A.J. Pruitt made his way from a small Quaker high school in Baltimore to one of the top executive positions in the University of Maryland SGA. Now, he's in the running to be the organization's president.
The current student affairs vice president is campaigning with the One Party, which launched its platform early Wednesday. The platform lists health, student life affordability and community as its main points, according to its website.
"I'm running to be an advocate for every student … and I think my experience in the [SGA] will allow me, on day one, to have already hit the ground running," the junior economics and government and politics major said.
Pruitt started with the Student Government Association as a parliamentarian for the 2014-15 school year, acting "almost like the referee for the [SGA] legislature," he said. He then became the deputy city affairs liaison in fall 2015 and a Leonardtown Community representative in spring 2016 before assuming his current role for the 2016-17 school year. He is also a student defender in the undergraduate student legal aid office, he said.
If elected, Pruitt said he would consider his administration a success if it focused on higher education funding at the state level and successfully advocated for students — particularly those of underserved communities whose voices may not always be heard.
Last semester, Pruitt worked closely with Title IX Officer Catherine Carroll to draft an SGA proposal that requested a $34 annual student fee to support the office. Pruitt also spearheaded weekly cleanup efforts with the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association in this city's Old Town and Calvert Hills neighborhoods for most of fall semester . He is also helping organize an on-campus tailgate for student organizations that could start as early as this fall.
Reaching out to students "is something that this year we've gotten closer to," Pruitt said. "But we're not a perfect organization, and I think there are a lot of issues that we still have yet to reach."
Looking to next year, Pruitt said the SGA should become more involved with state politics to ensure the betterment of this university. The SGA should advocate for even more Title IX office funding and a health center that's open 24 hours a day, he added.
"A student can't be successful if they're dealing with a mental health issue and they don't have access to timely counseling services," Pruitt said. "Or if they're sick and can't get an appointment at the Health Center because it's the weekend."
Students seeking therapy from the University Health Center's mental health services or the Counseling Center often have to wait two to three weeks if they aren't suicidal, The Diamondback reported in November 2015.
[[Read more: SGA withdraws Title IX fee proposal]]
Pruitt's student outreach efforts go hand-in-hand with his participation in GVPT484: Government and Politics of Africa in spring 2016 and with his honors government and politics thesis about the politics of resentment, action and pushback, said John McCauley, Pruitt's professor and thesis adviser. Pruitt's comments in class often suggested attention to detail and thoughtfulness toward underprivileged communities, he added.
"Having somebody in class who is attuned to the impacts of policies in a really practical way both makes [Pruitt] a real pleasure to have in the classroom, but also … ties in really well with the commitment he has taken on at the university level," McCauley said.
Jonathan Allen, one of the SGA's undergraduate studies office representatives who is running for the Leondardtown representative position, said Pruitt got him involved with SGA as a freshman, and has a leadership style that would allow him to excel as student body president.
Pruitt gives legislators a big role, said Allen, a sophomore economics major who served on Pruitt's Student Affairs Committee as a sophomore. Allen, for example, was in charge of creating tailgates that are open to students across campus in an inclusive environment, he said.
"I've always been someone who has tried to lead by putting as many people in the right place as you can, and understanding that there are so many talented individuals around you," Pruitt said.
Allen added that Pruitt has the experience from SGA to fill what he said might be the "hardest position" on the campus.
"[Pruitt] knows the university better than any other student here — he's familiar with how the university itself works, and he's worked with several other administrators across campus," Allen said.