The AS Review: Why do you want to serve on the AS board of directors?
Bernard Ikegwuoha: Well, I’ve done it this past year. I’ve always been interested in student representation. I’m a chemistry major, pre-med emphasis and I think a lot of people always ask me how politics fit into my life. Before I went into college, I came to Western’s campus a multitude of times. I served in every capacity in different clubs and I was an officer before I even knew that Western was going to be the place for me. I came here with the outlook that, no matter what I did, that I wanted to bring voice to the voiceless and to give people the same opportunities that I had. Growing up in Niger, you come from a patriarchal system where your voice is lost. Even as a child, you’re not able to speak to your parents, no matter what the situation is, your voice needs to be silent. So getting my freedom at the age of 16 and coming to Western to just explore new opportunities, it gave me a better outlook, and it shoot me to the man I was going to become and that’s just somebody that’s carefree. I always make a joke that I’m fueled by people. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee or energy drinks. I’m strictly fueled by people, my conversations with people, and laughing with them and singing and going around campus and asking people how they feel, being able to give advice and talk to them and I think that fed into my interest in student government. As part of the African Caribbean Club, Black Student Union, MEChA, LSU [Latino Student Union], Teaching and Learning Academy, Step Team, I’ve done so many different things, but the one thing that I’d never stepped into was a leadership like the AS. So last year when I ran, my interest was just to look at how diversity is represented on campus because Bruce Shepard’s fifteen talking points, diversity’s included, doesn’t mean that it’s that much of a importance. So this year I really stressed working as hard as I could to integrate as many different voices, to make sure that they’re well-represented. My interest still stems from that, still making sure that no loop is left, nothing is left unturned, that no matter what the situation is that every voice is brought to the table and that people are well-represented in all facets and that anything that I can do to be a resource and anything that I can do to make sure that happens. It’s my obligation and my duty, as a person, as a human being, to everybody else on our campus and our community.
ASR: What motivated you to seek this specific position?
BI: Well, I’m an academic man and I can get myself into any system, but I feel like every effort that I’ve made up growing up until now has fit within the diversity scope. Like I said, the systems in which I grew up didn’t permit me to put my voice and lend my voice and I just saw a lot of voices that had been stifled in the past. So coming into this situation last year, and also this year, and just going into my classes and talking to my professors and being treated a different way, talking to the students that aren’t really comfortable with this system, that don’t see as much diversity on campus, feel estranged from the process, don’t feel like this university necessarily serves them, and talking to students that are movers and shakers and are trying to get either immigration reform passed, or like SDA Students for Disability Awareness, trying to get programming offers to educate the wider audience about disability issues, enthused like that. I just thought that I could make an impact, I could give back, and I could make sure that I could give all my resources to making sure that people like myself, who have come from different backgrounds, are represented and their voices are heard. Everything that I’ve worked for this past year has led me to be even stronger going into this position another year. It’s really motivated me to seek that representation. I could be the VP for Academics but I chose diversity especially because it’s one of the lacking fields at Western. It’s one of the very underrepresented issues on campus.
ASR: What do you believe the role of the AS board of directors is?
BI: The AS board of directors is not a tyrannical board of directors. We are elected by people for the people. We serve in every capacity of student representation as leaders. The first priority is to bring the voices of students to the larger administration, the larger campus, and the larger Bellingham and national interest. I think in addition to that it’s always looking objectively at every task that is put in front of us and making sure that students are represented in every decision that we make. It’s making sure to consider student interests and to make sure that our university committees have good student representation, that budget cuts don’t affect students, working hard to limit the effects of budget cuts, making sure that students are represented in all decisions affecting financial aid and state work study and student grants, making sure that activities on campus serve the greater audience and making sure that students have the knowledge of how that money’s distributed, how that money’s being spent and that their voice is represented in the decision process. Making sure that students have a knowledge of everything, every working institution at Western, every resource on campus, that they know all the consequences of our actions and why we’re making those decisions. We’re students, like I said, elected by students to serve specifically students, and there’s no ifs and ands about that.
ASR: If elected, what specific things will you do to ensure that you represent all students?
BI: Well my slogan is pretty cheesy, but my slogan for this race is “A Voice for all Vikings.” I feel like this position is normally typecasted as just working with a specific set of students. My basis for the things I will do stems from what I’ve accomplished already because people coming into this position are making empty promises sometimes, saying they are going to do this and do that but you come into this, you have a chance to work on your specific projects but you’re part of a board of directors and so you’re one of several voices. So what I’ve done this year is really try to expand on what this position does. I’ve worked with students for the Coalition for Immigrant Rights to bring the DREAM act to the board of directors to make sure that it is a prominent issue that we’re looking into, to plan, to go into rallies for immigration reform, to helping them plan their events on campus, work for Students for Disability Association, to help the programming office so they can educate a wider audience, so they can have the resources to reach a wider audience. I organized a trip for Sarah Ishmael, the student representative to the board of trustees, and this affects all students, to really go and lobby for financial aid and work study grants. Based on our efforts and the efforts of all students, cuts were so minimal rather than drastic. [In] addition to that I was [on] a diversity task force looking at how we can assess our need for faculty, staff and professionals that fit within the diversity definition, and just really looking at reaching out to them and how we’re representing student interest. Because if I’m a student and I come here and I don’t see a faculty that represents me it’s really hard, it’s alienating. So, based on those findings, Bruce Shepard has been working to make sure that happens on Western’s campus. So going into next year, it’s really assessing our need for more students on campus that are disabled students, veteran students, ethnic students, LGBT students, and just a wide scope, immigrants, people with different religious backgrounds, it’s really assessing what our needs are. Our budget cuts are really, really dire and money can be allotted to faculty and staff and professionals but I feel that one thing that is really missing is the students. So my goal this year is really that full assessment. I think one of the prevalent things that I need to do because I’ve really worked on the logistic part of this position this past year but going into it next year it’s really making sure that things are more accessible for students, that knowledge of the AS is more accessible to students, that resources are more accessible to students. I actually made an effort this year, on a consistent weekly basis, to attend as many clubs as possible, to tell them about AS scholarships, tell them about activities, make sure that they know all the different things that are offered, and it ate a lot of my time but it was my responsibility working with students. I really would like to continue that, making sure that people really do know all the resources on campus to help them achieve, and I feel that the consequences would be that students were better retained on campus, that students are better outreached to, that students are more involved in the process, more involved in activities, students become more motivated to really learn about everything that works on campus and that they feel that they’re part of this large organization.
ASR: Since you’ve been at Western, what has been an important issue that went unaddressed?
BI: I think one thing that faces students that is going unaddressed is I recently had a couple of issues with certain departments at Western that will stay nameless, but I think how professors are accountable to students, how officers on campus are held accountable to student needs, how administrators are held accountable to student needs. One thing that I’ve really stressed is that in the classroom it’s really hard. There’s two students who actually approached me about their discomfort with how their professors were speaking to students and their concerns with staying in that class when the professor was especially very abusive. So that’s something I would really like to look into, a system where we can assess, really assess, the comforts, student comfort ability on campus. Secondly, budget cuts are ridiculous. Financial aid accessibility, state work study and state need grants, all these different things are issues, huge issues, that hasn’t been addressed to the full. We need more lobbying. We need more representation in all decision processes, so we need committees and things like that to make sure that students are not out of the loop and that we are fighting for them at every junction and specifically with diversity, we need a check and balances really looking at how students are represented in all decision making on campus and how the system really serves them. So for example, Resource and Outreach Programs on campus, really looking at how diversity’s incorporated in that audience and how the resources that we can allocate to them to reach a wider audience and educate them about disability issues, LGBT issues, things like that. There’s so many issues that it’s really hard to boil them down to this, but every facet of campus, Western life, every facet, there’s work that needs to be done. Like I said, no cause is greater than the other, but there’s so many things that need to be addressed, whether it’s financially, whether it’s people’s comfort ability, whether it’s people feeling that they can integrate into this school atmosphere or whether it’s just school, the dynamics. Looking at how we retain people on campus and the resources we give them to make them, to keep them successful.
ASR: What has been an issue that was addressed particularly well?
BI: An issue that has been particularly well-addressed, see why I’m keeping silent is because I really don’t feel anything has been addressed particularly well. Work can be done, work needs to be done in every area. I can say that I’ve done all these things and that would be me obviously bragging, but I can seriously say that I’ve stated the things that I’ve worked on, but I think one of the reasons, one of the pertinent reasons why I feel like I should be re-elected is that, regardless of all my accomplishments, there’s no perfect system, work still needs to be done in every area. Financial aid, work study, there’s still cuts in different areas and so we can’t say that it was very effective because there’s at least one student on campus that’s going to be very affected and until we can actually outreach to those students and make sure that it’s a comfortable living and working environment for them, the work is not done. So, I don’t think that there is any facet of campus that’s been particularly well-addressed. The one thing I will say is that I am proud of the board of directors for their efforts this year, I’m proud of student leaders on campus for doing so much to outreach to students. I’m proud of the collective, even the administration, I mean Bruce Shepard did not have to say, “Okay, assess our need for faculty and women of color and based on that I will act,” he didn’t have to do that, but I’m proud of that direction. I’m not proud of the mentoring, but I’m proud of the consciousness that people are addressing. I’m proud of our professors and teachers that are really making sure that people are involved in the process. But a lot of work still needs to be done and it’s my job, the rest of this year and next year if I’m elected, obviously, it’s my job to make sure that no area is left unturned, that we address everything that needs to be addressed and that we don’t just write one thing off and say, “Okay, we did this” and check it off because next year, troubles might arise in that area.