.

Overcoming Adversity

Salma AnguianoAnguiano’s first foray into leadership started when an advisor at her Hermiston, Oregon, high school encouraged her to join the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing students for careers and active roles in their communities. Anguiano became deeply engaged in the organization and decided to run for state and, eventually, national offices.

“I know there have been people before me who have done a lot to make Whitman a better place for me, and I want to leave my mark and make Whitman a better place for the students who come after me.” 

Running her first campaign wasn’t easy for Anguiano. “At the time it was hard, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she admits. But although the experience was unfamiliar, she knew she was capable: “People saw potential in me,” Anguiano says. The self-confidence this support gave her led to a successful campaign—Anguiano was elected Oregon’s FCCLA president, one of the first women of color to hold the office at the state level.

During her campaign and later when in office, Anguiano says she knew others within the organization questioned her ability to perform her duties, mainly because of her identity as a Hispanic woman. “The narrative of people telling
me that I don’t fit the picture of a leader is one I’ve heard before,” she says. Anguiano went on to prove naysayers wrong through her many accomplishments as president, which included creating career and
technical education programs at her own school and advocating for these programs at other low-income schools around the country.

Shining a Light

As a Whitman student, Anguiano has continued to push for brighter futures and better conditions for the larger community. She’s currently deep in a project that means a lot to her: Protegiendo NuestrasRaices (Protecting Our Roots), which aims to advocate for a fair compensation system to protect undocumented workers through engagement, workshops and conversations with legislators. Anguiano is also working on an accompanying documentary that highlights the experiences of some of those undocumented workers in eastern Washington. She hopes the film, which she anticipates will be released in the fall of 2021, will motivate others to get involved. “I see the documentary as space for people’s voices to be heard, but also as a call to action. Whitman’s community lacks engagement with the undocumented population and many are oblivious to the atrocities that occur in our greater communities. I hope this documentary teaches them something.”

On campus, Anguiano participated in organizations such as Debating for Democracy and lent her voice to several committees dedicated to meeting the college’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals before deciding to run for president of ASWC. She says the challenges and criticisms she encountered during her FCCLA presidential runs in high school helped prepare her for her most recent campaign. “I take the jabs as compliments.”

Hopes for The Future

“If I had to summarize a theme for this year it would be change, passion, authenticity and more change,” Anguiano says. “I want to create an authentic organization—one without a façade.” Authenticity is a value she takes seriously; she believes it is the backbone of creating change, being an effective leader and gaining the student body’s trust.

A FCCA member speaking into a microphoneWith the campaigning behind her, Anguiano is now looking ahead to the agenda for the next year of duties of student government. She has a long list of goals, including analyzing how the student body wants to use its budget, creating more democratic elections with higher student participation and properly addressing the college’s history regarding colonization. She’s confident she and her team can achieve all of it.

Anguiano says she knows the change she desires won’t come easy, but she is motivated to work for the benefit of those surrounding her. “Seeing students enjoy the changes that were made and not have to go through similar challenges makes me really happy.”

Anguiano has noted that the pride that comes with her efforts coincides with her peers and community members being celebrated for their accomplishments as well. Doing the work and recognizing when others do their part is something that she wants to make a habit out of for ASWC this year, knowing that creating and upholding this culture will keep others motivated throughout the taxing work that has to be done.

“I’m here to make Whitman a diverse, equitable and inclusive space. That is what I campaigned on ... This is work that I’ve been doing and I’m going to continue to do this upcoming year and as an alum once I leave Whitman.

“I know that there have been people before me who have done a lot to make Whitman a better place for me, and I want to leave my mark and make Whitman a better place for the students who come
after me.”