Tiffany McLeod stands quietly by the café, staring at a trash can with its top awkwardly leaning to the left side. Her posture exudes professional elegance, and her light cream skirt suit is stylishly accented by soft make up and flowing hair.
However, the reason she is standing so close to trash bin is far less classy.
As McLeod frowns in disgust, she quickly calculates the value of the campaign poster that now sits in a trash bin bent between rotting meat, smelly liquid and old newspapers.
“Each poster costs $12. That’s $36 that I could have saved,” says McLeod, a 21-year-old English student from Tallahassee and 2011-12 Miss FAMU candidate. She later finds two more discarded posters. “In order to pay for my campaign, I worked two jobs as a full time student: one at David’s Bridal, and the other at The FAMU Credit Union. People just don’t know how much we put into this.”
There were several moments when the weight of the campaign overwhelmed her, she says. The “trash can incident” was one of “those” moments.
“For someone to take my posters and just throw it away is disheartening,” says McLeon, who spent $2,000 on her unsuccessful campaign. “I worked hard to afford those, and someone from my campaign team woke up early just to put [them] up.”
According to many present and former candidates, Florida A&M student elections don’t just put a strain on their wallets. Running for elected office also takes an emotional and spiritual toll. Candidates say running is not easy, and the costs can be high in terms of energy, time, finances, emotional stability and public scrutiny. It is even a test of moral character.
“It’s a lot [to deal with] as far as an emotional toll goes,” says Mike Wood, while sitting on “The Set,” just two days after losing his bid for Mr. FAMU. “To see freshmen who I recruited as an orientation leader, support or vote for someone else is difficult. For some of them, I was literally the first face that they saw at FAMU.”
While reflecting on the highs and lows of election week, Wood, the self-proclaimed jokester, still “appears” to be campaigning. He makes an honest attempt to speak to everyone who passes by, and helps the current Miss FAMU, Kendall Johnson, carry a heavy box to her car. His smooth caramel skin, straight teeth and light eyes seem fitting for a cookie-cutter commercial, but his two tattoos sprawled across his shoulders and his backward Alpha Phi Alpha hat suggest a more urban personality.
“Because I am an alpha, because I am Greek, ” he says, “I felt like I came into the race with a point to prove. People were thinking ‘oh I want to be a Que, he’s an Alpha so I can’t vote for him or ‘I’m a Delta or AKA and I don’t like what the Alphas did that one time. That was difficult.”
His campaign team also went through trying times. At one point, a campaign member tagged an Antonio Williams’ supporter’s car with Mike Wood fliers.
The drama was heightened after a FAMU student posted a picture on Twitter. It prompted several comments within two hours, threatening Wood’s “clean race” image.
“As soon as I saw the picture, I told my campaign team to untag the person’s car,” says Wood. “I didn’t want my campaign to be about that.”
Wood says that humbling himself was one of the most difficult things to do.
“It’s almost like begging people to like you,” says Wood. “I worked hard to prove myself on this campus, and for campaign week, I had to be even more extra, and then go to sleep at four and wake up at six and do it all over again the next day.”
Even his prayers were briefly affected.
“I had to pray for forgiveness a lot more,” says Wood. “Because the battle of elections is so intense, I would think negative thoughts sometimes—like I want to crush the other guy.”
Kendra Neal, a former senior attendant hopeful, can identify with Wood’s struggles.
On Feb. 18, Neal marches the short distance from the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication to the School of Pharmacy hoping to campaign to a pharmacy class. Her eyes are low and tired for lack of sleep, but they possess a sparkle that betrays Neal’s nervousness.
And then it disappears—momentarily. One of her competitors has beaten her to the punch, and is already outside the building passing out flyers and singing campaign promises. However, the blip doesn’t stop Neal from pressing forward.
She walks into a pharmacy class with well over 100 students, whispers something to the professor then begins her presentation. Some students listen intently, while others bop to music on their headsets, talk, or appear to nap.
When Neal finishes, half of the room claps for her while the other half looks on uninterested, as the next candidate, Mike Wood, begins his speech.
“My challenge was getting the older crowd to participate in elections,” says Neal. “Many juniors have lost interest in these races and in FAMU events in general. It’s hard to get people to do things this year that would have been really easy to get them to do freshman year. I wanted to change that.”
Knowing that she had a hard road ahead, Neal began preparing over winter break.
“There were days when I didn’t go to sleep,” says Neal. “It was a cycle– I had school work, then stuff to do for my campaign. If I went to sleep before either of those things was done, I would be stressed. It was either stress or sleep.”
Neal also had to deal with public scrutiny. One FAMU student attacked her appearance over the web.
“In my circumstance, I had negative comments come from one person’s Twitter,” she says.
This year’s SGA President-SGA Vice President races were just as drama filled. For the first time in FAMU’s history, both tickets were write-ins due to late declarations of candidacy.
Now that the elections are over, the appeals start rolling in.
In 2008, the FAMUAN reported on the trial process following the Miss FAMU election between Amanda Byrd and Scarlett Williams.
According to the report, Williams claimed that Byrd should be “retroactively withdrawn because of the amount of points assessed for violations of the elections rules and procedures.” There were questions as to whether Byrd had campaigned 50 yards within the range of the voting precincts, an illegal act.
“I wasn’t even at FAMU yet for that campaign, and people are still talking about it,” says Jamecia Bailey, a second-year business administration student from Miami.
Nakena Cromartie, the 2011-2012 Miss FAMU elect, and Chelsy Earby, seem to be headed down the road to courts and appeals. Earby is currently seeking enough signatures to bring up an investigation.