Outgoing president reflects on time on campus

Rossellin Gaitán discusses her experience at UW-Eau Claire and plans for the future


Photo by Maddie Kasper

Rossellin Gaitán has served as a senator, the Communications Commission director and the president of Student Senate during her time at UW-Eau Claire.

Editor’s note: Rossellin Gaitán uses she/they pronouns, but she/her pronouns will be featured for clarification purposes.

As her time at UW-Eau Claire comes to an end, former Student Body President Rossellin Gaitán looks back on her years on campus. 

Gaitán, a fourth-year English student with critical studies in culture, literature and film emphasis, said she didn’t see herself staying at UW-Eau Claire or becoming the president of the 66th Student Senate session.

She initially wanted to be a film student and was planning on transferring after a semester on campus because UW-Eau Claire doesn’t have a film program, but Gaitán said she ended up loving the Blugold Beginnings program and ultimately decided to stay.

“I was in the Blugold Beginnings program when I first began here and I loved that program. It really just took me under its wing and I was able to grow from there, so I decided not to leave,” Gaitán said. 

Through her critical studies emphasis, Gaitán is still able to pursue her interest in film while still receiving the benefits of an English degree.

“I think the reason why it’s nice having an English (degree) under my belt is because of being able to critically view text and think critically,” Gaitán said. “I still have the film aspect of it — which I really like — but it also brings more of a critical lens through literature and that’s why I chose it.”

Gaitán will be studying abroad in Harlaxton, England, during the fall semester to finish her English degree before graduating in December. 

Gaitán said she has always wanted to study abroad in England and is looking forward to studying literature at Harlaxton College.

Gaitán also has a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), and the department faculty in WGSS and English were a part of her decision to stay at UW-Eau Claire.

“I think I lucked out, the English department and the WGSS department have some of the most awesome, hardworking, kind professors ever,” Gaitán said. “I love those departments a lot.”

Gaitán said she, unfortunately, had to turn her WGSS minor into a certificate because the final class needed to complete the minor is only offered in the fall when she will be studying abroad and Harlaxton College does not have an equivalent course.

While Gaitán is pre-law, she said attending law school is not one of her immediate plans following graduation, however, she is interested in immigration law. 

“I’m a firm believer that sometimes things happen and you don’t expect them to, kind of like this. I didn’t have a plan for presidency and yet here I am,” Gaitán said. “I’ll keep my options open, but I’d love to be able to go to law school.”

Gaitán said her interest in immigration law stemmed from growing up in one of the few Hispanic families in the predominantly white city of Arcadia, Wisconsin, although the city’s Hispanic population has grown in recent years. 

“I saw a lot of the struggles that my family faced, specifically my mom. Like the discrimination she faced for what she looked like, for being a single mother at the time taking care of two kids,” Gaitán said. “She faced a lot of discrimination, she faced a lot of struggles with trying to learn English and being an outsider.”

Gaitán said Immigration and Customs Enforcement would make frequent visits to Arcadia, and she was part of an immigration task force in high school that informed residents when ICE would be in town, what immigration warrants looked like and what their rights were.

“Because people don’t know their rights, they got scared and would go with them. I did that for two years, so it definitely fueled as to why I’ve wanted to,” Gaitán said. “I saw the process of my family going through becoming citizens and it was a very long process and it was a struggle. I think being a part of that was incredible to be able to help my own community.”

Gaitán said she feels more comfortable speaking Spanish and participating in her culture since the Latinx population in Arcadia has grown, but the Latinx community is much smaller at UW-Eau Claire.

While there are student organizations like the Latinx Student Association or Latinos United for Advancement (LUNA) on campus, Gaitán recognized that many students don’t have the same shared experiences as her.

“There are obviously people that don’t fully have the same background as I do, which isn’t terrible,” Gaitán said. “But there have definitely been moments where I’m like this is very much a singular experience and no one in this room right now kind of has had the same shared experiences as me culturally.”

Gaitán is a first-generation student and said there were many opportunities and organizations she missed out on because she wasn’t aware of them.

“It’s never really something you can truly outgrow — it will always be there and sometimes it just feels like I have to work twice as hard to be able to catch up with people where they are now,” Gaitán said.

Gaitán said her older sister, Samara, experienced many of the same things as a first-generation student and helped guide her.

Gaitán said she was able to use her experiences to create a handbook to help other first-generation students succeed in higher education. She received guidance from the administration on the handbook, especially from Jean Pratt, associate dean for the College of Business.

The handbook will be published digitally soon, but Gaitán said she would love to see it in print in the future. 

Gaitán said she also worked with interim Dean of Students Gregory Heinselman to get graduation cords for first-generation students.

Rossellin Gaitán in her office in Davies Student Center with her cat, Chibi. 

Gaitán first joined the senate in the 64th session as a senator and then was reelected in the 65th session on the Jaden Mikoulinskii-Justin Schilling ticket.

She was appointed to the executive board during the 65th session as the director of the Communications Commission.

As the Communications Commission director, Gaitán was able to express herself creatively while she ran the senate’s social media pages, published The Senatorial and created Motivation Mondays.

“I really liked how creative you can be,” Gaitán said. “Also the aspect of communicating with people and telling them about how awesome our organization is, that was something that drew me to it.”

Gaitán said she was considering running for president and was unsure about the decision until Mikouklinskii encouraged her.

“It was something that I never really envisioned myself in and I never had really seen anyone from my background in that position,” Gaitán said. “I realized how much potential was within this position so after that I decided I am going to run and I do want to do this.”

Gaitán ran with Nick Johnson, a third-year political science student, using the campaign slogan “lifting as we climb” — something her sister told her throughout college — and were elected the president and vice president of the 66th session.

Gaitán said her sister’s advice was an integral part of their campaign and the way she approached leadership in her role as president. 

“As you continue to succeed, you need to bring other people up with you,” Gaitán said. “So as you live and as you continue to grow, bring others with you and share that knowledge.”

During the 66th session, Gaitán authored and passed a resolution calling on UW-Eau Claire to add bereavement as an authorized absence. Gaitán’s father died during her first year at college and she said she wasn’t given enough time to grieve during the semester.

Gaitán said she worked with Heinselmen and Lisa Quinn-Lee, a social work professor specializing in death and bereavement, to compare bereavement policies among institutions in the UW System while writing the resolution.

The bereavement resolution was passed unanimously by the senate, and Gaitán said she was glad she could use her role as president to pass legislation that deeply affected her college experience.

Gaitán said she also recently began working with the Equity in Student Matters Commission to educate students about food stamps, and there will be more resources about the programs available to students in the fall.

“This chapter — this type of work and advocacy in this position — coming to an end has been really sad and bittersweet, but also exciting because I know I’ll have more time to do things and give myself attention, and not deprive myself of being able to do fun things because I need to get stuff done,” Gaitán said.

Her advocacy work will continue after her presidential term ends. Gaitán said Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, has asked her to be the district intern when she graduates.

Gaitán’s presidential term ended on Monday, May 1 when Brett Farmer and Sam Consiglio were sworn in as the president and vice president of the 67th session.

“Senate really changed my collegiate career,” Gaitán said. I’m very happy that I did it and it’s really sad that it’s coming to an end, but Brett is going to be fantastic and I cannot even imagine the things they’re going to accomplish.”

Kasper can be reached at [email protected].