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10 Questions With New UPUA Vice President Carter Gangl

It took over a third of the semester, but the 17th Assembly of the University Park Undergraduate Association has found its new vice president.

Carter Gangl is the person who gets to take over that position, which was originally filled by Sydney Gibbard until Najee Rodriguez stepped down and Gibbard became president. It’s a big occasion for them too, as Gangl, who uses they/them pronouns, becomes the first openly trans person to serve as vice president of UPUA.

We talked to them about how important that milestone is, their journey through UPUA, and how they plan to achieve their goals while settling in to this new position.

Onward State: What was your journey through UPUA like before you became vice president?

Carter Gangl: I joined UPUA during my second year, during the last month-and-a-half of the 15th assembly. I heard about it through one of the LGBTQ+ organizations on campus, and they were advocating for it, saying that there weren’t many LGBTQ+ voices in student government and they wanted to fix that.

The biggest reason I joined UPUA was this call to action I had in myself about trying to get more trans voices heard in student government. Every trans person’s experience is very different, and I don’t want to speak for every trans student at Penn State, but it was nice to have somebody in the room that has that perspective and can be that representation.

My first project in the 15th assembly was a map overlay of all of the different identity based resources on campus. That project was where I found my love and passion for justice and equity.

In the 16th assembly, my big passion was expanding gender-neutral restrooms. I also pursued a position as the State College Borough Liaison, which gave me a lot of connections in the State College community.

From there, I ran again for the 17th assembly and became the chair of the Justice and Equity Committee. So far, we have sponsored the Indian Culture and Language club’s Diwali celebration, which will be happening in October. We will also host a professional development workshop sponsored by both UPUA and the Latino Caucus.

Obviously, from there, Sydney approached me to be vice president, and I immediately agreed. I was very eager and excited to continue to grow my skills and use my skills over the past couple of years in a more administrative setting.

OS: Why did you want to run for vice president?

CG: There’s a few answers to that question, honestly. The first is that, as I mentioned, I am interested in the side of UPUA that is more talking with students rather than focusing on legislation. The context has shifted, as now when I talk to students, I represent the entire organization rather than the committee I was a part of.

Another really big reason I wanted to take on this role was because I knew I would be the first openly transgender vice president that UPUA has ever had. For me, that was what connected to why I joined UPUA originally in the first place. I wanted to show people that we have a right to be in spaces like this and to fight for equality for ourselves and our communities.

The other reason is because I wanted to continue to amplify justice and equity. Dr. Bendapudi has been great so far at pushing for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I just want to continue to push that forward. Often, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) gets talked about as an “add-on,” whereas I think it should be a part of the system.

OS: Did you feel any pressure to catch up to where the vice president would normally be at during this point in the semester? Why or why not?

CG: I would definitely say it’s not a huge adjustment due to my experience in UPUA. However, the one big thing that is a learning process is chairing the General Assembly. That is the traditional role of the vice president, and while I do know the Modern Rules of Order, my experience is only as a representative.

One of the things that has changed now that I am in the executive branch is that I don’t get to vote nor speak my opinions or show support on the floor during assembly. So, that has been a little bit of an adjustment for me.

OS: What are some goals you have for this semester?

CG: My goals are very similar to when I was the chair of the Justice and Equity Committee, however, the scope is much different. So, my biggest thing is being passionate about DEI work. That was also something the Rodriguez-Gibbard campaigned on, and it is something I carry on through this position.

Another, more specific, goal I have is going back to the gender-neutral bathrooms project. I will still continue a more executive role on the project, connecting with the university more, despite not being able to pass any legislation on it. One of my goals this year is to get those gender-neutral signs put up in the HUB, Thomas, and Willard and seeing what they look like.

I also want to understand and get to know the entire General Assembly rather than the specific committee I am working on. I want everyone to be respectful and humble while debating on the floor, and that is a key focus for me now.

OS: How do you plan to work with UPUA President Sydney Gibbard?

CG: Sydney and I have a really good relationship, and I have known her since I joined UPUA, so we have had time to really build that relationship. One of the things we are learning and growing in is our trust in one another. We have to be able to trust one another given our respective positions, and I think we had it grow over the last couple of weeks.

Another thing is just trying to help her where I can and just fill in where I can. I am here to amplify what Sydney and Najee ran on during their campaign, not change it. We had a lot of conversations about that, and I think we have found the best ways where I can facilitate that.

OS: How do you plan to work with President Neeli Bendapudi?

CG: I had the honor of meeting of her for the first time at the Board of Trustees meeting last week, and that was really exciting to introduce myself to her. We also have a meeting with her and Sydney to discuss what UPUA is doing and how she can help us.

One of the things I have loved about President Bendapudi is that she is very student-focused and she really cares about the students and pushing forward student-centered ideas. She is really respectful of what we do and the missions that we have.

OS: What is your favorite Penn State tradition?

CG: This is basic, but singing the alma mater after football games and wrapping your arms around people you don’t even know. Sometimes you’re with your friends but there are times where random people or alumni get involved, which is my favorite part. It’s so great when random alum are like “we don’t know each other, but we have this one thing in common,” and we just sway back and forth with each other screaming the alma mater.

OS: How has your time in UPUA affected your Penn State experience?

CG: Honestly, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today without UPUA. When I first joined campus, I was very timid, and I didn’t really know who I was. It was a very confusing time.

Joining UPUA allowed me to find to confidence in myself in ways that I hadn’t had before. That was something I never really had in the past. I didn’t take the initiative on things or even start a conversation with someone in my class. Now, since being in UPUA, it really allowed me to gain confidence in myself and those around me, as well as an appreciation for the university.

OS: How has UPUA prepared you for your future career?

CG: I actually figured out what my passion was through UPUA, and it was because of my involvement in Justice and Equity in the 15th assembly. I really enjoyed that kind of work, uplifting voices of marginalized communities. I don’t know if I would have reached that decision as quickly without being in UPUA.

OS: As per Onward State tradition, if you were to be any dinosaur, what would you be and why?

CG: I’d be a pterodactyl because they can fly, and I think flying is sick. They’re also really aggressive, so the image of flying and being really aggressive is very cool to me. Also, the idea of flying is just really cool to me. I would fly if I could, so why not choose that?

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey is a senior from Annapolis, Maryland, majoring in secondary education and minoring in social justice in education. When he is not writing for the blog, he enjoys rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor", and yes mom, actually doing school work. If you would like to talk about sports or "Survivor", the best way to reach out is on Twitter @theowenabbey. All other compliments may be sent to [email protected]

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