Moving Iowa State forward: Newly elected StuGov president, vice president ready to serve


2018-19 Iowa State University Student Body President Julian Neely and Vice President Juan Bibiloni.

Alex Connor

When beginning his search for a university four years ago, Julian Neely knew that he wanted to attend a historically black college. But when it came to financing that education, Neely knew that he needed to go somewhere more affordable.

Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa State had always been an influence in Neely’s life as the university often visited his school district because of how local it was to Ames.

“I came here and kind of knew the dynamic of it,” Neely said. “I had my visit during a windy, snowy day in February. I was like, this sounds like Iowa and something I’ve experienced my whole life.”

And then he started imagining walking to class in the snowy, Iowa weather. Seeing how large the campus was, Neely began to picture himself attending Iowa State. It began to feel like home.

For Juan Bibiloni, it was a similar experience. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Bibiloni said he had known since the fourth grade that he wanted to be a mechanical engineer.

While he checked out other programs, what really helped solidify his decision to attend Iowa State was a letter from Multicultural Student Affairs informing him that he was selected as a George Washington Carver scholar — a full-tuition scholarship awarded to 100 incoming multicultural first-year students.

“I visited and just loved the campus environment,” Bibiloni said. “I wanted to be somewhere where I feel a sense of connection to where I am.”

But what was different for the newly-elected Student Government duo was that Neely knew from the start he wanted to get involved on campus, specifically through the Black Student Alliance.

“Coming into this, my fall semester I got involved with the Black Student Alliance immediately,” he said. “Something that I missed through my K-12 time is that we didn’t have a Black Student Union, Black Student Alliance… we didn’t have anything that was for black students.

“When I heard about BSA I was like, I have to be a part of this. I want to be connected with my black community and just to have that support.”

Bibiloni, on the other hand, wanted to take a step back from organizational involvement and “focus on becoming an engineer.”

He told himself: “I’m going to take it easy and not get involved… [I’ll] try to lay low.”

Still, Bibiloni immediately applied for a leadership position on his freshman hall council as vice president and later joined Student Government as a senator where he aimed to joined the committee on diversity and inclusion.

That’s where he met Neely, who had been selected to chair that committee.

Just a short year later — on a chilly, March day just the Thursday before spring break — the two embrace in a hug in Carver 101 just moments after it was announced they had won Student Government president and vice president.

And on Thursday, April 12 the two were officially sworn in.

Deciding to run

Neely had asked Bibiloni to run as his vice president in early December. After taking a week to decide, Bibiloni formally accepted Neely’s offer during dead week, but the duo didn’t begin to build their campaign until just before the start of spring semester.

Campaigning on “Moving Forward ISU,” Neely and Bibiloni sought to make a difference on campus through change, innovation and empowerment. Main platform points included organizing a walk for diversity, march for education and increased mentorship opportunities.

Additionally, Neely and Bibiloni hope to:

  • Increase student space on campus for studying, extracurriculars
  • Improve lighting on Central Campus
  • Implement a “Black Friday” for Cyclone gear through the ISU Bookstore and other affiliated merchandising stores

Neely said this process involved a lot of blank whiteboards and blank sheets of paper. But then, there were lots of ideas — perhaps too many.

“The first time you take a whack at it, you want to solve everything — make ISU perfect,” Bibiloni said. “But what can we actually do?

“One of the things we did that was key was identify, first of all, what are we passionate about and what do we want to work on? Also, making a difference between what is a stance and what is a project.”

It was important, Neely said, that if elected as Student Government president and vice president that it was based on the philosophy of staying true to oneself.

“We’ve got to look at our morals and our values, [but] also look at the student’s concerns,” he said.

A voice for all students

At first, Bibiloni said he was hesitant to run for vice president because he was nervous about whether or not his accent stood as a barrier to how others interpreted his leadership capabilities.

“I’m very self conscious about my accent. It’s something I’ve always given myself a hard time on,” Bibiloni said. “Obviously I come from Puerto Rico, I speak Spanish all the time. I’ve known English all my life, it’s just I’ve never had to use it as my primary language.”

However, Bibiloni realized that other students experience this, too. Part of his decision to be a more active voice in Student Government was due to former senator Maria Archevald — who was also from Puerto Rico — speaking openly to the Iowa State Daily about her accent and the barriers she faced as a woman of color.

“When you meet someone for the first time there is always that afterthought where you… are my ideas really being heard in this big room? Or is my voice being considered less than others? Are any assumptions being made about my education, my self, my worth because of my accent?” Bibiloni said.

Because of Archevald, Bibiloni said that regardless of whether or not he and Neely won the election, it would allow for future individuals who think they “can’t be a leader or they can’t achieve certain things because of where they come from, because of the color of their skin, because of the way their voice sounds” realize that they can serve in roles such as Student Government president, vice president.

“I think that is the importance of representation and it is truly a domino effect,” he said.

And as for Iowa State as a whole, Neely and Bibiloni are optimistic about the path the university is heading in regard to diversity and inclusion.

“The love of Iowa State has grown through my experience and what have you,” Neely said. “And definitely due to the people I have met has definitely contributed to my growth.”

This, Neely said, is due to a culture of perseverance he sees within the Cyclone community.

“I can see Iowa State thriving and being able to serve all different students — no matter their experience, no matter their background or their identity,” Neely said. “It’s just we have to continue that progression and not stop.”

Ready to serve

Since being elected, Neely and Bibiloni said they have been approached by students while walking across campus regarding feedback on their platform.

“Even through our campaign we got a lot of feedback about our platform,” Neely said. “It’s just continuing that. We’ve really honed in on the outreach aspect and we have to continue to do that.”

Standing in front of a crowded room at the President’s Inaugural Dinner on Thursday evening, Neely thanked his family, friends and administrators for all the support — specifically his brother, who Neely said inspires him to continuously improve as a person and the environment he is in.

“He is the prime reason I do the things I do,” Neely said. “It really is sparked by his passion and the love I have for him.”