e’s been an orientation leader and she’s been a citizen of Whoville. He’s been on a Jamaica Magis service trip, she’s been in Chicago. He’s been on the pitch, she’s been on the stage, and on Feb. 14, Michael Osaghae, MCAS ’20, and Tiffany Brooks, MCAS ’21, will be on the ballot running for president and executive vice president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) on a platform of three Is: intentionality, innovation, and intersectionality.
As chair of the AHANA+ Leadership Council, Osaghae has been involved in a number of diversity-related initiatives, from the inception of DiversityEdu to the resolution passed in December in response to the University’s handling of racist vandalism. While he and Brooks are proud of the student body for coming together in a time of crisis, they think there’s a lot more work to be done.
The team has both short and long-term goals with tangible policy initiatives, but they want to begin with the first “I,” intentionality, which informs their approach to UGBC’s relationship with the administration.
Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Joy Moore’s response to the December resolution raised a number of questions about both the University’s willingness to work with the student body and UGBC’s understanding of its power dynamic with the administration. Some of the requests, like an immediate doubling of the funding of Thea Bowman AHANA Intercultural Center (BAIC), were simply not feasible in the middle of a fiscal year. Others, like the immediate expulsion of Michael Sorkin, CSOM ’21, violated University policy and federal law.
“We categorized those as ‘demands,’” Osaghae said. “Although we want to show how visceral the moment is for students, and how students are in pain, not everyone is open to that word ‘demands.’ So we can be more intentional about the language that we use. Invite [people] into the conversation rather than having it be a one-way ticket.”
Osaghae thinks his understanding of UGBC’s relationship with the University makes him the best candidate for president. But he hasn’t always been so confident. In first grade, according to a classmate, he “could never be president because you’re black.”
“That really just made me internalize my blackness in my experience at school. My school was great, but just that one interaction colored my experience,” Osaghae said.
Osaghae persevered and continued to work hard in school, but says after that day, he began to hold himself back and always answered the question “How’s it going?” with a generic, positive response.
In the summer before eighth grade, Osaghae experienced a wake-up call when his grandmother died. He was particularly close to her and his grandfather because they often visited Osaghae and his siblings over the summer. Growing up as Nigerian-American, Osaghae struggled with his identity, feeling torn between his father’s Nigerian heritage and his own American experience.
Osaghae went to Nigeria for his grandmother’s funeral, which he credits for changing his outlook. The most eye-opening aspect was witnessing a Nigerian funeral and its stark differences from a traditional American one.
“Instead of a typical gloomy feel, it was a celebration,” said Osaghae. “People were smiling, dancing, trumpets were playing, drums were playing.”
The trip rejuvenated his outlook on life, and when he returned to the United States, he began thinking much more critically about his role in the world. Osaghae went on to high school at Georgetown Day School, a coed K-12 school for which he credits his formation both academically and personally.
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#282828″ text=”#ffffff” width=”100″ height=”2″ align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”“We’re all working to make a better BC, but we do have different ways of going about it. We have different mechanisms that we use, but we can stand firm in our positions and sometimes draw a line in the sand and say that we want this as a student body and we need this.”” cite=”Michael Osaghae, MCAS ’20″ parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
He took more of a leadership role in clubs and in life, serving as captain of the soccer team and president of the Black Student Union.
His time leading the Black Student Union has informed his activism on BC’s campus. He was part of the team who put together DiversityEdu, and, while he was happy it was implemented this year, he thinks there’s plenty of room for improvement. Particularly, he wants to make the modules BC-specific. He also wants to make it more difficult for students to half-heartedly scroll through it just to get it done.
In addition to ensuring students have a common currency of terms to discuss issues surrounding race, Osaghae and Brooks would also like to see the African and African Diaspora studies program expanded into a full department, which would allow students to major in AADS.
With the proper vocabulary and academic opportunities, the team also wants more informal gathering spaces where students can “study, collaborate, and relax,” both casually and academically as part of their second “I”: innovation. Their platform calls for the purchase of outdoor urban furniture to utilize existing outdoor spaces.
“Spaces” has been a common buzzword this election, with both sides calling for spaces of collaboration, as well as safe spaces for marginalized communities. Although students can meet in a number of classrooms and other study spots, Osaghae and Brooks call for a permanent home for marginalized students, like an LGBTQ+ resource center, despite the administration declining to show interest in such a project. They’d also like to see the Multicultural Living Experience floor expanded to Newton Campus because, according to Osaghae, there are students of color who don’t feel safe on Newton.
Like candidates before them, Osaghae and Brooks are asking for the University’s help in ventures it already said it would not entertain. They recognize that BC has been unwilling to work in the past but feel it’s important to continue to advocate for voices they believe to be marginalized, even if it probably won’t go anywhere.
“We’re all working to make a better BC, but we do have different ways of going about it,” Osaghae said. “We have different mechanisms that we use, but we can stand firm in our positions and sometimes draw a line in the sand and say that we want this as a student body and we need this.”
Another UGBC rallying cry the administration has ignored in the past is for the University to divest from fossil fuels. But UGBC has no leverage to tell the University how to invest. While Osaghae and Brooks still call for divestment, in the meantime they are proposing a tangible alternative that would still bring change to BC—a rotating waste-disposal tray in McElroy dining hall similar to the one in Lower.
“We want to engage with BC Dining to make that happen because that’s something that I think is key,” Osaghae said. “If we’re going to be a leader, not only in Boston but globally, we have to lead from the bottom.”
But they also lobby for more exciting things than a sustainable waste-disposal system.
As the Music, Arts, and Performance Senator, Brooks wants to incorporate activism with the arts and uplift student voices by highlighting their hard work outside of the classroom.
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Together, Brooks and Osaghae brought an event to Robsham called POC Art Lab, which featured BC dance groups like Presenting Africa to You (PATU) and Fuego, as well as a Boston group called the Front Porch Art Collective.
If elected, Brooks hopes to continue fostering opportunities for students to express their activism through art. To her, the two go hand-in-hand. She’s been on stage her whole life. In high school, Brooks performed in two plays each year, while serving on student council, as well as playing softball and captaining the dance team for two years.
“She has so many passions I don’t even know [what she’ll do after graduating],” said her roommate Ally Lardner, LSEHD ’21. “She’s studying to be a doctor. … I can also see her in marketing because she’s so great with people. … She’s an amazing performer as well, so if she wanted to make it somewhere in the performance business I could see that happening too.”
Brooks grew up with her father serving in the Navy, so she moved around a lot as a kid. Even after her family settled in Rhode Island when she was in fourth grade, they continued to move—Brooks has called six different houses in the Ocean State home. She found a permanent home during high school when she attended St. Mary Academy–Bay View, an all-girls Catholic school.
“I think being in an all-girls environment, there was just something so empowering about that and everyone was so supportive and caring of one another and really uplifted each other,” said Brooks. “I’m still friends on Facebook with teachers that I had and we’re really close.”
Brooks is drawing on her experiences with profound female empowerment—Osaghae is keeping close to heart his Nigerian roots and together they are pushing their third “I”: intersectionality.
“One of our overarching goals is to create an intersectional community, and I think that we can’t really do that unless we’re listening to the voices of every party involved on this campus,” said Brooks.
At the diversity and inclusion debate, Osaghae acknowledged that although he and Brooks do not identify as LGBTQ+, they believe they have an obligation to listen to voices who are so they can better understand and advocate for those students.
They’re asking the University to use gender neutral bathroom signage on all construction projects in the future, a request made by candidates in the past.
In addition, Brooks and Osaghae not only want the University to hire more University Counseling Services (UCS) counselors but specifically more LGBTQ+ counselors and counselors of color.
“It’s important to not only have representation but also to have people in spaces where you’re able to have more critical conversations about how you are addressing mental health, but also how you are addressing mental health if you’re a person of color, how you’re addressing mental health if you identify as LGBTQ+,” said Osaghae. “That’s a point where I think we’re very specific on our platform and that’s not to discredit the other candidates.”
Just under 40 percent of UCS Counselors identify as people of color, according to Joy Moore, which is proportional to the most recent student body diversity statistics. But this does not account for the fact that demand for UCS counseling has risen, despite it being demographically proportional.
Osaghae and Brooks hold representation as a priority, specifically intersectional representation. Intersectionality requires listening to all different experiences, including those of non-students.
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In addition to uplifting their classmates’ voices, Osaghae and Brooks want to create a Faculty Senate composed of professors who feel the need to voice their concerns about working at BC.
“The administration, they have a voice. Students, we have a voice with UGBC. We have someone to advocate for us, but where’s the faculty’s advocacy point?” Osaghae said. “Who are they going to to have a direct line to the administration and Board of Trustees to share concerns about what is going on with our university?”
The history of a faculty senate at BC has been somewhat fraught. The University Academic Senate dissolved in the late ’70s, and the most recent attempts to bring it back in 2006 and 2013 were met with resistance from the BC Board of Trustees. Some of the faculty who voted in favor of creating a senate in 2006, most notably Christopher Baum, chair of the economics department, still work at the University, but it’s unclear.
Osaghae said he didn’t have any specific faculty members in mind to serve, but he has bounced the idea off some and has been happy with their responses.
“They all have been all for it. They’re all like ‘yes, yes, yes’ and I think that is because the faculty feel as if their voices aren’t being listened to but also aren’t being centered,” said Osaghae. “Not only in conversations about the direction of our university but decisions as well.”
Osaghae has taken it upon himself to immerse himself in the full student experience, from serving as an Orientation Leader to running for President for his final year on campus, and this has afforded him a unique purview into the ups and downs of students’ trajectories at BC.
At orientation this summer, multiple parents of students of color pulled him aside to ask for his insight.
“They’re like, ‘Would you send your brother here? Would you send your family members here?’” said Osaghae. “And I often pause because I didn’t know what to say. You’d expect as an Orientation Leader [to say] ‘Yes, of course,’ but I’ve had really low lows here and really high highs, and in all that UGBC has been a place, a tool, a megaphone—that advocates when my voice has been low, when other students’ voices have been low, and when our voices have been high and heard.”
After a second semester serving as ALC chair, after racist graffiti that left BC’s black community in distress at the end of 2018, and after running a presidential campaign with one of his best friends, Osaghae’s answer remains.
“I still pause. Not because I don’t believe in our campus or if you can make your experience memorable, but I pause because I recognize that sometimes life at BC can be hard. It’s not going to be perfect,” said Osaghae.
“But I believe in the people here, I believe in the people in dining, I believe in the people in Residential Life, I believe in the people in culture clubs, I believe in the people in UGBC. … Something that isn’t always present at other universities but is here: when communities are targeted we always stand up for each other in solidarity. We always fill those roles.”
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor