Jacqueline Keck is one of only three women in history to have held the position of SGA president at Auburn University.
Auburn University’s first woman SGA president was in 1988, Cindy Holland Torbert. Then again in 2008, Lauren Hayes Smith took the role. Beginning in 2017, Keck became Auburn’s third woman SGA president.
“I never really experienced any negativity based around gender,” Keck said. “I had heard that when I was a freshman, all of SGA exec was guys, except for the chief of staff was a girl. And so, in my experience in SGA as a senator, gender didn’t really matter that much, but it only seems to be off kilter when it got to the executive level.”
Auburn’s history of women has dates back to 1894 when the first three females, Kate Conway Brown, Willie Gertrude Little and Margaret Kate Teague graduated from Auburn, almost 40 years after Auburn was founded in 1856, according to University archives.
In 1922, the Women’s Student Government Association was developed. This was an instrumental building block toward bringing women into government.
Vam Cardwell was one of the historic women to act as president of the Women’s Student Government Association in 1946, according to The Auburn University Photographs Collection.
After deciding to run for SGA president, Keck said she was not worried or nervous about running against men.
“Truthfully, when I ran I really didn’t think about gender, and truthfully, people didn’t make a big deal about it until after I was elected,” Keck said.
Keck realized the best way she could serve the student body was to run for SGA president.
“I really wanted to leave an impact on Auburn through service because it – Auburn – had changed me into a person that I’m really proud to be,” Keck said.
Recently, in October of 2016, Auburn was celebrating 125 years of Women at Auburn. As part of this celebration, there was a conference during which Keck, the two previous women Auburn presidents and Gov. Kay Ivey, Auburn’s first woman SGA vice president, came together.
“I was fortunate enough to have relationships with them prior to us getting together for that event,” Keck said. “I had really enjoyed their friendship and advice going through things. But what was kind of cool was as much commentary as we got on us being the three females and all these things, it was really cool to hear them say, ‘I did it because I loved it, and I did it because I was capable and qualified.’”
Much like these two past Auburn presidents, Keck believed she was equipped to carry the position.
“When I ran, heck, I was qualified,” Keck said. “I was like, ‘I have done this, and I am passionate about this,’ and that’s what I focused on. Gender never really was a part of my campaign.”
Keck believes that SGA no longer has a pattern of male domination.
“I look at this year in SGA, and I don’t see any place where females feel that they can’t be,” Keck said.
Keck said according to a diversity report released, SGA is 59.8 percent female and 49.2 percent male. In addition, the executive team, made of eight members, has five females. Finally, the middle leadership has 50 percent female roles.
Keck said that although she tends toward the introverted side, this position has forced her to open up and become more extroverted.
“It was a really big responsibility to know that you carry that and whatnot, so it challenged me to be a lot more outward facing and that also being outward facing came with a challenge in my abilities to communicate effectively and to truly speak to what I had heard in doing so and a lot of truth and humility,” Keck said.
Keck can remember her experiences as a freshman and sophomore – looking up to the SGA president. The position itself is very humbling, however, Keck explained.
“To have an organization of 150 people and an executive team, there’s eight of us, and to invest in those people and over the year see them grow and be challenged and to seek wholeheartedly the opinions of students so they can represent that and then at the end of the year to reflect on their accomplishments of what they did out of service to the student body … that is the coolest feeling ever,” Keck said.
Keck said she believes that one of the most important things she focuses on is other people. Keck has advice for those running for office as well.
“So if I had to give a piece of advice it would just be to be open-minded and to know that there’s a couple core values you carry with you throughout every day and that’s service and selflessness, and from there, you will have the most challenging days but also the most rewarding as well,” Keck said.
As her year in office finishes, Keck reflects on what she has accomplished as well as her role in promoting women in SGA.
“Historically, we could really paint the picture that it is quite dominant for males, but I am really confident in the direction SGA is moving in, but also the females and males that come behind that,” Keck said. “They will lead a very impactful, successful organization.”