BYU student Tinesha Zandamela felt a responsibility to run for public office at age 23 because she wanted to give a voice to those not represented on the Provo City Council.
Zandamela watched her father as he served in a public office for many years in her home state of Washington. She had always felt a profound sense of civic duty and desired to be involved in local politics. It was this desire that drove her to run for a seat on the Provo City Council.
“My dad always taught me to lift where you live,” Zandamela said. Zandamela knew the best way she could lift others was by serving the public.
When she first came to BYU, Zandamela felt isolated and different. As a woman of color, she said it was sometimes difficult to feel like she belonged, and she even considered transferring schools. But something prompted her to stay.
“There was a reason that I needed to be here,” she said.
Zandamela realized there was something missing in her life as a student. She felt like her life revolved around BYU, and she wanted to broaden her scope. Zandamela had forgotten that, in addition to being a BYU student, she was part of a community.
“I ran for office because there were people in my district who weren’t being represented,” Zandamela said.
She remembered that her father had always told her “If you can help out, then you do it.” Zandamela also said service is a principle the gospel reinforced to her many times.
“We put others before ourselves,” she said.
While campaigning for city council, Zandamela had her fair share of naysayers. She said many people told her she couldn’t run for public office at the age of 23.
She also said a group of white supremacists defamed her on social media and created disparaging videos of her. She said this group created a specific campaign to ensure she was not voted into office.
For Zandamela, this was the hardest part. The only thing that helped her get through this difficult time was her support system. She depended on friends, family and a lot of prayer and scripture study.
Another difficult part of her experience was finding balance. Zandamela was attending BYU full-time, working a part-time job, acting as president of a newly formed club and tackling all the usual things people in their twenties experience.
“At the time, it didn’t feel like a lot because it was so exciting,” Zandamela said. She also said that she relied heavily on her friend and campaign manager, Elise Scott.
“Honestly, looking back I am kind of shocked we got through it as well as we did,” Scott said.
Scott said Zandamela was able to accomplish everything because she prioritized. “You have to make sacrifices,” Scott said.
Scott said she initially met Zandamela through Twitter. And after meeting in person and discussing political aspirations, Scott wanted to join the campaign.
Scott and Zandamela both feel very strongly that students should involve themselves in politics.
“Decisions are being made with or without you,” Scott said.
Zandamela shared similar sentiments. “Students make a huge difference. They are an important part of this community.”
Zandamela said many students don’t participate in local politics because they don’t go through the steps to gain in-state residency. This means many BYU students can’t vote in local elections. However, Zandamela believes it’s important to vote in the community you live in.
Provo city council member Gary Winterton said he appreciated Zandamela’s attempt for office because a student perspective is not always represented.
“I love the idea of students running — that’s not a perspective we always hear,” he said.
Winterton said BYU and UVU are important influences in Provo, and it is important that students are involved and voice their opinions. He said running for public office is a difficult thing to do, and he respects anyone who is willing to get out there and be vulnerable.
Though Zandamela did not win the council seat, she has no regrets. For her, the experience was worth the effort, and she hopes students at BYU will speak out and stand up for what they believe in.
“I want people to know that their voices and stories are important,” Zandamela said.