Earlier this month, in the process of deliberating The Gavel’s endorsement for the 2017 UGBC Presidential Election, we were lucky enough to get the chance to meet with each pair of candidates. We were able to learn more about their platforms and their visions for improving student life.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and the world outside our top-floor room in 10 Stone Ave. was covered with fresh, new snowfall. One by one, the candidate duos came in to speak with us before heading back out to brave the snow. Though each pair brought unique perspectives and ideas to the table, Akosua Achampong and Christina “Tt” King stood out from the rest.
Aside from their clear commitment to advocacy and social justice, experience working with the Boston College administration, and well-developed vision for how to further foster inclusion on campus, Akosua and Tt spoke eloquently and with a certain selflessness. They wanted to serve as mouthpieces for the entire student body, not to use the roles of UGBC President and EVP to further their own personal agendas.
We were particularly captivated not just by their platform points, but also by the way in which they introduced themselves. They chose not to jump right into discussing their policy visions, but rather to set the stage for what led them to run for UGBC President and EVP in the first place. They went all the way back to their childhood experiences and discussed how their upbringings impacted the ways in which they see the world.
The Gavel's News Editor, Pei-Ling Lee, and Features Editor, Meg Loughman, both MCAS '19, sat down once more with Akosua and Tt following their election victory to get a fuller picture of who they are and what they hope to accomplish in their new leadership roles.
What was your childhood upbringing and how has it informed your desire to be UGBC President/Executive Vice President?
Akosua: I’m first generation Ghanaian-American. Both my parents were born in Ghana, West Africa and emigrated here 28 years ago. That community is very close. At home, you meet someone who is Ghanaian and immediately call them auntie and uncle even if you’re not related to them, because of how much of a familial community it is. So growing up in that was wonderful; that was my church community and my extracurricular community, versus living in a predominantly white suburb. So I got to experience both of those things growing up, taking what I learned in my home to school and other facets of my life.
Being that I’m the youngest and the only girl in my family, people used to talk over me a lot and ignore me, so I had to find creative ways to be heard, as well as assert myself. So I became really opinionated, read a lot, and built a better vocabulary, so it was just hard to argue with me. My parents really fostered the idea that I had my own voice and opinions. They always encouraged me.
I think growing up Christian with the idea of reflecting Jesus... as it pertains to my community upbringing [contributed to my outspokenness]. If something isn’t right, you speak out so long as it’s true, and [you aren't afraid of] what other people have to say if you are speaking on behalf of people who either don’t have that opportunity or are being oppressed.
I always say that I’m really thankful for BC in a sense, because it made me think for the first time about what it meant to be a black woman, or to be black, because I had always been Ghanaian. Yes, although I was physically black, it was never something I thought about as it pertains to me. Sometimes, black is also a culture, and I was never privy to [that idea] until I came to BC and met other students of color, other black students, and people who didn’t know me my entire life. When they saw me they would assume certain things about me. So know there’s a difference between someone thinking you’re a first generation African student versus a Black American student.
Tt: I grew up in a primarily white, Christian, straight, very “normative” place in Orange County, California—actually where the housewives are from—living in an alternate universe from the time I was born to [when I was] 18. I was always taught that racism doesn’t exist, sexism doesn’t exist, none of this exists.
I thought BC was the most diverse place ever when I first got here because I had no idea. I started in the sociology department and was blown away by what I was learning. There was racism, there was institutional racism, Judith Butler is an amazing human, and all these things I didn’t know. I was really captured by it, so I declared second semester freshman year and am still with that major. From there, learning how you can be so blind to these systems of oppression that are so prevalent, and so seemingly obvious once you can see them, really informed my political involvement.
I came from a pretty politically apathetic and homogenous place, so when the parking sign was defaced with the gay slur [earlier this year], I snapped. I was like, I’m so over just having conversations on diversity and academics and intersectionality—even though those things are important. We have to do more.
That’s when Akos and I were a part of planning the Solidarity March. In six days we organized 350 people, and a lot of people said it was the biggest march they’d seen on BC’s campus in a really long time. Then I got involved with other organizing groups on campus and was part of a lot of student protests that happened last semester. I met people at Eradicate [Boston College Racism] to whom I owe all of my knowledge [and experience] of organizing.
From there, I became more politically involved in numerous ways, but I never thought about running for office because I thought, “campaigning is not for me; I’d rather stick to organizing.” Campaigning is not the same as demonstrating, and it’s not the same as working at the Women’s Center or [running] a sexual assault program, given the news around our current [US] President.
I didn’t decide to do it until I learned that there was not currently a platform for, by, and with students that are marginalized. I was pretty horrified by this. And then I found out that Akos was running, and she’d been my freshman year roommate. I guess it was just an amalgamation of coming from a place where there was no reference point for systems of oppression, marginalization, and how politics plays into that, to going to a place where I was doing what a lot of people on BC’s campus think is radical politics. I wouldn’t consider a silent demonstration radical, but it was a big deal for this campus for sure. Then from there, it felt like I had to [run for UGBC].
What do you value?
Akosua: I value life, in a general sense, and I think everything else that I prioritize stems from that. Because I value life, I value advocacy, and my religion and the way I grew up plays a lot into this. [You don't] necessarily have to align with my religious beliefs to understand where I’m coming from. It's along the lines of [thinking] every single person is of immeasurable importance and value, and everyone deserves to be a person.
I think a lot of times we talk about certain issues like it’s all very political, but I don’t think human rights is political. That just stems from my value system, and I hope to bring that to UGBC in the sense that all communities that are marginalized or oppressed can feel comfortable talking, because every person deserves to be validated. No matter what those feelings are, they are valid. Your feelings aren’t 100% the truth and have a lot to do with your perception, but people should recognize that and affirm that what you feel is okay.
Tt: For my four years of high school, I ended up performing with this organization out of East LA in a primarily LGBTQ+-identifying Latino community. That really is the basis for why I’m doing what I do now. Seeing the ways those people experienced what it means to be LGBTQ and knowing people that have lived out of their cars, have had a very close friend that had an HIV scare, and seeing that sort of dark side of the community. You know, people think gay pride, woo, that’s great, allies around, rainbow flags. That’s part of the community. That’s the celebration part. The fun part. I love that part.
But I think that other side—where this is the only marginalization, where it’s normal to ask people, “Oh, did your parents kick you out?”—is a big thing that drives me because I live in it and all of my closest friends identify as LGBTQ. Knowing that dark side of the community and really identifying with that is part of it.
Also, I’m obviously a white person—or maybe that’s not obvious, but I’m a white person. I went so long not even knowing racism existed and now knowing the ways [in which] it shapes and ends lives in this country. It's really horrifying. I think people are like, oh, nobody doesn’t know, but that’s not true. There really is a system of learning what not to see in so much of our country, and that is so disturbing to me—knowing that we have people dying on the street everyday because of racism.
It’s not because of race, it’s because of racism. So I think that is something else that drives me—seeing how these things play out in real time and knowing the people [upon whom] it's played out has been why I want to be a social worker, why I want to be an advocate, and why I wanted to work in UGBC.
What has your BC experience been thus far? How has it led to your campaign?
Akosua: [An experience I had at orientation where someone made an assumption about me based on my race] really played into how active I was first semester, because I was really conscious of the fact that even though I could see people, I had no idea what they were thinking. Then there’s this idea of not necessarily wanting to ask for help in classes, because if I ask for help, are you gonna think that it’s because I can’t do it? Going through different avenues and not necessarily seeing representation everywhere was really frustrating. [I just didn't feel] like I could thrive in this environment.
You can ask Tt; I spent a lot of time in the room, if I wasn’t in class. Even though I had a few friends, I was never really out or involved. I was just overwhelmed. I felt like I didn't belong in all the things that I had previously liked. I was originally going to apply for ULA, and then I didn’t, because I felt that it wouldn’t be for me.
It wasn’t until the murder of Michael Brown when there was a protest put on by the Black Student Forum and other diaspora communities on campus, that I've talked about maybe 48 times this semester because it was this moment that just changed my life. I went, and we were marching and chanting “no justice, no peace” and walking towards the Million Dollar Stairs. I had never seen so many students of color in one place. People were caring and advocating and raising their voices in ways that I never knew people really did off television. But also, it was awkward to be around students that didn’t know why we were doing what we were doing or people who laughed while we were marching, while people were crying. I just really felt the disconnect there, but I finally found a community that I didn’t know that I was necessarily searching for.
After that, I joined the African Students Association the next semester and applied to be in the AHANA Leadership Council. I had such a bad experience freshman year that I was like, if there’s any way that I can help to reform this for at least one person, that would be amazing. Because for me, seeing Afua Laast—who’s currently my RA, was the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, was the chair of ALC when I was a freshman, and was also an OL—just seeing her doing so many different things, I felt that I was able to reach out to her as a mentor and just build our relationship that way.
I think we don’t realize how much representation matters and that’s what really led me to run for President of UGBC. It’s not that I don’t think I couldn’t do any of this work without being President, but having student government as a resource helps. If the leadership of a community reflects some of the most marginalized people on this campus, I think it says a lot in the way of representation.
Tt: My BC experience has been crazy. College is crazy. I came to BC real doe-eyed and didn’t know much about anything, but I was super stoked to be here. I moved from across the country, so I really didn’t know anybody. I was all over the place. I was in the closet. All of a sudden, I was thrown into the dance world; I didn’t dance in high school. So I was figuring out, “Who am I in this place?” That was first semester.
Second semester was when I came out. Discovering not just who am I by myself, but also who I am to the public was a scary experience for sure. I could talk about the downsides of that all day, but the upside is that I am not scared of being out anymore, which is such a blessing. I had a relatively easy time coming out, had great friends when it happened, and lost the ones along the way that maybe weren’t friends after all. I had a lot of toxic friends that I didn’t realize were toxic until a pretty rough incident happened, and my mental health took a rough turn, which is actually what I’m writing my Authentic Eagles piece on.
Second year was sort of, “How do I relate to what I’m doing and how do I relate to my stress?”, and really just parsing out that if this is who I am, how do I make sure I am that person whether I’m at dance, at the Women’s Center, or with my friends? This year was a lot of, all right, we’re doing it now! Now that I know who I am and how I do things, what am I doing? That was when I started with student activism, and I was like, all right, we’re just doing it, getting crazy ideas and being, like, we’re gonna make it happen. I don’t know how, logistically it doesn’t make any sense, but we’re going to do it, and somehow it always works out. That’s where the Solidarity March came from, that’s where the Women’s Center civic engagement program came from, that’s where a lot of what Bystander [Intervention] does came from, and that’s where this campaign came from, too. I think with enough people with enough ideas, it just sort of comes together eventually.
Describe the UGBC you imagine.
Akosua: I think one thing I realized sophomore year is how individualized some communities within UGBC seem. I don’t think there needs to be this huge bonding situation to have a working relationship between people, but I do think there is something to be said about [the importance of] a familial aspect. Especially [since I grew] up that way, I knew that when you feel more responsible to a person and a community you’re more likely to be whole-heartedly a part of a cause.
[I'd like to] find more unity within UGBC, because I think from the outside it looks like this huge cult where people are just like, look at those guys in their matching apparel, they do this and they do that. And a lot of people in UGBC find themselves in so many other communities, because these are student leaders. And so I think it seems like this huge forum where we all connect in a way that is just not available to everyone else, when that’s not really the case. So just finding a way to be more together; that would be my ideal UGBC. Not necessarily everyone being on the same page, because I think it’s important to have many opinions and perspectives.
Tt: I see UGBC as the facilitator of [creating the BC I imagine]. My dream is for people to be able to look at UGBC and say, I want this campaign, I want this to be done, I want this to be shown. Or, this isn’t being done so I’m going to go to my senator or voice a complaint, and that’s how I’m going to facilitate this change... really seeing UGBC as a tool for the students and a tool for advocacy, rather than as an insular organization... really having people connected to it and know that they’re represented there. And if they feel like they’re not, that they have the avenues to say, “I feel this way; you’re not representing me right.” Then UGBC will say, “Oh, we didn’t know that, thanks for bringing that to our attention. Let’s see what we can do about it.”
Describe the BC you imagine.
Akosua: My ideal BC I guess would be the same [as my ideal UGBC]. I think on the outside, BC can look very perfect, but when you actually analyze the communities, they’re very fragmented and very separate. I'd like to find a way to bring about a more cohesive student body with less barriers. I think students at this university are known for saying the right things and doing the right things and being able to check off all the boxes without actually doing the work to fill them in.
But can we have conversations instead of dancing around topics? How do we become more vulnerable with each other, not just on Kairos? Can BC be like you’re on Kairos every day? Is that possible? I actually haven’t been on Kairos—I’ve just heard good things. But I feel like if BC could be Kairos, that would be [my vision].
Tt: Once upon a time, BC stood for Big Closet, and there was a whole generation of queer students here that came out when they left BC, which is so sad to me. They didn’t feel like they could be BC students unless they were straight. I have heard from so many students, “I don’t feel like a BC student because I’m gay, because I’m black, because I’m low income, because whatever.”
My dream is for people to feel like they’re BC students, because they are. They are BC students whether they are transgender, Latino, Latina, Latinx, whatever socioeconomic background—they’re BC students. I want them to feel, 100%, that this place serves them just like they can serve it.
To close our interview, we asked Akosua and Tt for ways that students—you—can get involved in their future efforts and make the most of their leadership of the student government. Right off the bat, both of them enthusiastically encourage you to apply for a position within UGBC, even if you have never been involved in it before or do not think you are qualified. They are always looking for diverse voices to represent the student body. Aside from that, they want you to speak up about what you want by reaching out to them through their website, through email, by finding them on campus, and even by getting coffee. As Tt says, “UGBC can only represent people if people tell us how to represent them.”