From being one of two people of color in a small school in quaint town in southern Illinois to being elected as the president of the Student Government at a school of over 14 thousand students, Reauna Stiff has had quite the journey.
Growing up in Mulberry Grove, a town of 700 in rural Illinois, Stiff grew to appreciate the positives and negatives of living in a small town.
“Being raised in a small town, it has a lot of benefits,” said Stiff about her time in the small town. “People really rally behind you.”
As a person of color, Stiff found there to be unique experiences that came with a predominantly white community.
“Me and my best friend were the only people of color in that entire high school,” said Stiff, “I thought, I definitely wanted to see more people that looked like me.”
While growing up in that setting was not all bad for Stiff, she knew that that was not where her future was going to be.
From a young age, her father had a special mission that she would go to college for political science. Whether it was watching CNN, MSNBC or FOX news networks, politics were always an area that Stiff found herself exploring with her dad.
“I had a lot of support from my mom and my sisters,” said Stiff “but he was really into politics.”
With the support of her family, Stiff decided during her senior year to move out of state and head to Minnesota State University, Mankato to pursue that dream.
After an eventful and successful senior year of high school, with Stiff winning several scholarships, being chosen as the president of the National Honor Society and a massive graduation party, Stiff seemed to be on the top of the world.
That was, until days before move in day, she received news that would shock her.
Just before moving to Minnesota to pursue her and her father’s dreams of a college education, her dad was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer.
The diagnosis pushed Stiff to focus on two things and two things only during her freshman year in Mankato, family and grades. She spent much of her time communicating with family and making sure her academics were up to snuff, hoping for her father to make it to the summer so that she would be able to see and take care of him then in Illinois.
Unfortunately, her father passed away in February of her freshman year.
After months of healing through mediating, praying, and being with family, Stiff was ready to take on her sophomore year with a newfound energy.
“I realized that I can’t stop now just because my motivator is gone,” said Stiff, referring to her new sense of urgency. “I thought to myself, ‘this year, I have to do better.’”
After a brief stint on the debate team, Stiff saw a vacancy election for an off campus senator position for the Student Government.
Stiff brought up the idea to a close friend, who wasn’t the most hopeful for her.
“They actually told me I wasn’t cut out to be a senator,” said Stiff, about a friend of hers who doubted her ability. “That little bit of discouragement from someone who was close to me encouraged me to prove them wrong.”
She was subsequently elected into that position, and later was approached by the president at the time, Anisa Omar.
Omar encouraged Stiff to, when the time came, run for president, a thought of which sounded forgiegn to the sophomore.
Omar was adamant that she thought about it, telling her “Reauna, you sleep on yourself.”
So a year later, she announced that she would be running for Student Government president with then speaker of the senate, Kara Svercl.
“Reauna and I have shared vision and values,” said Svercl, referring to why she wanted to run with Stiff. “She is so organized and empathetic, and has an amazing vision, which is really inspiring to work next to.”
Stiff and Svercl ran unopposed in the 2021 election for Student Government, and were elected and inaugurated in the Spring.
After college, Stiff has goals of law school, hoping to get into civil rights law, and someday into policy making.
As for her time here at MNSU, Stiff said that “I feel like this is the beginning of my journey, and not the end.”