The idea of college as a relatively carefree period of going to class, studying and having fun is pretty foreign to Emily Hinton. One of two student trustees on the CSU Board of Trustees, Hinton will graduate in May 2019 from Sonoma State University with dual bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and political science. But little about her undergraduate years qualifies as "easy."

For the nearly five years she's attended Sonoma State, Hinton worked at least two jobs. “It’s just always been this balance between working to be financially stable and paying for school, or taking time off of work and really focusing on school, but then really struggling financially,” says the first-generation student. “It’s always been that back and forth.”

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As a sophomore, Hinton broke her ankle, requiring her to take time off from her evening job as a server. What seemed a near-tragedy turned out to have a silver lining. “I joined all these clubs [on campus]. That’s when I got involved in student government,” recalls Hinton, who served as president of Associated Students (AS) at Sonoma State in 2016. “I just had all this free time I wasn’t used to having.”

Still, the injury made her financial situation worse. In the summer of 2016, Hinton lived out of her car for a time, even while serving as AS president. “That was a turning point for me,” she remembers. “That was also a moment of me taking my experience and using it as empowerment to be resilient.” She decided to use her position in student leadership to advocate for basic needs resources for all Sonoma State students.

So when Governor Jerry Brown’s office called in June 2017 to let Hinton know he’d appointed her to a two-year term as a student trustee for the CSU, she knew she’d have an even bigger platform to encourage change.

After all, no one understands the complexity of basic needs issues better than Hinton. “I feel like we can easily talk about these things in theory, but when it comes to applying [solutions,] we need more training,” explains the Modesto native. “It’s not just, ‘let’s put a food pantry on campus and check a box.’”

Speaking Up for Students

Hinton has quite literally had a front-row seat to witness how the Board of Trustees works. “The first [BOT] meeting was very intimidating,” she remembers. “I don’t want to ever miss opportunities to speak up for students,” she says.

She soon settled into the role and made the most of her first year, including forging strong alliances with fellow trustees Lillian Kimbell and Peter Taylor. “Lillian Kimbell is really one of my mentors … I appreciate her and her insight to the board and leadership as a woman,” says Hinton. “She tends to be a strong advocate for students, but really brings a good balance to the board as well.”

As the current voting student trustee, Hinton knows she has an even greater opportunity to represent her fellow CSU students, which currently number nearly 490,000. “That’s where actual impact is happening for students,” she says, “so I take that really seriously.”

Once Hinton crosses the stage at Green Music Center to accept her diploma in spring 2019, she’ll finally have some time to reflect on the whirlwind of the last five years. “The CSU has helped me discover who I am and who I want to be and what I want my role in this world to be,” she says thoughtfully.

“It gave me the resources to help develop the person and leader I am and pushed me forward ... The CSU not only gave me the opportunity to receive an education, but it has opened doors of opportunities for me that I never would have known were even there.”