CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - UVA Student Council has a new leader who is making history at the university level and beyond. Abel Liu is now the first openly transgender student government president in the U.S. who was out when elected.
“I hope that UVA is now leading the way on trans representation and student leadership,” Liu said. “Based on the research that my team has done, it appears that I’m the first openly trans student government president in the United States who was out upon election.”
Not only is this a huge milestone for LGBTQ+ representation, but Liu is also making waves as the first Chinese-American Student Council president at UVA. He says, however, the campaign process was no easy task.
“I personally was surprised that my gender identity did become an election issue,” he said. “While I did get a few unkind direct messages online, I also got close to 100 messages from students saying ‘Thank you for giving us something to believe in.’”
Voter turnout for the presidential election was through the roof, shattering numbers from past years.
“We won by a margin of nearly 6,000 votes,” Liu said. “The turnout in the presidential election was close to 40%, which is much higher than the last few years in terms of turnout.”
Liu says he thinks turnout surged because students are eager to see real change from UVA with a Student Council that can collaborate and push harder to get things done.
“My team is also especially focused on making sure that we’re increasing the representation of students that have historically been underrepresented within Student Council or student leadership at UVA in general,” he said.
Cecilia Cain and Ryan Cieslukowski will join Liu’s leadership team as vice president for administration and vice president for organizations respectively.
“I really wanted to run to rebuild Student Council from the ground up,” Liu said. “I’ve been in the organization for about three years and I’ve seen the ways that it’s failed students but also the way that it has championed students in the past.”
Liu is focusing on mental health, helping marginalized students, and college affordability as top priorities for his presidency.
“Mental health is definitely one of my top priorities, I would like to see UVA substantially increase the funding that goes to our Counseling and Psychological Services office without having students pay for it,” Liu said. “Right now students pay, I think, around $850.”
He is also looking to reform policies in the University Police Department to make interactions less intense.
“I’m very serious about making sure that students who are actively in a mental health crisis, don’t have the response come from the University Police Department, which can lead to students being put into handcuffs or taken into police custody,” he said. “If they are in crisis, instead, sending trained social workers, therapists, medics or EMTs.”
To find out more about Liu’s vision for a new era of student leadership, visit his website.