Breaking barriers and advocating for students is something that Andrea Rodriguez-Campos and Isaiah Castle always had in mind when they ran to become St. Pete’s first governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.
As they navigate challenges set by COVID-19 and find new ways to reach students virtually, Rodriguez-Campos and Castle are working toward promoting diversity as well as advocating for the student body.
However, their partnership began somewhat unexpectedly, according to Rodriguez-Campos.
Since the newly created positions were announced, Rodriguez-Campos knew she wanted to represent the St. Pete campus as its first governor under a consolidated Student Government (SG). The only thing she was missing, however, was a running mate.
She started asking her peers from SG for running mate suggestions who would also represent the same values she holds. In the end, there was only one person who would be ideal for the job.
“It started by me asking like ‘who would be a good match,’” Rodriguez-Campos said. “And then everyone said, [Isaiah] is the one to watch and the one that needs to be on this ticket.”
For Castle, the invitation to run for lieutenant governor came as a surprise, as he was just elected to Senate. He said he was at SG’s 2019 Christmas party when he was told about the opportunity to run with Rodriguez-Campos during SG’s General Election.
“It took me aback for a second because I had just run for Senate. I didn’t even start Senate yet and we were going on a whole nother election? I was like, ‘wow,’ because I honestly wasn’t even thinking that far ahead,” Castle said.
Once the duo met for the first time, they were certain about the impact they could create if elected to become St. Pete’s first governor and lieutenant governor.
“We talked with each other about little things that we wanted to do and the things that we valued, how big it would be for both of us to run together as a ticket of color and it would be very, very powerful and something to get around,” Castle said. “I immediately was like, ‘oh, man, that’s gonna be amazing.’ So I needed to think and I thought about it over winter break.
“We came back, I accepted and the rest is history.”
Rodriguez-Campos and Castle were elected March 6, with a campaign focused on three pillars: the environment, diversity and advocacy.
When it comes to diversity, they hope to advocate for more inclusivity and create “an environment for diversity growth.”
“The biggest thing I want our administration to be known for is increasing diversity in terms of social relations between different groups on campus,” Castle said. “There was a statistic that when I first heard it, I didn’t believe it, that there were five African American students in the entire first-year class for political science. It’s been a number stuck in my head the entire year.
“If there were one thing that I would give everything to, to just have that one thing for us to be known for improving, it would be that, creating an environment for diversity growth.”
Among the other pillars, the environment is one that Rodriguez-Campos has a personal and deeper connection to as she strives to work in environmental policy after college.
“My love for the environment is being in a place that was so beautiful and understanding that it’s not going to be like that very soon because of what we’re doing to it,” Rodriguez-Campos said.
“The way that I hope to impact policy in the future is that I really want to make sure that we’re using the power of the government to protect the environment as it should be done. And it shouldn’t be commodified and sold as if it’s worth nothing, because it’s everything. I mean, it’s the source of life and I truly think that it’s the one thing that I can do to make this world a better place as well.”
Besides working in environmental policy, Rodriguez-Campos said she hopes to be a force for change within the country’s political scene and run for office to empower other women.
“Now, we have so many women of color in Congress, but it wasn’t like that such a short time ago, so I hope to continue breaking down those barriers of accessibility of women in politics and make sure that I can help not only myself become elected but other women of color also be represented and be a part of governing in our country.”
Rodriguez-Campos has demonstrated her passion for the environment on campus through different involvements. In 2019, she served as the director of sustainable initiatives within SG’s Executive Branch, where she assessed SG’s sustainability protocols, served as chair of the Clean Energy and Resource Conservation Commission, and was a member of the Student Green Energy Fund.
Her passion for the environment and social justice doesn’t go unnoticed among her peers. Emma Jacobs, Student Green Energy Fund chair for the St. Pete campus, said Rodriguez-Campos’ biggest strengths are her determination and focus to fight for what she believes in.
“From social justice issues to environmental protection, Andrea possesses the commitment and ability to learn anything and effectively communicate it to others,” Jacobs said. “Similarly, she truly cares about the well-being of the student body. She is dedicated to serving them and representing their values and needs.”
Rodriguez-Campos is not the only one shooting for the stars when it comes to their future career aspirations. After taking American National Government in high school, Castle also knew the direction he wanted for his future career.
“I want to make the world better,” Castle said. “I want the earth to be better than it was when I arrived. I don’t know where it came from, but it just hit me. I just want to make this better. Make the world better for not just myself, but for other people, people less fortunate than me, people in worse situations than me, not only in this country but across the entire world.”
After talking to a close friend at that time, he became inspired to work toward holding “the highest office in the land and create as much change as possible within the time there.”
“I’ve always kind of masked it as just running for office because with everything that that entails when you tell someone that,” Castle said. “She taught me that principle of saying what you want to do. So now, whenever someone asks me, I always tell them I want to be president of the United States. It’s what I want to do.”
Castle said that a lesson learned from his friend is to always dream big and stay positive.
“Whenever you’re doing something, whatever the highest position is in whatever you’re doing, aspire to that. And verbally tell yourself that you’re going to do that, you’re going to be that,” Castle said.
Once he graduates from USF, Castle said he plans to attend law school. He hopes to “protect people that have been falsely accused” by the criminal justice system.
Family is a big influence in Castle’s life. He said they motivate him to be the best that he can be. His father, Charles Castle III, said Isaiah not only pushes himself to be better, but also the people around him.
“Isaiah has been taught to lead by example and push others up to perform to the best of their ability,” Charles said. “He has been taught to try and understand other points of view and empathize with their positions in life.”
When it comes to building relationships with others, Isaiah said his grandfather, Charles Castle Jr., taught him the value of respect for others.
“He was such an influential person just with me growing up,” Isaiah said. “He influenced me so much, less because of who he was, but more because of how he grew, how I was able to watch him grow as a person even in his late life.”
His grandfather passed away in March 2019. From growing up in times of segregation to fighting in the Vietnam War, Isaiah said his grandfather is his biggest inspiration.
“He’s gone through so many things in his life, and the things he taught me I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life … If you treat others the way that you want to be treated, your relationships with people will grow exponentially if you just follow that one principle.
“There’s a lot of people that I have in my life that have had an influence on who I am today, but none more than my granddad.”
For Rodriguez-Campos, her late grandmother is also an example of persistence and strength that plays a significant role in her life and her career path.
“She was an excellent example of how you can become educated, no matter where you’re at in life,” Rodriguez-Campos said. “She went to college and at that point, Black young women did not get educated at all. And she ended up working in the capitol building [in Puerto Rico] and that’s a pretty high-level position and usually women didn’t even have [one].
“She broke down the barriers that I want to break down someday as well. I want to continue serving her memory in that sense to make sure that I continue to take those positions that are normally based on gender, whether you can get them or not. She was definitely an example that that’s not stopping you from succeeding and being in that position.”
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez-Campos said her roots and cultural background are an important aspect of who she is today and inspired her to “be a voice for those that are not represented in our everyday lives.”
“Growing up in a Caribbean island is sometimes a little bit different than growing up in different areas. I carry Puerto Rico everywhere I go and … I’m always very proud of it and I’m proud of being a minority voice that can kind of explain what it is to have that further understanding of being a leader or being someone that represents others.
“I want to make sure that I equally represent those that might be in marginalized communities and feel like they don’t have a voice.”
Despite starting off their terms facing COVID-19, Rodriguez-Campos and Castle look forward to their time in office and hope to be an advocate for students.
“I want to be the best advocate for students that I can be,” Rodriguez-Campos said. “I think it takes both going personally and professionally to be able to listen and be educated and then relate that information to administration in order to accurately represent what the students need on our campus.”