UWL student Jenasea Hameister gives insight on being the District 5 City Council representative


Jenasea Hameister is sworn-in to represent District 5 on the La Crosse Common Council on Thursday, Sept. 9. Image retrieved from La Crosse Tribune.

Isabel Piarulli, Student Government Reporter

Jenasea Hameister, a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, was appointed to represent District 5 on the La Crosse City Council this past September. As a junior at UWL, Hameister is majoring in public administration and minoring in legal studies, with plans to attend law school after graduating.

Isabel Piarulli: How did you hear about this position? 

Jenasea Hameister: One of my friends reached out to me who had heard about it, and said to reach out to Andrew Ericson, who works as the Sustainability Program Manager at UWL. He gave me the contact information of another person who explained the jurisdiction of the district, and what the person does, which is mostly advocacy work.

Specifically, for students, because that is a majority of what the district is made up of and then it is some community. Not a lot of students know about the city council so getting someone on the council who would really represent students and who would make it more transparent to students that this is a council that’s here to support you because you live in the community.

Isabel Piarulli: What made you want to run? 

Jenasea Hameister: It’s a lot of advocacy work. I thought it would be really interesting to take my student perspective and combine it with a city perspective. There were a lot of things, in general, I think anyone who comes on to council will have no idea what is going on because it is kind of behind the senses.

I really wanted to advocate for students and make it known that there is someone who wants to represent them in the community. Installing sufficient lighting on campus is up for debate moving forward. It’s up for debate lighting on campus going further. That’s something that I could advocate for not only as a City Council member but also as someone on Student Senate. I really wanted to have this position because I have gained knowledge from Senate, and I can apply it to the city council.

Isabel Piarulli: How has it been working with people who aren’t college students such as yourself? 

Jenasea Hameister: I am fairly new so the interactions that I have had with people have been positive, but I definitely do feel that because I am only 20 years old, my opinion or my thoughts can potentially be undermined. There are people from all over, not just Council, but the community at large that have said “This is a lot, you are getting yourself into a lot.”

Growing up I was in the Guardianship system, which is like a sublayer to foster care almost. My parents gave up guardianship of me and those rights went to my aunt and uncle. Once I turned 18, I became my own guardian. Navigating that adversity and bringing that into high school, carrying that into college, and now into my endeavors outside of college has definitely helped in taking a stance. So, if someone is disregarding my opinion, I am going to say “no, my opinion matters.”

Isabel Piarulli: Do you have any past experience working with elected officials? 

Jenasea Hameister: Last year in April, Governor Evers’s office reached out to me asking if I wanted to speak at a press conference with Governor Tony Evers, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, EPA administrator Michael Regan, Congressman Kind, and then Mayor Mitch Reynolds. I got to talk about the impacts of climate change, moving away from fossil fuels to more energy-efficient sources of transportation. I met all of those people and got to network with them.

This past summer I worked for Congressman Kind. He represents the congressional third district and it was a lot of answering phone calls, and speaking with constituents from all different viewpoints so navigating those relationships from a political standpoint was fairly easy for me even if I didn’t agree. You are there to listen to people, you are there to advocate for people and pass on the message to the person who can vote. Now that I am in the position to vote on things, and I have that background, I think, makes things easier.

Isabel Piarulli: What are some of your goals for being on the City Council and what are some issues you might advocate for now that you have been appointed? 

Jenasea Hameister: Sustainability and climate change affect everyone, whether they are on or off campus. So, needing to advocate for that along with getting student voices on that issue, in favor of or opposition of, I think it is important for me to gather all of that and then bring it to the council.

It has been brought to my attention by a couple of people, regarding the housing situation. I’m not sure what the city can do in terms of management, but I am willing to work with people on whether that is building more housing or if it’s accommodating people’s needs. As I mentioned before lighting on campus is another thing just making sure that people are safe, potentially networking with the chief of police and La Crosse on that.

When I was first appointed there was the conversion therapy ban. That was a very heated meeting and there were a lot of students at that meeting. By informing students on what is happening within the community, they are able to show up at those meetings and represent, whether they are in favor or opposing I just think it is important to get out there. My goal as a council member is to really speak to the students and let them know what is going on, so they can offer their voice in any respective yes or no.

Isabel Piarulli: How do you see this position fitting in with your career goals? 

Jenasea Hameister: I want to go into either civil rights law, which is a lot of advocacy, and then environmental law which is also a lot of advocacy just for another group. This is something else I can add to my experience in terms of working with people of all different ages, working at a city level. The position will be a good way to almost shadow people without shadowing people, learning as I go and representing those in the community.

Isabel Piarulli: Any advice for young people wanting to go into politics? 

Jenasea Hameister: I would say try it out and get involved. I started on campus, in Senate, and I tried to run for President. Despite not getting the position I reached out to those who did and congratulated them and said I really wanted to get involved. I ended up getting appointed as a College of Arts, Social Science, and Humanities Senator, so even small things like that are beneficial. Always being kind to those that you agree with or disagree with. Just by putting yourself out there even if it’s scary, but just do it because the worst thing that will happen is you don’t get what you want and you move forward.

Also, if you feel like your voice is not heard in a room, carving a space out for your voice to be heard and really taking a stance despite what other people think and advocating for other people is huge.

Jenasea asks that if there are any students that have questions regarding La Crosse, City Council, or UWL that they reach out to her.

Her contact information is as follows:

[email protected]

[email protected]