Charles Gaines spent a crucial evening last spring dining at Oscar’s Mexican Restaurant, waiting on a call that had the potential to drastically change his senior year. When the call came, he learned his would be one of several new faces among the Students’ Association officers – a group he would lead as its president.
“Are you kidding me?” said the newly elected president, a senior criminal justice major from Cedar Hill, upon receiving the call.
In a close race, Gaines had defeated Daniel Burgner, junior political sicence major from Yorba Linda, Calif., by only 11 votes. Following a congratulatory call from Burgner, Gaines dialed his parents’ cell phone number.
“Understand, not everyone voted for you,” said Gaines’ mother, Rhonda Gaines. “That means you’ve got to get the other side on board. OK, we love you. Get to work.”
Gaines’ presidency comes after a controversial year involving the impeachment of former SA president Daniel Paul Watkins. Gaines says he wants to reestablish SA as an organization known for its campus contributions, instead of its miscommunications and disagreements. This year’s cabinet plans to change the image of SA by creating a Christ-centered atmosphere of strong character and integrity, he says.
One strategy for transforming SA is Gaines’ “transparency initiative.” Gaines aims to be open and honest, allowing faith to guide his actions.
“If you vote for me, that’s what you’re going to get,” Gaines says. “From my personal experience, there’s no doing this without Christ.”
Comparisons between Gaines and Watkins may be unavoidable, and Gaines knows it. The back-to-back black presidents each entered the office as a senior political science major with aspirations to law and politics. But armed with a new strategy, Gaines hopes to approach his position from behind the scenes, he says.
Like his comic book heroes, Gaines wants SA to be seen as a symbol that inspires trust. Rather than depending on the student body president as an individual, he wants students to depend on the integrity of the organization as a whole.
“This is not about us and definitely not about me,” Gaines says. “Batman, Superman, Spiderman – people don’t know the person, but the symbol. That’s exactly how I want SA to be. I do not want them to say, ‘Charles Gaines is doing this.'”
And like a superhero taking off his mask, Gaines anticipates SA becoming more vulnerable this year. Showing his personal committment to the goal and taking his initiative one step further, Gaines shares his office with Vice President Tony Godfrey, junior English major from Burleson. Gaines’ computer faces Godfrey’s, adding accountability.
“I’d really like for SA to strive to be more transparent,” Gaines says. “It’s not an exclusive club. Everyone is a part of SA, and I don’t like the idea of turning students away.”
Despite Gaines’ resolve, big changes take time, he says, and he hopes his constituents will not lose patience. He compares the task of reinventing SA’s image to fixing an automobile.
“We are not trying to fix a mirror or fix a scratch. We want to change the engine. We need to look on the inside and make sure it’s running smoothly,” Gaines says.
As part of Gaines’ efforts to improve SA, Godfrey plans to lead monthly forums in an effort to avoid miscommunication and mend relationships between students and their government. In addition, one-on-one meetings between students and SA officers will allow students to voice their concerns. Treasurer Luke Cochran, senior finance major from Round Rock, is working to get the budgets of student organizations approved earlier than in past years. Finally, the congressional meetings conducted Wednesdays at 5:15 p.m. will be broadcast live on the SA web site, www.acustudents.com.
On top of many other meetings, Gaines sets aside time each week to seek guidance from one of his mentors. At 7:07 a.m. every Thursday, he and Dr. John Willis, professor of Old Testament, discuss ways Gaines can foster good character traits. In addition, Dr. Mark Tucker, professor of library science and dean of library and information resources, and his wife, Barbara, have influenced Gaines, adopting him into their family.
Gaines believes he benefits greatly from others’ instruction, not only as president, but also as a person.
“Anything I can do to better myself and make wise decisions – it would be foolish of me not to take advantage of it,” Gaines says. “I am who I am today because I listen. I apply what I hear.”
Gaines says he also looks to ACU as a for clues on how to live. The university’s willingness to say, “We’re not there yet,” is his favorite part of ACU. He supports ACU’s constant efforts to improve and tries to model that in his own life.
“They’re never satisfied with the status quo,” Gaines says. “It makes you feel like you’ve been a part of something that’s pretty neat.”
Despite the success he has already achieved, Gaines says devotion to self-improvement keeps him motivated.
“I never want to say, ‘I’m there,’ because there are things in my life I want to improve on,” Gaines said. “The key is to keep fighting and to keep pushing forward. Even if I’m president of the United States, I hope to never answer ‘yes’ to that question.”
After completing his undergraduate work, Gaines plans to complete a master’s degree and apply to law school. He believes politics could be his calling, but he intends to put his relationship with Jesus first.
“If you think about it, he made a great sacrifice, and I take it personally,” Gaines says. “I don’t love Christ out of tradition, but because he means something to me. It’s a very personal relationship.”
For now, Gaines looks forward to a productive, though challenging, year serving the ACU student body.
“It’s like running a marathon,” Gaines said. “But when you have 4,000 students encouraging you along, it makes that race easier to run.”