In April 2019, then-Campus Structure Council Chair Devon Guyer, having just been handed defeat in the recent student body presidential elections, loss the race for the Student Senate speakership to then-incumbent Nicholas LaCourse, who seemed all but set to preside over the body’s Officer Corps and Sunday meetings for another year.
In the midst of her defeat, the New Jersey native, a senior environmental conservation and sustainability and justice studies dual major, never imagined that, in less than a year, she would end up succeeding the one who beat her, a victor who resigned alongside his parliamentarian and deputy speaker over a month ago following allegations of misconduct and harassment and a subsequent investigation.
Regardless of the extraordinary circumstances leading up to her new role – confirmed by the Senate this past Sunday – Interim Speaker Guyer remains committed to the equally tumultuous office she has inherited.
“Obviously, this wasn’t the way I was hoping it would pan out, but I guess things work out interestingly in the end. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do a lot of the things I was hoping to do, which is basically just make it a very connected group of people making sure everyone knows that their voices are important; that’s really my most important thing,” she told The New Hampshire on March 4. “I want everyone to feel like Senate is a safe place for them, those were a lot of my goals and I really hope that, with the duration of the time that I have here on this campus since I will be graduating, I will be able to achieve that in some capacity for at least some students, if not all the students that are involved with Student Senate.”
Right now, that involvement circles around inevitable reforms to the body stemming from sources like Dean of Students John T. Kirkpatrick, who recently suggested the creation of a “Code of Ethics” to combat future concerns of harassment and misconduct within the body; in response, one of the first bills Guyer oversaw as speaker pro tempore involved the creation of a “Code of Ethics Task Force,” which saw an initial strength of her and 10 other members, including the student body president, vice president and student trustee.
As she reflects upon how to lead the Senate over the next two months, Guyer points to reforms like the “Code of Ethics” and the resumption of regular business reflect the inclusive and wide-reaching mission of the body.
“I think the mission of Student Senate is to represent all student voices on campus, [and] to really have a lot of representation from all of the halls and different walks of life that are on this campus,” she explained. “I think a huge part of Student Senate is really representing those voices – especially to administration, where students can feel like their voices are so small when, actually, they’re not, and I think Student Senate kind of acts as the amplifier for those voices and gets the things heard that students want to be heard by administration and get the changes made that need to be made.”
To help achieve that mission, Guyer plans to act as a “facilitator” who oversees the Senate’s processes while offering input and personal advice based on her years-worth of experience in the body, having previously served as the outreach coordinator for the Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) this academic year, and a Gables senator and the Campus Structure Council chair the academic year before that, the latter of which was her Senate debut that she discovered through an email.
“I had received an email about the position being open, and I always, as everyone knows, am a huge advocate for sustainability and environmental conservation, and knowing that was an aspect of that role, I fell in love with it and became very involved with Senate by writing resolutions and working with the administration and students to kind of make sure that we can in regards to the environment on this campus.”
Since then, her multiple roles and various lawmaking endeavors have not only built up her reputation as a reliable legislator, but also allowed her to witness the skills of her peers as well, especially during this time of internal crisis and external scrutiny.
“I think that I am extremely proud of all the current Senators and people that are working so diligently and hard and are so excited to kind of work to make this a place for all students. I would say that we’re making a lot of progress, we have a lot of work going on behind the scenes with students, Senators, administrators, anyone really who wants to get involved is more than welcome and we would love to have them involved…”
Her increased desire to amplify the needs of her constituents also arose from her own direct involvement in the last presidential election, where she ran for student body vice president alongside her running mate, Joseph Ramirez. Although the Ramirez-Guyer ticket lost to current Student Body President and Vice President Allison MacPhee and Kelsey Crowley, the intense election allowed her to hear more directly from the voters themselves, ranging from individual students to entire organizations outside of Senate.
“I’ve gained a very different perspective than one that is just my own,” Guyer said. “I think I have a better understanding of what students are looking for.”
When she is not seeking a new path forward for the Student Senate, Guyer is an avid conservationist: she has taken part in peer-led tours of the B Impact Clinic, a company-assessment collaboration between the Center for Social Innovation & Enterprise and the New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) that launched last spring, and serves as the current president of UNH chapter of Xi Sigma Phi, the natural resources honor society.
Her love of conservation – a passion obtained from joining the “cool guys” at Environment Club in middle school – stems from the fact that it often goes beyond fights against climate change.
“I think that it’s easy to think of the environment as something that exists just outside of these walls, but also something that impacts people inside of them,” she said. “A lot of people are impacted by their environment, whether it be their social environment, their natural environment, the fiscal environment or the built environment; so I think that the environment has a large impact on who we are as people, and I think that if your environment is not conducive to who you are as a person, you won’t be able to succeed as much as you can….my goal at the end of the day is to help someone.”
As broad as that mission sounds at the moment, Guyer told The New Hampshire she plans on “shifting gears” in her last weeks at UNH toward bringing reform and a more inclusive environment to the Senate she now oversees, as well as address the “mechanism” that both allowed her to get where she is today and allowed for the misconduct to occur in the past; she hopes to improve it for future students, “because there are going to be so many better students than me that are going to make so many incredible changes to this campus.”
To those newcomers and senators and students poised to return next fall, she offers a single piece of advice: never give up on passion.
“If you’re passionate about something or you love something or there’s something that you really want to do or make a change on this campus, you shouldn’t give up. If you find alternative routes to do so or work with different people – no matter if you’re in Student Senate or not – I think that you should always hold on to those passions and always do the work that you love so much, and hopefully a lot of these students do love Senate, and I think a lot of them do and they want to make this a great place as it had been…if you want to fix Senate, we want you to help us.”