Michael Harriss (B.A. in Political Science and History, magna cum laude, 2011) was president of the Student Government Association during the 2009-2010 academic year. As such, he served on the President's Coordinating Council, the Board of Trustees' Student Development committee, the Servant Leadership Vision Team, and the Search Committee for the Vice President of Frost campus.
Issues of race and racism on campus provided Michael with some particular challenges as SGA president. Michael reflects, "That was one of the most complex, real-life issues that SGA has had to face in recent memory, and it wasn't an easy task for myself or the organization, but I'm really proud of the way the organization handled the situation and tirelessly worked to listen to the student concerns and try to formulate practical solutions to a complex problem that the entire country has to face."
Michael considers his most fulfilling accomplishment as SGA president to be winning final approval for the Outdoor Recreation Complex on the Medical Campus. Michael says, "The new field is going to be a great addition for students playing intramurals or club sports, and it will open space on the North campus for drop-in recreation. This was a huge project, and it's always rewarding to get a positive response from the administration when presenting something of this scope."
Michael thinks that the study of political science contributed to his success as SGA President. His classes helped him understand how to work within the university structure, analyze policy issues, and formulate responses to issues as they came up. In particular, his study of political science helped him to see the difference between the hard power to force things to happen and the soft power of persuasion. Michael explains, "All too often, SGA presidents see the organization as having ample amounts of hard power and attempt to challenge the university on those grounds, but the truly effective presidents are the ones who recognize the nature of power and use the influence of soft power, which I would argue is unmatched in any other position, to effectively challenge the system and promote student concerns."
Michael also worked hard over the summers, studying at Harvard one summer and the London School of Economics another. He worked on the Kilteasheen Archeological Project in Ireland, excavating a 14th century religious site as part of a team of students and archeologists. He credits his Jesuit education for making him "an individual committed to finding true solidarity with others, respecting the human dignity of all persons, having the knowledge to be cognizant of obvious injustices and, most importantly, the courage to stand up for those values."
Michael wrote an honors thesis in the History department, drawing on his study of constitutional law with Dr. Hall. The thesis, "District of Columbia v. Hetter: Elucidating the Debate through History," took an historical approach to understanding the principal disagreements between Justice Scalia and Justice Stevens by exploring eighteenth-century sources related to the Second Amendment. Michael plans to continue his study of constitutional law while at George Mason University Law School.