Kaleigh Finney pushed the Webster University College Democrats to stay involved on campus despite COVID-19, according to Webster student John Wallis.
Senior history major Kaleigh Finney was already involved on campus. Between practicing for soccer and track and field seasons, graduating a semester early, preparing to apply to law school and engaging as a member in various student organizations on campus, Finney is balancing multiple responsibilities.
But Finney hasn’t stopped there. She was also selected as Vice President for History Politics and International Relations (HPIR), and President for Webster University College Democrats (WUCD) – during a pandemic which prompted student organizations to adapt.
“It was the right time to take up a leadership role as one of the oldest members of the club and to have that experience with everything that we’ve been doing even though it’s a little bit different this year because of [COVID-19],” Finney said.
Finney is working to lead the club during a social-distanced and highly political time. Finney’s interest in politics helped guide her involvement on campus.
Before becoming president, Finney was a member of WUCD for two years. She enjoyed attending events such as mini-caucuses and watching debates and election results.
Then, when executive board positions for the organization opened in the spring, Finney knew she wanted to run for office. Initially, however, her goal was to be treasurer, not president.
Finney chose to run for president instead after speaking to John Wallis, who was elected Treasurer of WUCD.
“We said, ‘Look, Blain and I are going to be really busy this year. We are going to need someone who’s going to take up this leadership position,’” Wallis said. “Kaleigh immediately stepped in and she took it on and she has just been wonderful.”
Wallis was impressed by how quickly Finney took an active role as president after being elected. He said during summer planning, she took charge of a meeting. During the meeting, Wallis said Finney contributed multiple ideas for events and ways for WUCD to partner with other on-campus organizations.
Despite leading the meeting and presenting multiple ideas about how the organization would connect with Webster’s community this fall, Wallis added Finney was always inclusive and open to everyone’s ideas.
“The fact that she was willing to take up the position and immediately started pushing for us to do all of these events to bring people on Zoom, I think that really speaks to what kind of a leader she is,” Wallis said. “She is really proactive and she’s very inclusive of everyone.”
Holding events has been different this year due to COVID-19. However, Finney said the organization has found ways to stay engaged through virtual events. She said the organization gained 15 new members after the virtual involvement fair. WUCD also hosted virtual “watch parties” on Zoom for the presidential and vice-presidential debates.
“A bunch of club members and the executive board as well as some HPIR faculty got together. We had a discussion about 30 minutes before the debate started about what we thought was going to happen, the topics, then we watched the debate and then we had a little bit of a post discussion as well,” Finney said.
Wallis said WUCD is hoping to hold events where they can talk to candidates through Zoom. The organization’s goal is to get students voting in the Nov. 3 election.
This year has also brought calls for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd. Wallis said Finney acted quickly in having WUCD publish press releases on the death of Floyd. He said she has also been involved with protests at her home in California.
For Finney, it was imperative WUCD took a stance on the issue and stood as an ally for those fighting for justice.
“It’s our duty as young people who have the ability to change the way that leadership looks at things in this country,” Finney said. “To take our role to speak out about it and make it known that these things that are happening are not okay.”
Finney hopes to continue fighting for justice even after finishing her education. Although she is a history major, she plans to attend law school in the hopes of being able to work for a civil rights firm in the future. She also hopes to run for office one day.
Professor John Chappell said while many people view political science as the major to take before law school, the two majors work together.
“I would argue that any understanding of American politics requires a grounding in political history and appreciation for understanding the importance of historical context,” Chappell said via email. “Given the state of our nation and the extraordinary things happening, I think it’s critically important for students to be politically informed and engaged.”
Chappell pointed to Finney’s work with WUCD to highlight her engagement with student life and politics.
According to Finney, college students should engage in politics. She explained voting and engaging in the political process is a right, and decisions made today will affect younger generations the longest.
“Other people shouldn’t be making those decisions for you when you have the ability to have a voice and say something about it,” Finney said.
Finney’s dedication to politics and history extended into the classroom, according to Chappell. He said after an injury from soccer put Finney in the ER, she emailed him to explain why she might miss class that day.
“She didn’t even wait until she got back home —but emailed from the ER!” Chappell said. “I still tease her about that!”
Finney’s initial decision to attend Webster was due, in part, to Webster’s soccer team. She met the women’s soccer coach, Luigi Scire, at a recruiting event. During her time here, Finney said she was able to meet incredible and supportive teammates and was able to win multiple tournaments.
Another fond memory Finney recalled was watching Super Tuesday results with the WUCD last semester. She was able to leave class early and spend time with friends.
“It was just such a good event to be surrounded with other people who have the same interests as I do and we could all talk about them in a more intellectual manner than I could with other people,” Finney said.
Wallis said he was amazed by the various responsibilities Finney has been able to balance throughout her time at Webster. He added he was glad she got involved in WUCD and he had the chance to get to know her.
“I’m very upset that I won’t have, you know, I won’t have known her for my entire four years because she’s really great at what she does,” Wallis said.
Chappell also felt honored to have been able to work with Finney throughout her time at Webster. He said he would miss Finney once she has graduated.
“Kaleigh’s an outstanding person and student. She has truly epitomized qualities we encourage students to develop,” Chappell said. “She’s flourished here while contributing to student life and Webster University as a whole in [a] myriad ways. I’m proud of what she’s achieved and excited to see what she accomplishes in the future.”
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Cas Waigand (she/her) is the editor-in-chief for the Journal. She is a major in journalism with minor in photography. Cas has covered COVID-19 and the 2020 general election, and enjoys writing, watching Netflix, crocheting and taking photos.