Shawdee Bakhtiari and Xavier Williams met as freshmen in Wayland Hall.

Student Body President Shawdee Bakhtiari and Student Representative to the Board of Visitors Xaiver Williams met early in their freshman years when they both lived in Wayland Hall. Four years later, they’re looking back on what they accomplished throughout the years and their strengthened connection to the JMU community.

“From freshman year on, we both understood that we have a very similar style of leadership,” Bakhtiari said. “We realized that we had a good rhythm going on and that was something that really helped us with our relationship with the student body. We both have these different perspectives that we fused together to create our team.” 

As a student representative to the Board of Visitors, Williams attends open Board of Visitors meetings and acts as a liaison between students and the Board. He also works closely with Bakhtiari on administration committees and on events around campus. 

Both Bakhtiari and Williams said one of their favorite events they worked on was Halftime on the Quad, which was in October 2022. Bakhtiari said events like this allow her and Williams to connect with fellow Dukes. 

“This was one of my first real times getting to speak to students with [Williams] and Tim Miller,” Bakhtiari said. “It was super exciting to see everyone enjoying the simple pleasures of being a Duke. It’s a memory that I look back at fondly.”

Since Bakhtiari and Williams are seniors, they’ll be graduating in a week. Both said they’ve grown as people in their positions and want students who may be interested in leadership positions to know that they should simply go for it.

As student body president and student representative to the Board of Visitors, Bakhtiari and Williams serve as a “community-bridger’’ for students and administration. While there are challenges that come with the position such as the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health crises on campus, Williams said getting to interact with the JMU community makes it all worth it. 

“One thing this position has taught me is that there’s beauty in community and communication,” Williams said. “I don’t think I would have ever known what the students wanted had it not been for the honest conversations I’ve had with many of them. It’s helped me to become a bridge-builder with many different groups of many different backgrounds.”

One person that works closely with Bakhtiari and Williams is upcoming Student Body Vice President Faith Forman. While she works more closely with Bakhtiari in SGA, she said both Bakhtiari and Williams have been supportive of her.

“[Williams] is super welcoming to everyone,” Forman said. “I see everything he does across campus, and I know that he will be successful in whatever he does in life. [Bakhtiari] has also been a big mentor to me over the past year. The way she holds herself and the way she captures crowds is something that I really admire.”

This year, Forman served as executive assistant in SGA, which is the role Bakhtiari was in before being appointed as student body president. She said Bahktiari is someone she looks up to and someone who’s always been there for her. 

“I can go to [Bakhtiari] whenever I have questions,” Forman said. “Her inviting nature isn’t something I’ve had in a leader before. I always feel that, no matter what is going on in her life, she’d be there to guide me through anything. This doesn’t apply to just me either. I’ve seen her openness trickle down to other members as well.”

While interacting with the JMU community is part of the job, Williams and Bakhtiari agreed it’s also their favorite part of their positions. As a woman of color at a primarily white institution (PWI), Bakhtiari said finding a community is a big part of what has motivated her throughout her time as president.  

“The best part of this job has been being able to connect with the community,” Bakhtiari said. “My biggest accomplishment using my own background is that I’ve been able to really commit to the DEI work that the university is committing itself to and really exemplify that more because I have some of the lived experiences to propel that work forward.I am so proud of all the work our Dukes do, and I want to use the platform and opportunities I have to showcase that work.” Although being involved in leadership comes with challenges, Bakhtiari said students who may  want to get involved with it have to know not to doubt themselves. 

“Keep pushing, keep trying,” Bakhtiari said. “Even trying to get your foot in the door is such an incredible measure of your leadership that no one can take that away from you. Be true to yourself and let your character show. That’s the most important part of leadership to me.” 

While their time as student body president and student representative to the Board of Visitors is coming to an end, Bakhtiari and Williams said they want to leave students with the message that they need to stay involved and engaged. Williams said JMU has a culture of kindness, and students need to keep holding doors for each other, physically and non-physically. 

“The Marching Royal Dukes were the first people who held the door open for me when I came to JMU, and my goal since then has been to do that for others,” Williams said. “Whether that be introducing new students to a club or holding a door for someone at the dining hall, we have to continue that thing that makes JMU special.”

Alexa Bonilla contributed to this story.


CORRECTION (5/5/2023 12:09 p.m.): Changes have been made to this article to correctly state Bakhtiari's last name. 

Contact Morgan Vuknic at For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.