Anagha Kikkeri entered 2020 with a plan. First, alongside her vice president running mate, Winston Hung, she planned to run for president of University of Texas Student Government. Next, if victorious, she would make history as the first Indian American woman to be elected to lead the student body. And finally, she would aim to improve the student experience at UT Austin by creating a more inclusive, supportive and healthy learning environment.
Although Kikkeri, one of our outstanding graduates from the class of 2021, did accomplish the goals she set out for herself, the road to get there looked very different from what she had initially imagined. The 2020 Student Government elections were held in March a few days before the coronavirus pandemic prompted UT Austin, along with many businesses and institutions across the U.S., to go into lockdown.
“We found out we won on a Friday, and then the Tuesday right after is when the whole world exploded,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed everything. And that was my first taste of a leadership challenge.”
During normal times, the newly elected Student Government officers would begin their terms at the start of the following school year, but since this past year was anything but ordinary, Kikkeri and her team began their terms early.
“In the first few months, six days a week, we were all on the phone making calls intermittently from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. with administration and students,” she says. “There was so much that we needed to address.” Some of the issues the team worked on addressing were concerns about student housing, COVID-19 testing and the nationwide protests for racial justice that began in May.
“It was a very intense few months. But because we worked so hard over the summer, we felt like we were able to accomplish so much because we already had about four months of building a foundation,” she says.
Building upon that foundation, Kikkeri led her team to accomplish various initiatives, including increasing the number of pass/fail courses students could select, distributing 20,000 masks to students on and off campus, and advocating for widely available mental health resources.
Another achievement for Kikkeri was leading a fundraising campaign, where she partnered with Texas A&M University’s student body president, to raise emergency relief funds for students affected by “Winter Storm Uri.” Both student leaders created a friendly competition to see which school could raise the most money. The UT community raised over $160,000.
Kikkeri’s grit and ability to work exceptionally well under pressure have helped her excel as Student Government president. She cites this past year as the most significant growth opportunity she’s ever had. “Being in this position, I am not exempt from criticism from students and others alike, so I’ve definitely developed a very thick skin,” she says. “Additionally, as a woman of color in a leadership role like this, it’s been a unique experience. I’m very aware of the space I’m taking up by being in this role. I feel like a big theme of my life has been pushing the envelope just a little bit further and pushing the limits. I honestly feel like I’ve done that a ton at UT.”