Welcome to the 2024 version of Western Carolina University’s “The Black Fantastic.” This is a series that began in 2022 when the University Communications and Marketing team wanted to find a way to highlight excellence among a few of WCU’s Black faculty and staff members. The award-winning project has been so well-received that we decided to center this year’s version around some of WCU’s outstanding African American students. To start the 2024 series off is…
When C.J. Mitchell arrived at Western Carolina University in the fall of 2020, the only thing he knew about student government was what he saw in high school; that it primarily was an organization that put on a few dances during the school year. He had no idea that by his sophomore year at WCU, the Student Government Association would be the main catalyst for shaping the man who will graduate this spring.
Mitchell came to WCU a self-proclaimed introvert from Charlotte. Speaking to strangers simply was not his thing. But as a member of Intercultural Affair’s Project Care during his freshman year, Mitchell began hearing that SGA was looking for people to join. So, on a whim, he submitted an application to become a senator and was accepted.
A year later, he convinced himself to run for vice president, and won. Then, came the ultimate test, a run for presidency. He won again.
“Campaigning is like the scariest thing in my life,” Mitchell said. “To have put myself out there to thousands of people for them to vote for me is scary. On top of that, to do that and lose is even more scary. So, it was a big sigh of relief. And despite that being the second campaign I’ve been through, it felt like it was the first one. I’m just glad it was over and there are no more in the future.”
Being a campus leader the last two years has taught Mitchell a lot about who he is and what it means to help bring about change on campus. Having an impact on students is what he has enjoyed most during his presidency.
“That is something I had never done prior to this,” Mitchell said. “Here, you can actually see some of the changes happen. That was something that really spoke to me. It was a driving factor to lead me to take that leap of faith and run for vice president and then on to president.”
As nervous as Mitchell was running for office, it was even worse when he attended his first Board of Trustees meeting. The SGA president is a voting member of the Board.
Mitchell knew he had to do one thing before heading into that first meeting – he had to go shopping.
“I was like, ‘I can’t go in here with something I’ve already got,’ ” Mitchell said. “I’m grateful because I had the opportunity to meet them prior to that. I spent the year before being able to interact with them. But to be at the seat and to be a voting member was crazy. You get this gigantic binder that has so much information in it. I literally flipped through every single page the week before our meeting. I just wanted to be prepared.”
Mitchell believes one of his biggest accomplishment as president is helping to bridge the gap between current students and alumni. With only a couple of months left in his term, Mitchell is hoping for a quiet spring semester as he prepares to help transition the next group of student leaders into their administration.
Mitchell is majoring in business management with a double minor in hospitality and leadership. He hopes to eventually become a college athletic director. While working his way up the ladder, he plans to start out working at a college or university doing annual giving or fundraising.
One thing is for certain, Mitchell will give it his all.
“We had this saying in our house growing up – ‘I don’t care what you do, just be the best at whatever you decide to do.’ That’s something that has really stuck with me. So, whatever I’ve done in life, I’ve really tried to be the best at it,” Mitchell said.
“To see me in high school and then to see me now, my high school principal says it’s like a 180. A lot of my friends back home that I went to high school with were like, ‘You’ve changed a lot. You’ve come out of your shell.’ I think if I had gone to another institution, I would not be the person that I am now. I think Western truly gave me this unique experience that I needed for myself to develop and grow as a leader, and as a person.”