Featured Stories

Cooper-McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship (Part One)

Instituted in 2015 with the generous endowments of Robert Cooper and William McElvaney, the Cooper-McElvaney Fellowship provides students an opportunity to explore and deepen their understanding of social justice work. Supported by the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, the Fellows engage in over 100 hours of research and/or service related to a social justice issue of their choosing over the summer months and present their findings and reflections upon their return to the SMU campus. The overarching goal of this Fellowship is to move students from research to long-term action and engagement with these issues as they move into subsequent environments and chapters in their lives.

Last Monday night, I was ziptied and plopped onto the rough pavement of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge by police officers and National Guardsmen. Over three hours of kneeling beside seven hundred other protestors in anxiety and exhaustion, I reflected upon the metaphorical and literal roads that had led us all to that bridge to shout “Black Lives Matter” at the Dallas skyline. I considered the myriad circumstances that lead anyone to sacrifice their own safety, security, and certainty simply for the opportunity to speak. For me, it was a relentless series of events that had revealed my own privilege to me and convicted me to lend my privilege to justice. For most of those around me, it was centuries of trauma and oppression coursing through their veins and a determination to create the world they have been systematically denied.

This sobering reflection reminded me of the students with whom I worked the previous summer. Many young clients of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas had travelled a road filled with similar sacrifice and similar hope for a life of dignity and fairness. Forced to flee their home countries under threats of persecution, these students carried the weight of generations before them. As I learned more about their individual and parallel experiences as immigrants to the United States, discussions of college goals and financial aid applications began to seem trivial. I questioned whether I was qualified to support and advocate for these students or, for that matter, anyone whose experience I could never fully understand as a White person in spaces of advocacy. However, I quickly realized that the alternative was an unacceptable option: silence. It became clear to me that I had no moral choice but to use my voice of privilege, while intentionally making space for historically silenced peoples and communities.

My experience last summer was much bigger than a college access program or educational equity or even immigration justice. That summer taught me how to be an advocate for others by amplifying their voices rather than speaking in their places. In this sense, the internship that I completed through the Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship led me to the bridge last Monday. It prepared me to stand firm as an ally seeking justice—for Black lives, for immigrant lives, for all lives that have ever been discounted or marginalized.

Read Part Two

Written by Tannah Oppliger (’20), a Human Rights and Public Policy major. She is from Carrollton, Texas and her Residential Commons affliiation is May Hay Peyton Shuttles Commons.

For more information about the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, please visit

Featured Stories

HUB Leaders | Leadership that unifies

The Housing Unification Board (HUB) is a group of nine undergraduate students who work to support and enhance the residential experience, and the Residential Commons system. Accomplishing their mission through advocacy, training and development, inclusivity, and programmatic opportunities, the HUB benefits and impacts all residents of SMU.

Photo of Stephanie DodgenOne of the first interactive experiences I had on campus was through Commons Cup. You might ask, “Well, what is Commons Cup?” It is opportunity on SMU’s campus wherein each Residential Commons comes together in a friendly competition throughout the year. There are four categories with multiple events and programs that count towards the Commons Cup. One of my favorite events is Battleship in the Pool, which involves three canoes with four team members in each who attempt to sink the other canoes. Through Commons Cup, we try to reach all students within the commons system by providing various types of programming. For example, we include intellectual opportunities like a trivia night in an event called QuizBowl, creative ones such as a Talent Show, service-oriented experiences including The Big Event, and physical activity-related competitions such as RC games and intramurals for athletics. Every event requires planning on our side but also the drive of each commons to show their spirit.

The Housing Unification Board (HUB) started my sophomore year at SMU and I was given the opportunity to be a part of its charter year. From these experiences, I’ve learned what it takes to make a successful program through meticulous planning and active marketing. This year is my second on the HUB, and as the Executive Director and the past Director of Community Collaborations, I’ve had many experiences and opportunities to learn how to program on a large scale.

I first joined HUB to become active on campus and to be able to make an impact on the residential experience for all students. This leadership position unites the different commons and fosters a culture on campus where students can participate in a safe campus life experience. Together with the other directors we worked to represent resident issues on campus and provide Hall Improvement Funds to build more community within each Residential Commons. One of our goals is to provide opportunities for each of the commons to continue to build community through Community Development Funds.

I’ve learned many things from this leadership experience, but the main one would be self-discipline. Although it takes time to set up the events, I’ve learned to plan ahead and schedule around classes to ensure that programs are successful. Serving as Executive Director on the Housing Unification Board has been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity for me to develop my interpersonal and leadership skills.

Written by Stephanie Dodgen, Executive Director of the Housing Unification Board

Photo of Madi Tedrow wearing a blue shirt, she has medium length brown hair and is smiling with her head slightly tiltedMy involvement with Student Affairs, specifically as HUB Director of Marketing, has pushed me outside my comfort zone in two main ways.

As an engineering major, I don’t often have the opportunity to flex my creative muscles, but the HUB has challenged me to think in different and out-of-the-box ways with graphic design and advertising. I try to incorporate this creativity into my work in ways that also allow me to learn new skills like stop-motion animation, PhotoShop, and various audiovisual editing platforms.

HUB has also made me incredibly passionate about building community—something I didn’t realize I cared so deeply about until I became more involved with Student Affairs. I think the HUB opened my eyes to the incredible spectrum of people on campus and how important it is that we are connected to one another. As a result, I’ve become very invested in listening to people’s stories, experiences, and ideas and making it a part of not only my position on the HUB, but my everyday life to make those things heard.

Written by Madi Tedrow, Director of Marketing for the Housing Unification Board

For more information about Residence Life and Student Housing, please visit

Featured Stories

Training Student Leaders

In the fall of 2019, 95 Resident Assistants (RAs) and more than 100 student leaders from a variety of different Residential Commons leadership positions gathered before the semester began for student leadership training. I was one of those RAs this past year who, for the first time, attended student leadership training and I was excited to develop my skills as a leader in the SMU community. O. It was a lovely introduction to what would be the next five days of RA-specific training before the rest of the student leaders arrived.

The next few days consisted of enlightening presentations on a variety of topics: policy enforcement, community building, and how to develop a strategic plan for your individual Commons. A great thing about these days for me was that no two presentations were alike in the way they were actually presented to us. I remember distinctly loving the facilities policy presentation as it consisted of Faculty-in-Residence and Residential Community Directors (RCDs) acting out scenarios in skits. We were all laughing as Dr. Liljana Elverskog and Dr. Alice Kendrick dressed up in funny outfits and were caught by an RCD for having an animal in their room! The week continued on with detailed information regarding how to form an inclusive community (taught to us by SMU’s Hidden Scripts) and what to do in times of serious mental health trouble for our residents.

By the end of RA training, I felt like I had been given the knowledge to not only do my job to the best of my ability, but also to be the best resource and friend for my residents as possible.

The last remaining days of student leadership training consisted of not just the RAs, but the entire leadership team of each Commons. Commons Council members, Peer Academic Leaders, Peer Honors Mentors, Student Wellness Champions, and Housing Unification Board Directors were all a part of the same training session. The biggest thing I learned that came out of these next few days was how to effectively work together as a group to achieve the goals you set for yourselves. We were taught many skills and ways to work as a team through learning how to provide great programming, how to make connections with residents, and how to create a welcoming home for others. Outside of the time we were in the auditorium sitting with one another, we were back in our own individual communities bonding and getting to know one another.

My leadership team and I went out to eat with one another every night and by the end of the week we were all great friends with one another. Since this experience, I’ve come to find out that most schools don’t have a component of student leadership training that isn’t just limited to RAs which surprised me–this was one of the most invaluable aspects about my experience with student leadership training. It made everyone closer. In fact, I know I speak for the rest of the student leaders when I say that most of the time our roles never feel like work! Instead, we are able to see each other’s passion for providing a wonderful community for every resident, and that continually inspires me in my role as an RA.

If someone was to ask me what my favorite time of the school year is it would have to be the week or two right before classes start. There is something great about student leadership training where you are brought together with your peers and you’re able to discover a vision for your Commons and determine how that vision can be realized. I have regularly gone back to my time during training when confronting a variety of situations in the RA role. I was lucky enough this year to also have served on the Student Leadership Training Committee within Residence Life and Student Housing. I never realized until then the collective effort it takes from the entire unit to pull it all off. Looking forward to the future, I am excited for next fall’s leadership training as I’m sure it will prove to be just as great for others as it was for me.

Cole Fontenont (’22) is a History, Philosophy, and Economics major from Franklin, TN. His Commons affiliation is Morrison-McGinnis.

For more information about Residence Life and Student Housing, please visit

Featured Stories

Many Hats, One SMU

Originally from Prosper, Texas, Tho Le is a rising senior majoring in Business Management and Biological Sciences. Her Residential Commons affiliation is Armstrong Commons.

Patterned or pleated, hats are a great way to add some personality or make an impact on an outfit. Similarly, the many figurative hats that we wear can make an impact in our lives and on our experiences. Over the past few years here at SMU, I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of leadership roles on the Hilltop, giving me an all-encompassing view of what it means to be a Mustang. I have served as an Orientation Leader, Student Ambassador, Alpha Chi Omega Vice President of Intellectual Development, Panhellenic Council Vice President of Community Development, Relay for Life Vice President of Communications, Program Council Communications and Graphic Design Chair, in addition to being involved in several other organizations like my nonprofit, YouLead GYL.

All of this, of course, has taken place in tandem with my academic pursuits that involve balancing a double major in Business Management and Biology, and a minor in History.

These leadership and involvement opportunities have provided me with invaluable skills that have enabled me to live the true SMU experience.

These leadership and involvement opportunities have provided me with invaluable skills that have enabled me to live the true SMU experience. I have loved seeing different facets of SMU in different lights, and each of these experiences have made an impact on me. My time here at SMU—wearing so many different hats—has taught me a great deal about myself and my passions. Through multiple endeavors, I have been able to redefine my goals for my future by experimenting with what I love (and don’t love) in each of these roles. This provided me with a strong background in a variety of areas that have impacted my learning and development. These leadership roles have also taught me about responsibility and discipline. I have learned not only how to know and understand which hat is best to wear in different scenarios, but I have also learned how to find a balance and harmony with everything I do. These roles helped me to get to know SMU, which has provided me myriad resources and support that I could not be more thankful for. While I know that I will continue to try on new hats in the future, I am confident in knowing that I will always draw upon the lessons and experiences of those I’ve previously worn here at SMU.

2019-20 (Click to view)

Tho’s story was originally featured in our 2019-20 Impact publication. To view more amazing student stories and hear about the work of Student Affairs, we invite you to check out the publication.

To learn more about the Division of Student Affairs at SMU, please visit

Featured Stories

Advocacy, Friendship, and Growth

My time serving as President of the Multicultural Greek Council at Southern Methodist University is a time that I will never forget. The year was not without hardships, but it was also filled with growth, friendship, and constant support. 

Over the course of the 2019-2020 academic year, I ran meetings, hosted events, and attended leadership retreats and summitsall while balancing my involvement in other student organizations, a part-time job, and being a full-time undergraduate student. It was because of this ambitious schedule that I quickly learned to time manage like I never had before. I did my best to run effective and structured meetings in which I was mindful of not only my limited time, but that of my fellow students and advisor who all had busy schedules of their own. I learned to be honest about my capabilities and no longer feel hesitation when I needed to reach out for assistance. I took time to ensure things were done with care and quality the first time to avoid having to repeat and rework a task that had already been completed. Lastly, I was reminded of the fact that we are limited to 24 hours in a day.

Therefore, I made sure that everything I invested time into was meaningful, purposeful, and impactful. 

It was amongst all this constant movement that I was reminded of why I ran for President of the Multicultural Greek Council to begin with. I believe that each organization works to create a supportive and inclusive space for all SMU students, not just for its members, and this is what initially motivated me to run for President. With that notion in mind, I ran with the promise to become a voice in our SMU community and to advocate for all of its organizations. 

As President I was invited to sit on multiple student advisory boards, including the board of the Campus Cultural Intelligence Initiative, CIQ@SMU. It was here where I sat in a room full of campus leaders and University VIPs and was given the opportunity to not only listen to important conversations, but was encouraged to participate in them as well. It was in these meetings that I learned to speak up on behalf of the Multicultural Greek Council and voice our opinions because no one can ever truly begin to understand our perspectives and experiences if we do not take the time to try and explain them first.  

The conversations I was a part of, the friendships I gained, and the network I formed will follow me long after my oneyear term as President.

I proudly led, advocated for, and spoke on behalf of the Council, its organizations, and their members for an entire year to ensure their voice did not go unheard. 

Now prepared with the confidence gained from this experienceam excited to enter my final year as an undergraduate student at SMU.  

Victoria Garcia (’21) is a rising senior originally from Dallas. She is majoring in Computer Science and is affiliated with Ware Commons.