Student Organizations | March 2nd, 2019

FAMU’s Campaign Season: Fitting The Image

By: Aiyana Ishmael
FAMU’s Campaign Season: Fitting The Image

It’s an early Wednesday morning on Florida A&M University’s campus, but there’s a slightly different feel in the air — faint sounds of music cry from The Set, multicolored stickers and flyers trail the floor leading to the quad and ample amounts of eager candidates storm students with snacks and platform ideas. These are the telltale signs of campaign week, and for many FAMU students it’s the beginning of a restless ride.

The student election process at FAMU holds an extreme importance. The varying positions available for both student government and the royal court have been highly sought after amongst historically black colleges and universities for years. Rattlers see these titles as great recruitment tools to bring in prospective students.

Photo by Aiyana Ishmael | The 2018-19 Miss Sophomore, Junior, and Senior attendants.

The royal court is comprised of Mr. and Miss FAMU, the King and Queen of Orange and Green, a graduate, senior, junior, freshman attendant and male escorts.

Because of its notoriety on campus, the election process can bring tension and become a daunting task to fulfill for many candidates.  

Previous Queen of Orange and Green, Jakela “Hollywood” London, recalls being recruited by the royal court. She then knew from that point on she wanted to attend FAMU and be included in its legacy.

“It’s just a part of FAMU’s culture and it’s so ingrained in us,” said Hollywood. “We have so much pride in our school. We take pride in having beautiful women on the court and handsome men. It just looks good for our school — it’s a great recruitment tool.”

As campaign week gears into full effect, candidates learn quickly how intense the process actually is. Crenel Francis, candidate for Mr. FAMU, never ran his own campaign but assisted others with theirs. Between selecting his campaign manager and building a support team, Francis now understands how difficult it is to be an actual candidate running.

Photo by Aiyana Ishmael | Crenel Francis campaigning to a student.

“It’s been fun overall,” Francis said. “That’s what I really want to take out of it at the end of the day. This stuff is great. It’s something that you can really get almost too caught up in when it comes down to the strategies and what you’ll do to get the position you desire. But, as long as you do it with a good heart and for the best of the University, I think that’s what is important.”

But for many candidates the process can vary day to day, putting more stress on the week as a whole. Imani Cooper, the current 2018-19 Miss FAMU, experienced campaign week last year and understands the struggles that come with running a campaign on FAMU’s campus.

“It’s a mixture of different emotions,” Cooper said. “You have your good days, your bad days, your days where you’re like ‘I don’t know how the election is going to go,’ and then some days you’re like ‘I’m feeling good about it.’ It’s a lot of different things, and it’s not for everyone.”

Alongside the election pressure is the financial aspect of campaigning. On FAMU’s campus, it isn’t uncommon for candidates to go all out purchasing flyers, cutouts, food and more. Because of this, many candidates look for neighboring businesses in Tallahassee to sponsor them.

“The more you have, the more extravagant you can be,” Francis said. “I’ve heard of campaigns that took almost nearly $10,000 to run. I would say on average it takes about $3,000 to $4,000 to run a campaign. These suits aren’t cheap.”

Social Media’s Effect On Campaign Week

Campaign week is an over-the-top experience for all Rattlers, but mixing fun with campaigning leaves room for criticism.

Photo by Aiyana Ishmael |King of Orange and Green candidate, Adrian Fyne, with his support team at Set Friday.

“FAMU campaign week is literally — when you look at any other school and HBCU — the most extra,” Robyn Seniors, a SGA president candidate said. “I was even telling my friends at Howard y’all don’t campaign anything like us. It’s a good and bad thing because people take them so seriously. Their feelings get so intense and they kind of say really irrational, crazy things. But it also shows how much we actually care about our school.”

On The Hill, social media plays a huge part in student life and is especially prominent during campaign week. Many candidates learn to utilize social media in an effort to build a strong base of supporters. On February 24, 2019, the candidates’ pageant took place. The audience was given a hashtag to use while live-tweeting the event. About 20 minutes in the hashtag #ROTR2Pageant was trending on Twitter.

Hollywood is a very popular social media figure in the FAMU community. She regularly hosts Instagram livestreams discussing varying topics.

In a specific livestream she gave the nickname “Peter Pan” to a Mr. FAMU candidate Patrick Thomas. The nickname stuck and many students began to refer to him as Peter. Instead of choosing to be upset about the name, Thomas decided to go along with the jokes. This ultimately led to Thomas dressing up as Peter Pan come Election Day creating even more social media buzz.

Former Miss Sophomore Attendant Kyra Freeman, who previously served on the royal court, learned that social media can influence the campus positively and negatively. Being able to create a balance is harder on FAMU’s campus when candidates are under the spotlight.

Photo by Aiyana Ishmael |Candidate for Miss FAMU, Kyra Freeman, during campaign week.

“It’s a platform to get yourself out there, but you have to be careful what you put on that platform,” Freeman said. “You have to keep it right in the middle. If you go too far one way people are going to think you’re arrogant, but if you go too far another way they’re going to be like ‘Where are you? We don’t see you.’”

With the strong social media presence throughout FAMU, many candidates face the negative backlash that follows with running for a title. The Twitter page “FAMU Shaderoom,” a play on the popular gossip company The Shade Room, was spawned and posted several negative comments towards Freeman.

The account is owned anonymously, but it still manages to create a lot of drama for the individuals that are posted. While serving as sophomore Attendant, Freeman faced the challenge of being in the spotlight and ultimately dealt with depression.  

“It’s been really stressful,” Freeman said. “I’ve been bullied, I’ve been talked about, I’ve been tried to be painted as the bad guy for some reason and I don’t know why. The FAMU Shaderoom has told me I’m arrogant, talked about me, told me I am going to lose so many times. But, I’m pushing through. I think being talked about negatively is what really hurt the most.”

This time around in hopes to avoid the negative energy created by anonymous accounts, Freeman allows her campaign manager to limit her social media use during the week. Her campaign manager plans to keep Freeman off her phone for most of the day.

While Twitter is a big part of FAMU’s communication, many other platforms took prominence during campaign week. Hollywood’s special campaign week livestreams created a lot of positive attention for candidate Patrick Thomas, but it also created negative attention for Robyn Seniors.

Photo by Aiyana Ishmael | Robyn Seniors and Rebekah Hawkins during Set Friday at their campaign tent.

Seniors faced a lot of backlash during Hollywood’s livestream. Many viewers anonymously sent in their opinions on candidates’ hair, makeup, outfits, campaign week itself and any other personal issues they had. Hollywood either discussed the issue or displayed it for all the viewers to see.

Information of Hollywood’s livestream made it to Seniors, ultimately challenging her further during campaign week.

“When I first heard about the negative comments from the livestream it was very hurtful,” Seniors said. “Being in leadership positions, people think you have really tough skin and they automatically think you are some superwoman or some fictitious character, but I’m actually very sensitive.”

Comments didn’t cease after the first livestream. After Seniors posted a video on social media endorsed by former mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum, more negative comments generated about her.

“I was very confused because I would never put something out there that I haven’t done or that I didn’t do,” Seniors said. “People are going to say what they want to say and I just have to continue to rise above it.”

Election day led to many categories going into a runoff election. Elijah Casey and Crenel Francis were the two final candidates for Mr. FAMU.

The day before the runoffs a screenshot surfaced on Twitter featuring text messages about Casey not receiving support because of the fraternity he is in. Many students were rallying against Casey since the two previous Mr. FAMU’s had also been in the same fraternity.   

Photo by Aiyana Ishmael | Elijah Casey’s campaign team during Set Friday.

“I don’t let the comments that people make on social media bother me,” Casey said. “Those are people’s opinions, and at the end of the day I’m not going to look back. The only thing that you can do is stay high when people get low.”

After the campaign process, Casey gained knowledge of how quickly his classmates can shift their stance. Ultimately, it taught him to depend solely on himself.

“I came in here Elijah Casey and I will leave FAMU as Elijah Casey,” Casey said. “If I leave here as Elijah the football player, Elijah from BBLB, Elijah the Alpha, Elijah in Army, I didn’t fulfill my job.”

Cooper, who has experienced campaign week before, understands the rigorous battle that is a FAMU election. 

“Only take in what you feel is going to help you,” Cooper said. “If you’re taking in a lot of that negative energy in you’re going to start to feel that and it’ll reflect in your campaign. Focus on the people that are supporting you. Focus on the positive comments you’re receiving. Constructive criticism is good, but not bashing.”

Photo by Aiyana Ishmael | The 2018-19 Mr. FAMU and Miss FAMU at the candidates pageant.

Fitting The Image

After years of tradition built by the royal court there seems to be a specific image needed to fulfill these roles. No one student is the same, so trying to build the perfect ensemble to showcase an entire school can be a difficult job. The leaders tasked with being not only the voice of their school but also the face of it are held to a nearly impossible standard.

Being on the court means you have to always be ‘on.’ If not, someone will be there to critique you on it. On a past livestream Hollywood recalled a previous transgression with an alumni. The alumni commented that she didn’t look good and that she hoped the next time she saw her she’d look better.

“You’re being pulled in every direction to fit this standard of what the Queen of Orange and Green is,” Hollywood said. “You have to be spirited, relatable, fun and funky, but you also have to be able to stand next to Miss FAMU and still radiate the same type of poise and elegance. It’s hard to be everything for everybody.”

Although the constant stress can seem never ending, some candidates feel as though the election process has developed them more as a person.

“I can only become a better person,” Francis said. “This is something that will help me grow even more. I think the connections I make throughout this process, people I meet, people I speak to will have a greater impact whether I win or not.”

There are many pros and cons to weigh out during the campaign process. Is the public scrutiny worth the title? Is it merely building tough skin? Each experience will be different for each candidate, but one thing reigns true: the election process tests whoever decides to run for a title at FAMU.