Homecoming elections looked quite different this year, but that did not stop some of The University of Southern Mississippi’s best students from running.
COVID-19 limited Homecoming to virtual events this year. This includes the election of the Court, which was conducted entirely through the Student Government Association’s (SGA’s) website. Brett Benigno, a senior member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity, SGA and Luckyday Scholarship program, ran for Student Body King despite everything happening this year. Benigno and Jakobe Smith went head to head for the position, with Benigno gaining 57.8% out of 1,865 votes.
“I’m very appreciative to have won,” said Benigno. “Both Jakobe and I ran a good campaign.”
The total vote count dropped considerably from last year. In 2019, 2,432 votes were cast to determine Student Body King, creating a 567 vote drop this year. This could arguably be because of the new campaign rules created this year because of COVID-19 guidelines.
According to Benigno, campaigners were allowed no promotional material this year for their campaigns. In an attempt to keep social distancing, they were not allowed to talk about their campaign in person or while manning a booth. The only displays they were able to have were yard signs on campus, when past campaigns used things like free food to appeal to voters. Instead, the SGA pushed for candidates to represent themselves through social media platforms, which made it harder for some candidates to get the word out about their campaigns.
Not being able to campaign like previous years was a huge disadvantage to candidates. However, with everything being fully digital, this also offered new socially distanced and creative ways for participants to get involved. Because of COVID-19, many students have mostly online classes and even socially distanced jobs. This means that students spend more time online these days, making it more possible for students to be reached through social media platforms.
So candidates, like Benigno, ramped up their digital campaigns. They created GroupMes and social media groups to keep in touch with voters. They encouraged supporters to repost digital flyers on their own social media pages in order to keep others informed on what was going on.
“Overall, it was an interesting process,” said Benigno.
Now that Benigno is Student Body King, the remaining Homecoming process will also be entirely digital. During homecoming this semester, the Homecoming Court will not be allowed on the football field, but Benigno asks us to keep an eye out for some socially distanced videos that will be posted online soon. The Court is planning a series of Instagram Live takeovers to keep students engaged throughout the entirety of homecoming week.
Though the Homecoming experience is frustratingly different for some this year, Benigno said not to be disappointed. The SGA is currently working on alternative plans, so there will hopefully be more Homecoming events in the spring semester. No matter what, Benigno is excited for what is to come.
“I’m really looking forward to what charity and community work we will be doing as [a] student body soon,” said Benigno.