Student Government Association President, Austin Phillips, answers questions about the upcoming centennial year and his initiatives for Texas Tech.
Austin Phillips will be Texas Tech University's student body president for the 2022-2023 academic year. Phillips is simultaneously earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in finance, through the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business. He has been involved with the Student Government Association (SGA) since his first year at Texas Tech, but his passion for the university started well before that.
Phillips' entire family are Texas Tech alumni. Growing up, Texas Tech was at the center of most family activities. From sporting events to helping his grandparents with the Texas Tech Alumni Association, Phillips spent most of his spare time on campus.
When he grew up, there was never a question of being anything but a Red Raider.
When you got to college, did Texas Tech live up to the expectations you had when you were younger?
Yes, that and more. My first day of class was honestly my favorite day of college. I was full of eagerness and excitement. Looking back on it now, it was the first time I truly felt like a Red Raider. I felt like I was growing up, but it's different when you actually start college. I was finally sharing an experience with more than 100 years' worth of students who came across the same campus. I was now part of that same story. It was an amazing feeling.
There are a lot of student organizations on campus, why did you choose SGA?
I joined SGA my first year at Texas Tech and was part of its first-year leadership association. It fascinated me because I got to see the inner workings of the university. I saw how decisions were made and how university leadership prioritize initiatives. My sophomore year I served as director of the first-year leadership association and helped chair the budget and finance committee too.
I love SGA because I see the good it does on campus. What we do positively impacts students, and I saw it as an opportunity to give back to the university that has given so much to me.
Leadership also runs in my family. My grandfather, Pete Laney, attended Texas Tech and went on to have a very prolific career in politics. He's played a huge role in my life and I would not be the person I am today without him. I was very young when he served in the house of representatives, but hearing stories of how he treated people made an impression on me. He treats everyone he meets as if they're the most important person in the world, and that's how I want to lead too.
Why did you decide to run for president?
Like I said, this university has done so much for me and my family. I've seen firsthand what the Red Raider experience can do, and I want all students to have access to that. I want to ensure everyone has the resources and opportunities to make the most of their time here.
In your opinion, what's special about the Red Raider experience?
I think it's the spirit so many people share. No matter what alumni go on to do; it's this almost intangible pride you can see on their faces.
For example, when I was eight years old, my late grandmother was serving as president of the Texas Tech Alumni Association and was an instrumental part of planning the new McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center. I remember having to wear a suit and go to the ribbon cutting – that part I was not too crazy about. But I also remember the faces of alumni who came back to campus and how much passion they had for the university. They would share their memories with great fondness; whether they graduated two years ago, or decades ago, their love for Texas Tech was still strong. That was cool to see because whether they still lived in Lubbock, or across the world, everyone felt a special connection. They had all sat in the same chairs and walked the same campus and sang the same Matador Song. Texas Tech was the common denominator among all these fascinating people.
What are the unique challenges facing your administration this year?
Getting a sense of normalcy back after the pandemic. My senior class is the only one on campus right now whose first year wasn't interrupted in some way by COVID-19. We want to focus on delivering students the best resources and opportunities they can get, because we recognize some of that was not accessible during the past few years.
We also want to get back to our traditions because this is Texas Tech's centennial year, and we want to celebrate that by bringing students' attention back to what makes Texas Tech one-of-a-kind.
It's got to feel special serving as the student body president during Texas Tech's centennial year. Has that sunk in yet?
It's beginning to. The more meetings we have to plan events, it begins to feel real. I feel so humbled to hold this position during such a momentous time in school history.
I'm really honored to be a voice for the students during this time too, because at the end of the day, the students are what make Texas Tech what it is. I want to honor where we've been as students, but also where we can go in the future.
But as far as the centennial goes, yes, students should be excited. The university has a lot of cool stuff planned. Students and faculty should look for events to kick off toward the end of the fall semester. It'll be an exciting time!
What opportunities are your administration excited about for this coming year?
Along the lines of returning to normal and delivering resources to students, we'll be focused on initiatives that students have told us are important to them. We are here to serve students, so we take our lead from them.
We'll be looking at enhancing the Red Raider experience as a whole – inside and outside the classroom. We're working hard to make sure students know about the mental health and wellness resources available to them on campus. We're also in the middle of a safety campaign. Whether that's our lighting or rideshare services, we're ensuring that students feel safe and cared for during their time at Texas Tech. We also are working in conjunction with the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to prioritize a welcoming campus. I hope that any student who comes to Texas Tech feels they can be their full, authentic self.
You mentioned mental health. I know that continues to be a struggle for many students coming out of the pandemic. How was that experience for you personally?
I've definitely had my fair share of struggles. During my first year in college, I had a lot going on. I had too many things on my plate but I didn't know how to ask for help. I didn't want to admit I was feeling overwhelmed.
Over time, and through meeting some great faculty and mentors, I got better at that. But I went through a dark time getting there. I was constantly feeling stressed and the things that used to bring me joy weren't making me feel anything. Then COVID-19 hit and I felt isolated on top of it all.
I finally had to open up with my family and friends and let them know how I was feeling. That helped a lot and they helped me step back and look at things from a big picture perspective. I still struggle with stress, but I've learned a lot of great coping mechanisms and have learned to ask for help.
I would encourage our students at Texas Tech to do the same. College can be a lot of fun, but it can also just be – a lot. Don't be afraid to talk to someone. Whether that's family or perhaps a professor or counselor. There are faculty and staff on campus who are great advocates, and they want to see you succeed.
As polarizing as politics can be these days, why should students get involved with SGA?
I absolutely still believe there is a strength behind the voice of the masses. Whether that's at our university or throughout our country, our voices matter. People will try to tell you they don't, but when we all show up and do our part, we make progress.
It's also incredibly important to have strong leaders that aren't afraid to advocate for the people they represent. I think those leaders still exist. So, on a national and a university-wide level, we have to keep showing up. We must express how we feel and where we stand on certain issues.
It's when we become complacent and throw up our hands that we move further away from what we all want. At Texas Tech, that's having a great place to learn and live, and a place we can do that safely and authentically.