A New Face for Rutgers Student Government

A New Face for Rutgers Student Government

Kristine Baffo is the first African American, the first woman elected president of RUSA

Kristine Baffo
Kristine Baffo is president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly.
Credit: Nick Romanenko

'I'm a big believer in representation. The student government is diverse, but we can always do better.'  
 
– Kristine Baffo, RUSA president

When Kristine Baffo initially considered running for president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA), she looked around the university’s student government, but didn’t see many people who looked like her.

“I’m a big believer in representation,” she says.  “The student government is diverse, but we can always do better.”

The senior political science major assessed her qualifications – she’d previously served as a class senator and student representative to the university’s Board of Trustees – and casually broached the subject of running with friends to test the waters.

“I joked around like, ‘Oh, it’d be so awesome if I ran for president. It would make things a little bit different!’ My roommate told me, ‘Believe in the people that believe in you. If you are able to make others understand your passion and vision, they will support you.’”

A few months later, Baffo decided to run and was elected RUSA’s president for the 2014-15 academic year. She is the first African American, the first woman and the first Douglass Residential College student to hold the position.

Though fascinated by the political process, Baffo says a career in politics is not her goal. With minors in planning and public policy and Africana studies, she says she is more interested in public policy infrastructure and hopes to pursue a doctorate in political science.

“My mother’s a nurse, my dad’s a medical technician, one sister’s a public health consultant and my other sister will become a doctor,” she says. “I’m really good at biology and chemistry, but I just love politics. Sometimes you just have to do what feels right to you. So far, it’s been going great.”

Baffo was raised by Ghanaian parents in Franklin Township, New Jersey. She says the town’s noted racial and religious diversity made her transition from high school into Rutgers’ diverse student body practically seamless.

Her student government involvement began during her sophomore year after she met former RUSA president John Connolly through NJPIRG, a public interest activist group, and became acquainted with university operations and issues in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden.

“I live the experience of a New Brunswick student, but it’s unique to be exposed to the opinions of other students, faculty, staff, alumni and the administration. We all play different roles, and it’s exciting to see how we can work together.”

For example, the university’s strategic plan calls for “robust shared governance.” Baffo hopes this allows students to contribute to the conversation and play a more active role in the decision-making process.

“Whether people realize it or not, almost every decision impacts students in some way. I think we should be able to actually contribute to your college experience.” Baffo believes this can only succeed if students are aware of the various capacities in which they may serve.

 “In the past, we’ve missed opportunities to appoint students to different committees,” she says. “We must hold everyone accountable for that, including students.”

In addition to her work with RUSA, Baffo participates in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which prepares students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds for doctoral studies. She completed internships with the New Jersey Department of Education and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and is currently working toward a political certificate through the Eagleton Institute’s Undergraduate Associates Program.

There are a number of issues Baffo would like to tackle this year as RUSA president, including a public safety mobile app, open source textbooks and the university’s sustainability efforts. She begins her term by focusing on building relationships with different organizations and administrators.

Everyone, she says, has been receptive and helpful.  

“Sometimes, I’m expected to be the one with the answers, but I’m learning that it’s okay not to have all the answers. Just work with the people with the answers,” she says. “I’m not going to know everything, but I need to make sure the people who do understand are represented. You can’t possibly represent every single perspective out there.”

Click here to read about other outstanding members of the Class of 2015


Additional reporting by Lisa Marie Segarra, '15.