But she loved it so much she had to come back four more times — just for fun. She’d been accepted, and she accepted the offer, but she couldn’t get enough.
“I came because I knew,” Thomas said. “I knew in my mind that I would be a student here — that I was a student here. Auburn was a family, and I loved it.”
Thomas, who currently serves as SGA executive vice president of outreach, is now running to lead the student body at the University she loved so much on her first visit.
Coming from a small town where a lot of folks never get to leave and many don’t get to pursue a higher education, the chance to attend Auburn was exactly what she wanted, she said.
“Being from my hometown, a lot of them have never been outside of Jackson, Alabama,” Thomas said. “Coming to college opened my eyes up to the opportunities and what more the world has to offer.”
And Auburn has offered her a lot, but she didn’t make it into a freshman leadership program — a typical springboard for future student leaders — on her first try.
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“I thought my life was over,” Thomas said. “People kept telling me I was a good leader. I started thinking that was a lie. I thought that if I couldn’t make it into a freshman leadership program, then how will I ever make it at Auburn?”
Looking back, she recognizes that view was flawed.
The typical routes aren’t what matters and those aren’t the only types of people who should be involved in student government, she said.
“There is not one singular Auburn pathway to success,” Thomas said.
The notion that student government should be open to and represent everyone is a topic that is particularly salient for Thomas, who, if elected on Feb. 6, would be the first African-American woman ever elected to the SGA presidency — a role largely dominated by white men.
“We talk about representation, and representation does matter,” Thomas said. “I’m kind of nervous. I tend to doubt myself and say, ‘Am I the black woman y’all need as a representative?’ But I’ve taken an attitude of, ‘If not now, then when, and if not me, then who?’”
Her path to her current position as a student leader took a different route. After the initial let down of missing out on an FLP, she later interviewed for a position on SGA’s Lobby Board — a panel that advocates for students’ interests in Montgomery.
Since then, she’s risen through the ranks from positions in SGA cabinet and organizing the Miss Auburn University scholarship program to serving as a senator from the College of Liberal Arts — at least for a few days until SGA President Jacqueline Keck tapped her for a position in her executive cabinet.
“This year has been a whirlwind, and what I’ve learned is that SGA is this big body that does a lot of stuff that helps a lot of students, but a lot of students don’t know how much we can help,” Thomas said.
That’s the problem.
“We’re not able to help everyone as wholly as we could,” Thomas said.
Because students don’t know about SGA, SGA doesn’t know a lot of students — their voices often go unheard, and their input may not be taken into account. All that needs to change, she said.
And over the past year, that was her job — taking feedback and bringing it to SGA while also communicating SGA’s priorities to the student body and student organizations. But there’s more to be done.
“Me running for SGA president is really a push to make sure that this campaign isn’t about me but about each Auburn student having the opportunity to be heard and SGA being able to function as a true advocating body for every single Auburn student,” Thomas said.
As part of her Believe in Auburn with Bri Thomas platform, Thomas said her role, if elected, would be as an advocate-in-chief.
“It’s about what Auburn SGA can do to make the lives of each individual Auburn student better,” Thomas said.
Thomas said she will focus on accountability. Instead of keeping goal check-ins internal, she proposes making them public.
“I want you guys to know what we’re doing,” Thomas said.
Candidates for SGA office have long sought to increase integration of international students and foster relationships with those students. Thomas said SGA should do more. She hopes to lead more targeted outreach to international students.
“We don’t do enough to make them feel like they are a part of the Auburn Family,” Thomas said. “We need to make sure that if we have Auburn Answers or handouts, that we have them in multiple languages.”
Thomas plans to develop a foreign language exchange program in which English-speaking U.S. students studying a foreign language are paired with an international student who speaks that language. Not only would it improve their language, it’ll also foster new friendships, she said.
Tapping into her political experience on Lobby Board, Thomas hopes to push the City of Auburn to establish a polling place for students on campus.
“It would really increase Millennial voter turnout, which everyone is so concerned about,” Thomas said. “If you want students to be civically engaged, then having a polling place on campus would be the first step.”
Over the years, the role of the SGA president has expanded from a student leader to a student representative — a spokesperson who voices student opinions to campus leaders and city leaders alike. Thomas said she will continue that role, picking up where Keck left off.
“She did kind of add a new facet to her role,” Thomas said. “Anything that is affecting our campus community, I think the SGA president should use their platform to speak about those things. Jacqueline made really wise decisions, standing up for students she thought were being taken advantage of.”
Thomas also hopes to advocate for a review of parking ticket policies and more financial literacy initiatives.
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