In his position as student body president at West Virginia University, Blake Humphrey represents more students than there are people who live in this Friendly City.
Place that fact into mind when considering the weight of the responsibility Humphrey accepted when taking office two months ago.
“I do feel that once you get elected, you represent everyone, and that means even the people who voted against you being elected to whatever position it may be,” the young man insisted. “Now, that doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone, but you have to be willing to have those conversations with folks on the other side of the aisle. If you don’t do that, then you are neglecting your duties.
“That is true on the student government level, on the city level, and all the way up. Representation is about everyone, and if that’s not what is being accomplished, then you’re not adequately serving that position to which you were elected,” Humphrey said. “I’ve never claimed to have all the answers, and that is why I do try to surround myself with quality people who have different perspectives. Politicians think they have all the answers, but true public servants surround themselves with those kinds of people so the right approaches can be adopted.”
As a campaign volunteer for several politicians in the past and as class president during his junior and senior years at Wheeling Park High School, Humphrey has displayed an interest in public service for several years. He trekked his way through Ohio County’s public school system before he was graduated from Wheeling Park in 2014, and in three years at WVU he has earned undergraduate degrees in political science and economics.
While serving for a year as the university’s student government president, Humphrey will begin working on a master’s degree in public administration and is set to begin law school as well.
And yes, there are only 24 hours in each of his days, too, but this Wheeling native is determined to battle for those he represents.
“I have found that the issues with our students vary each day, and as I speak with past student body presidents I find that some of the issues they were dealing with when they were in this position are still issues today,” Humphrey explained. “But the times have changed, too, and we are dealing with a lot of new issues now, and our nation’s political climate can make it difficult. The one constant is that all students at WVU need to feel like they are safe while they are on campus.
“The state’s budget, the proposed tuition increases, some academic issues, and federal research funding are all issues right now in this position, and I plan to make sure to stick up for the students at WVU. The university’s student leaders need to be sure to add our voice into those conversations,” he continued. “It’s critically important and much needed to ensure the student body is considered.”
Formulating the state’s budget in Charleston has proved a difficult task for Gov. Jim Justice and members of the House of Delegates and the state Senate, and one reason why rests with the proposed funding cuts for West Virginia colleges and universities. In fact, one proposal rejected by Justice involved millions of dollars being taken away from WVU.
That idea doesn’t sit well with Humphrey.
“Our state budget is very concerning to everyone, and cuts to WVU hurt everything at WVU, and that includes athletics, too. The bottom line, I believe, is that our lawmakers need to consider the return on the taxpayer investment and what is generating revenue for our state because the university accomplishes that for our state,” he said. “We hear all of the time about keeping young people here in West Virginia, but that’s not going to be achieved by cutting funding for what is working very hard to keep those young people here.
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“Serving as the student body president is more than a title to me because it’s such a tremendous honor, and during the course of my first two months I’ve had the opportunity to interact with so many incredible people. The best part is that I am only two months in, and I have 10 months to go,” Humphrey continued. “For better or for worse, the job is just getting started, and I do consider it a job because every day there is something different to work on, and the state budget is one of many examples.”
In his position, he also has the opportunity to work directly with the president of WVU, Dr. E. Gordon Gee, who returned to Morgantown in 2014. Gee, who was named in 2009 one of the top 10 university presidents in the U.S. by TIME Magazine, first served as president at WVU from 1981-1985.
But while he and Humphrey, however, have disagreed on issues involving academic program development and strategic planning, the new study body president has found Gee to be more directly involved with the quality of life on the Morgantown campuses.
“He’s an incredible person with a big heart and a great mind,” Humphrey said. “He is one of the most engaged people when it comes to the work he does. He could be with students at midnight on a Saturday in downtown, or it could be at 7 a.m. on a Monday while he’s in a meeting discussing the pressing issues facing the university.
“Dr. Gee seems to be constantly in tune to what is going on at the university in a way that I have never seen,” he continued. “His level of commitment, his level of passion, and his ability to communicate with everyone are incredible, and I feel we are very lucky to have him as the president of West Virginia University. That’s why I was very pleased to see that his contract was renewed for another five years.”
For many years, West Virginia University was known more for its party atmosphere thanks to rankings published by Playboy Magazine, and during the first decade of the 21st century the city of Morgantown was riddled with illegal couch burnings following huge wins or controversial losses by the school’s Division I football team.
Those two issues, however, have been resolved, and now Humphrey believes the university’s mascot symbolizes much more than frantic Friday and Saturday nights in Monongalia County.
“Besides the buckskin, the beard, and the rifle, I believe a Mountaineer is someone who embodies our core values, and Dr. Gee often discusses curiosity and respect and intellectual honesty and the truth. I think collectively we make up a spirit, and that changes year-to-year depending on who is involved with our student government at the university,” he said. “As individuals, we all chart our own paths, and we do our own thing, but we do have that collective sense, and that makes the university and our state very special places.
“We have a pride in our state, and we also have a pride in ourselves as individuals, and I believe that’s what makes us Mountaineers,” Humphrey added. “I take a lot of pride in explaining that to people across the nation. It is true that I do have to explain that our state is indeed separate from the state of Virginia, but then I explain to them that we have one of the best universities in our country. That’s the easy part of this job.”