Civic participation is an essential experience that allows citizens to have a great sense of community and influence on policies and government priorities. Young people have a major stake in the decisions that shape the nation.

They have unique perspectives on social and local issues, they are risk takers who are willing to bring fresh ideas to the table, and have the drive and passion for social change.

Joshua Martin is the University of Houston’s Student Government Association President and is the youngest student ever to be elected to this role and is using his position to encourage youth to be active members on the college campus and in the community.

The Defender spoke with Martin to learn about his role and top issues he is addressing as school president

Joshua Martin

Title: University of Houston Student Government Association President

Age:20

Grade Level: Sophomore

Major: Political Science

Defender: How did you first get involved with campus politics?

Martin: I got involved because I had some friends who were involved with it and the old administration weren’t the most positive. So, I wanted to change that. To start back with working with students not just for the purpose of putting something on the resume.

Defender: Why were you interested in being involved with political organizations on campus?

Martin: I chose political science because I’ve always been really helping people and I think that being a political science major gave me the opportunity to learn more about how to do this as a profession rather than just being maker a hobby. I’m good at planning events and setting things up to benefit people. So really political science was the perfect major.

Defender: Why did you decide to run for Student Government president?

Martin: I decided to run for student government president because I felt like it was the best possibility on our campus to make the largest impact to benefit as many students as possible. It was a great opportunity to move our university forward. I always listen to our university president and her vision to turn the University of Houston into a top 50 public university. To do that, I think we need a strong leadership in student government. There was turmoil within the past administration and I felt like I was the person who could really come together to unite the student body and flip student government back to the hands of students.

Defender: How did you prepare for the campaign?

Martin: I had a great team around me with people who were experience on campus. I had an older upperclassman team because I was a freshman at the time. They were supportive of me. I think that all the support I gained kept me levelheaded and always offering me words of affirmation. What helped me stand out against my competitors was my dedication. Every single day during my campaigning I was outside talking with students and asking them what’s important to them and how I can help them with my role. I attended organization meeting and connecting with different groups.

Defender: What are the top priorities of the SGA this year? How have you been able to tackle the issues?

Martin: I had a plan to end sexual assault and the stigma on college campuses. We meet with our university provost and actually got a clause added to every single syllabus regarding sexual assault. It is called ‘The Full Support Partnership’. This initiative is spearheaded by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, which provides free rape kits, free examinations, and a 24-hour sexual assault hotline all without adding a single penny to tuition costs. This is monumental because after we were able to work with these resources, a lot of students didn’t know that it was available to them. We are also working on registering students to vote. We registered over 2000 students to vote in partnership with different student government associations across the country. We are also working on a Texas Christmas drive, and community cleanup day with our counterparts at Texas Southern University and Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church taking place over the next month. Most importantly we really want to advance the quality of student life.

Defender: What lessons have you learned about being in a position of leadership?

Martin: I’ve learned that you have to prioritize yourself sometimes. I got caught up with trying to help every single person and I’m always going to advocate for as many people, but you need to set time for yourself. Personal time is key. I don’t think many people in leadership positions take time for themselves. Take deep breath and keep moving forward with your goals.

Defender:What are some reasons you think young people aren’t as civically engaged? What should be done to get them interested?

Martin: I believe they aren’t necessarily educated on the issues as they should be. I came across a group of students yesterday and I asked them if they went out to vote and they said no. I asked they why. They told me it was because they weren’t really educated on the candidates and what they represent. I willing to help them, but they seemed reluctant and felt like voting wasn’t a big deal. I think that if we really take a step as a university and campuses across the nation to truly emphasize voter education on topics important to students specifically, it’s going to increase voter turnout in the future.

Defender: What are your post-graduation plans?

Martin: I’m in my sophomore year now. I really never thought about what’s next after college. I know within student government; I hopefully have two more elections to run as student body president. I’m going to keep that as my first priority. I want to help all 48,000 students at the University of Houston. As for goals after graduation, I guess I’m going to see whatever God has in store for me. I’ll take things a day at a time.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...