Student Senate President Victoria Drzymala, ‘23, first stepped on campus with the same ideology she will leave with four years later: a passion for governance.
As the older sister of two brothers, she said people management is in her blood. She said when she started working in her local city hall at 17 years old, she knew she wanted to one day work in government.
She said the government has always been a place for her to explore herself.
As a first-year majoring in political science and international relations, she became involved in the Senate and said she immediately saw herself leading the organization in the future.
Drzymala said she has always viewed herself as a regular Lehigh student rather than someone from a specific group.
“Government should be for the people and by the people in all regards possible,” Drzymala said. “It’s important that (people in governance) come from the normal people sector because they know what the community needs.”
During her time on the Senate, Drzymala served as chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee during her first year, chair of the Club Affairs committee her sophomore year and vice president of Leadership her junior year.
As a senior, Drzymala uses her years of diverse experience to take an action-oriented approach to being president.
Spindel Spindel, ‘23, Drzymala’s former roommate and fellow senator, said Drzymala was actionable from the start. She said Drzymala immediately guided the group through identifying problems and coming up with solutions.
“It wasn’t just talk,” Spindel said. “It was real implementation of all these ideas that had been going around for years.”
Kevin Dotel, ‘24, vice president of Internal Affairs, said he appreciated that Dryzmala was forward-thinking and established from the beginning.
One of the main initiatives Drzymala said she took on was diversifying the Senate. As the first person of color to serve as president in the last 35 years and the first-ever woman of color, the issue was of utmost importance to her.
Spindel and Drzymala said in the past, the Senate was “cliquey” and mostly white.
Acknowledging Lehigh’s diversity in terms of experience, race, ethnicity and gender, Spindel said she felt there was a lack of representation in the Senate.
She said it was common in the past for students of color to be tokenized and siloed into the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, and Drzymala knew a more diverse Senate body would allow for leadership to be mindful of such things.
“She’s very cognizant of how (tokenizing) can happen, even with the best intentions,” Spindel said. “So coming in with that knowledge, her fingers are really on the pulse of those very nuanced social topics. It’s been great working with her for that reason alone.”
Drzymala said the Senate has done their best to gather voices from all across campus, especially from multicultural organizations, and invite them to be a part of impactful decision-making.
She said the first step toward this goal included decreasing the number of constituent seats available to sorority and fraternity members and increasing the amount available to on- and off-campus students.
“These populations of on-campus and off-campus students tend to be a little bit more diverse in all aspects,” Drzymala said.
She then reached out to leaders on campus with distinct backgrounds, who she knew were going to make a difference, and encouraged them to run for senate.
Ric Hall, Lehigh’s vice president of Student Affairs, said he has watched Drzymala grow as a leader and work toward this goal.
He said Drzymala has a comprehensive view of students’ responsibilities and engagement, as well as a serious-minded work ethic.
“I can appreciate, because I’ve been here this long, how far the Senate has grown and changed in diversity and in seriousness of thought on how the Senate might positively impact the campus community,” Hall said. “It’s almost night and day to what it was four, five, six years ago, and I would say the more diverse composition of the senate has a whole lot to do with that.”
He said now the Senate is not laser-focused on one issue. Instead, the body covers traditional topics like parking and meals, and has started to take initiative toward improving the South Bethlehem community.
Hall said he believes Drzymala’s perspective on the outside community and the local government has been positively impactful because the Senate is thinking further outside their own individual experiences and interests.
Dotel said Drzymala also spearheaded the creation of a community service requirement for senators.
He said the driving force behind this initiative was to deepen the university’s relationship with the South Side, emphasizing senators should represent students beyond the immediate campus.
“In order to better the lives of not only the students, but the Bethlehem community, we should be actively taking part in the city itself,” Dotel said.
Beyond these new initiatives, Dotel and Spindel said Drzymala has made the Senate a more lively, comfortable environment.
Dotel said Drzymala is not afraid to make fun of herself or tell jokes during meetings and reminds everyone that not everything has to be serious.
“She’s very real, and she’s very funny,” Spindel said. “One of the things I admire so much about (Drzymala) is she has such a keen sense of what’s needed, and she knows when she needs to make a joke.”
After graduation, Drzymala said she is taking her Senate experience with her to work as a constituent advocate for congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan from Pennsylvania’s sixth district.
Both Hall and Dotel said they were unsure if there will ever be a Senate president like Drzymala again.
Drzymala said she is hopeful that beyond her years at Lehigh, the Senate will continue to become larger and more impactful.
“I hope we have voices from every corner of campus, people who can share their diverse perspectives, talk about their unique experiences and bring that to the conversations,” Drzymala said.
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