The AS Review: What motivates you to seek out this position?
Bernard Ikegwuoha: That’s a good question, um, to be very honest with you it’s not just about motivation, this is my life. Um, I grew up—I was raised in Nigeria, West Africa. And I always say this story because that’s the basis of how I came to be. Um, I grew up in boarding schools all my life, I had no family involvement and definitely no ability to express myself. The culture over there is so different. Over there you’re, um, not allowed to speak to people in authority. You’re not allowed to vocalize anything that you’re feeling until you’re asked, you know, to give an answer. So coming to the United States I had—it’s almost like I’ve transformed into this new person with the ability to formulate ideas and to give freely any speech, anything that you want to talk about, you know what I mean, you can freely express it. Now I’ve met with a lot of opposition with people that look like me and don’t look like me, when it comes to my differences. The fact that my accent was thick, you know, I look so much different then they are. My characteristics, the way that I live is so different. And I went through high school—myself and my sister came here when I was 12-years-old. Uh, and my dad was already here, you know, but I got emancipated when I was 16-years-old. I came to college, uh, right away. I didn’t get a chance –I graduated high school when I was 16 and I came to college. Believe me, it was a brand new world. I had no emotional support from my family, because my mom was back home in Nigeria. I went through high school alone without making any friends because I was so isolated, you know, my dad told me come home. I would go to school and class and I was stigmatized and did the whole fighting thing to protect myself and everything. And I came to college and I-I sought out, you know, I told myself that I’m—in every facet, I’m going to be involved. This is my life. It affected me on a personal level every single day. I went to sleep thinking about situations like this. About how people that are disenfranchised like me should not have to suffer. I’ve seen people been teased. I’ve helped, you know what I mean, I’ve talked to people that have been teased, taunted and I’ve stood up for them and I’ve fought for them. So, coming to college I got the opportunity, somebody reached out to me right before I came to college and said, “hey the Ethnic Student Center is here.” Actually started conforming on campus and, um, came here and immediately immersed myself. Initially I was a part of the South Asian Student Association, Black Student Union, African-Caribbean club and there was a club that was called the African-American Alliance that most people here don’t even know existed. But, um, as part of all those clubs, the Latin Student Union, I made sure that I immersed myself immediately into all of these cultures, to all these different identities. You know, people that represented so many different facets of our life that we don’t even understand or comprehend. So whenever they needed a vocal performer at any of the events, you know, in their meetings, any time they needed someone to vocalize and say, “hey,” or bring up new ideas. Whenever they needed someone to be a part of the process, to listen, to be an ally, you know, to help them out setting things up, to organize it, speak to their classes and say, “hey people come out and support.” I was there. The issue about migration, you know, when we had to rally and march from here to city hall, I was at the epicenter. You know yelling and chanting ce ce puede (sp?). And, you know, when it came to issues that dealt with any racial, ethnic, diverse issue, I was there. My opponents can’t boast that they did that. You know, the one thing they can tell you is that “I’ve held this position as ROP,” or whatever. The only thing about it is, you’re paid to do that. I’m living, you know I’m immersed in this culture. I speak to people on a daily basis. I’m the person you hear singing. And people come up to me and are like, you made my day and that’s me. You know, that’s how real my life is. My life is intertwined with diversity, I am diversity, you know, we are all diversity. It’s not even about being motivated to do it, it’s about wanting to do it. Wanting to represent yourself and everyone that’s disenfranchised. And that’s why I’m a part of this campaign, this race. Every year I wanted to do it, but I’m a chemistry major and it’s really hard to fit that and make all these clubs. And I felt like my first 3 years, I couldn’t really, really delve into this position wholeheartedly, because I probably could not fully relate to other people until I had time to talk to them on personal levels. And after 4 years of continuously doing that, believe me, no candidate is more qualified.
ASR: What groups of students might be easily overlooked by the AS Board and what will you do to ensure that you represent them in your work.
Ikegwuoha: I’m glad you asked. I think a lot of groups are very overlooked. Um, I think a lot of ethnic groups are definitely, slightly well represented. I’m not going to say, very well represented because across the board, change needs to happen on every level. Uh, we have the Ethnic Student Center which really cultivates ethnicities and says, you’re welcome to come here and be diverse and encapsulate yourself into all these different areas and become welcome, and become an ally. You know, so I think to some extent, ethnic minorities are represented. Religious minorities are definitely not very represented. There’s the CCF on campus, you know what I mean, but to some extent, people are stigmatized when they start talking about religion because people feel that they are, uh, that they’re trying to impress people’s ideas. People with disabilities, definitely very underrepresented. I think my—my running mates also share this idea that, the concept that, people with disability don’t have a lot of access on campus, you know, with accessible doors in most places, bathrooms and stuff like that. Places where they can—you know the things that we enjoy and take for granted on a daily basis, you know, is a challenge for them. They don’t really have a lot of access to it. Um, this year I’m really, really proud that they had the Disability Awareness Week. Um, I definitely went to the talks and all the different workshops, you know, and make sure I immersed myself. Too many different people are underrepresented on campus. The Teaching and Learning Academy also strives to definitely bring a—a teacher to student relationship where you can foster that, and I think another part of diversity that’s underrepresented; students that want to learn but don’t have the capability. Students that feel like school is overwhelming because their teachers don’t understand where they come from. Because diversity is mainly, you know I will say this, we’ve watered down diversity. Diversity does, you know, almost primarily cater to ethnicities and race, but it also caters to us as individuals because we are all so diverse in our mentalities and thoughts, they way that we process information and even the way that we dress is so diverse. So I feel like school first, education, making sure that people represented in the classroom, you know, women can say what they feel like, you know, that’s why the Western Men Against Violence is incorporated with Western, but people don’t even know that it’s there. Social justice clubs, like there’s a club making a car that runs on 100-miles per gallon. We don’t even know about this. Do you know how essential that could be for us in the future? You know, but we don’t support them. You know, we have people for a sustainable energy, we have people, you know, that talk about organic food, you know, the co-op, supporting it. So many different clubs don’t have a voice. People of, you know, sexual affiliation, um, different sexual affiliations or, you know um, preferences, whether gay, straight, bi-sexual or transgendered are very underrepresented at Western. Everybody’s underrepresented. I think Western says, well this is the numbers, stick to the numbers. But it’s not even about the numbers, you know, it’s about how students communicate and it’s about how they relate to each other on campus. If that is not done on campus then it doesn’t matter what the numbers—then the numbers are insignificant. So I think there’s a misconception about what diversity represents on campus and there’s the misconception that we’re are very well represented in Diversity, but man that’s so wrong. There’s so much that can be done to advance every club. Now, I’m not saying that--you know the one thing that my opponents would say is, “well I’m going to try and represent every club.” That’s going to be really hard to do. I’m going to take issues that affect us in general, whether it’s the fact that books are very expensive and some students, even because of books, can’t come to college because they can’t afford to pay the $800 I paid one quarter for my books. Making sure that they can enable students by making, um, old editions actually accessible rather than making you buy new editions. Things that affect us in general. Making sure that social issues clubs and ethnic student clubs come together and are fairly represented on campus. That way, even if there’s not a specific club that caters specifically to your ethnicity or to your um, you know, diverse affiliation, at least you find somewhere that’s comfortable, that you can delve into and from there, grow, and from there branch out, and from there start your own club. You know, and let your voice be heard.
ASR: Since you came to Western, what has been the most important issue facing students that went unaddressed or was dealt with poorly and what issue would you say has been addressed most positively?
Ikegwuoha: The issue, for me, that was addressed most poorly is teacher, student relationships. I see so many students, stigmatized in classes, that can’t raise their voices to talk. See, I approach my teachers, um, there’s an issue that happened to me in my chemistry class, um, and I pull this from my experience and I also know people who have done it. I was marked down for the same mistake on every test, more than any other student. So, if you made a table and the table has the same margins-- we actually, we cheated as students. We made one graph and we sent it to everybody else and to see him mark me off 1 point and take .25 off of everybody else consistently, that affected me, that hurt me. And when I approached him about it, he said, uh, “well how about you bring in their papers and I’ll mark them down,” like that’s feasible. I’m not going to go to everybody and say, well you should suffer like me. So, I didn’t have an outlet to address it, you know. I’ve talked to him and he was very stubborn about the issue, you know, and this is a tenured teacher, so how do we hold him accountable? I’ve been in classes where a student says something racial and a teacher does absolutely nothing, just lets it go. You know, your students—the environment that your students learn in has to be a very positive and motivating atmosphere. You cannot—a teacher’s responsible not only for his or her actions, um, but also for his or her students’ conduct in class. Anything that inhibits a student from being successful in every area should be shunned. I don’t care, I don’t want a teacher to go and reflect on it, I want he or she to say, “hey, you know what? This is not ok,” and to rebuke that student and say, it’s not okay to say that. They should foster a relationship and communicate more effectively and learn to be more educated and understand the backgrounds and, uh, different cultures –different societies that people originate from, and the different things that they experience. And be sensitive And I think that also goes into diversifying our curriculum. Making sure that teachers understand that we have to educate students to be—even if they can’t be respectful, at least more tolerant. You know, I don’t want to settle for tolerance, I definitely want respect. But if anything, you know, at least be tolerant, especially where ideas are fostered. If you inhibit a student from at least bringing up an idea, how are we ever going to learn? We’re just going to go to a math class and, and learn that two plus two equals four. But we won’t learn how to use that practically to apply it to our lives, as we will not be able to think outside the box, as new ideas will not flourish. People will not be allowed to voice their opinions and communicate more effectively. That’s how I feel. Now, the thing that has been addressed very effectively, hm, that’s going to be an interesting one. For me personally, I look at the things that need to be changed. You know, it’s good to recognize the things that are going well but I look at the things that need to be changed. If I had to say, I would say that there are more resources available than there used to be. Um, I remember Carmen Warden, who actually heads the teaching academy, telling me something about intentionally approaching the president—I don’t know if it was Bruce Shepard or someone before him—and saying, you know what, on Western’s campus during the summer, I feel like aren’t a lot of tutoring, you know, writing centers or whatever for me to learn. You know, I pay good money but I don’t have the resources and it was great to see that starting after that, during the summer they had facilities open for everyone. So I feel like more and more resources are coming into play that allow students to grow. The only problem is, we haven’t done enough. Change hasn’t been absolute. Change has…Change has been furthered, you know what I mean? Revolutions have started, but we have to get to a point where everybody is well represented and all ideas and all people are encompassed in every aspect that, uh, we discuss on campus. And I applaud Western definitely , you know, another great thing is that this year marked the largest increase of diversity. It was such a great, diverse group that came to Western. The only thing about it is, when you have such little diversity, any large change in diversity looks like it’s magnanimous, but it’s still not enough. You know, there’s still probably less than 20 percent or 30 percent of ethnic minorities on campus. So I feel like there is an upward trend when it comes to positive change, but let’s not be fooled into thinking that that’s the only change that needs to happen, more needs to happen.
ASR: What are your three biggest goals for next year?
Ikegwuoha: I love that you asked. Again, I go back to student teacher relationships. If there is a fostering of—I’ll make this point very quick because I, you know, I don’t see a point in elaborating it. Number one is, you know, definitely fostering a relationship where students and teachers can communicate. And I would love to talk to my teacher and say, I don’t want to buy $200 books, why can’t you put electronic ones up online? I will personally come and help you during the summer and photocopy every page and put it together if I have to, but I would love that, to have a teacher listen. And I feel like if we talk and that environment is fostered so positively that we can definitely, definitely grow in a classroom that is so open to learning. Now we mostly learn outside of the classroom from our interactions with students, but the precedent is set. The reason we get up in the morning is to go to class. So if change starts in the classroom, it goes out into our common lives and we see change through the board. If your teacher is respectful to you, and that’s someone that’s in an authoritative position, imagine how easy it will be to communicate with someone that is on your level as well. So, if we can foster that relationship and help teachers realize that students are not disposable, they’re human beings and that they need respect, and just because you’ve accomplished so much and you’ve gone through the trials and tribulations and succeeded doesn’t mean everybody has that same capacity. And people have different capacities to learn and to work. So if we can foster that, hopefully it extends itself outside of the classroom and we can foster more communication outside. If you make a healthy environment inside the classroom where people can come and talk and be respectful, that person—you know that person, when I see you outside of the classroom, I’m going to say, “hey how are you doing? Yeah we were talking and we connected in class, how is everything going?” Imagine how that translates into our lives and being able to branch out. Second of all, social issues clubs. Part of the reason that Western is so diverse and that we retain people from such a diverse perspective is because they find a niche and avenue here that fits and makes them feel comfortable. The ESC did that for me. There are so many different social issues clubs on campus that go unrecognized. And if we could just push a little bit to get them more involved and get them heard, even if we only affect 1 percent or 2 percent next year, it’s that 1 or 2 percent that we might have just saved. So definitely making sure across the board that there’s more of a coalition when it comes to event planning. Bringing clubs together because –you know, I take it from the Christian perspective and say, there’s something in the Bible that says, when two or more are gathered, there is strength. So, if one club represents one event, they almost always cater to one specific group and to a certain extent, guess what happens? Only those specific individuals come to the event. Imagine if Black Student Union mixes with the LSU, mixes with all the different engineering clubs or the rugby club to find common ground. Imagine how many people that can reach out to on such a wide spectrum. So definitely foster that environment where people can hold themselves accountable for enacting change and reaching out and definitely diversifying the topic. Third of all is outreach. Not just outreach when it comes to clubs, but getting students involved. I talk to students on a daily basis that say, why should I vote? What do I care about diversity? I can afford the 14 percent tuition increase, so why should I care? I tell students, I challenge them--and I even have that on my Facebook—I challenge them and I say this, if you feel like everything is peachy at Western and you don’t want to be involved, that’s your personal choice. But, take a minute out of your life. There’s somebody in your class that’s struggling. If you’re working, just invite them to come work with you. You don’t even have to talk the whole time, but if they have a problem, help them out. That’s a diverse change. You’re helping someone beside yourself that has a different, or lesser capability of understanding that. Any little change that we make helps to unify us all and if we can enable someone else to succeed, it allows us to succeed as well. People love the curve because if they do better than others they feel good about themselves. But you know what, we need to definitely lessen that curve and make sure that people are on an equal status. And if we can do that, then imagine if everybody gets an 80 percent, rather than 50 or whatever. Imagine what that teacher is going to do now. You’re going to get an “A” because he sees, well look at this, everyone is learning. If 80 percent is the curve, I’m not going to give you guys all “B’s,” I’m going to bump everyone up. Some people don’t have that capability, so I definitely need to make sure that there’s outreach here on campus for them. That their voice is heard. I am a representative. I love this, because the one thing I do in real life is I make myself presentable. I’m a face that people can see on campus. I’m goofy, I act stupid half of the time. I’m on campus singing the whole time. People see me laughing hysterically and in national elections the candidates are always on camera almost always. Why can’t we have that for our student body? Why can’t the ideas that we’ve concluded be the ideas of our students? Why can’t we take ideas? It’s great to make your own platform and say things that you would like to see changed, but that might not be the popular consensus, so you have to take ideas from everybody else and incorporate it. So I definitely want to make sure that people understand that there is a governing body that represents them. And represent is the word. This is not a dictatorship. We are not here to implement our own desires and perspectives, we’re here to take from what they want to do and implement it.
ASR: When a student comes to you with a question that is beyond the scope of your job, how will you respond to this student?
Ikegwuoha: I love that. Well, we all have a limited understanding of the world. I might be a chemistry major, but if you ask me the chemical composition of something, I might know. But guess what? I know there’s a book out there that will tell you. It’s my job to tell you, “you know, I think I was reading that in this book. I’d love to get it for you to read some time. Or you know what, I know this great teacher that can help you understand.” Or, there’s this website and this facility. There’s this, this, this, this, this. I’ll even walk with you there, if that’s what you want me to do. If something is out of your reach, don’t just quit. Don’t just say, I can’t do anything for you I’m sorry. And you will hear this in classrooms, a student will ask a question and the teacher will try to come up with a rational explanation. It’s okay to say I don’t know. But it’s not okay to leave it at just that, to say, well I don’t know. Well then, look it up and tell me. No, it’s your job since I asked the question to look it up and inform that student later. So if there is anything that I can find, I will definitely put some time into figuring it out and definitely get back to that student, or if it’s something that I look up and can’t find, I will send he or she to the appropriate place to make sure that they get that information and get their question answered. So if they need advice on what to do for their classes, I might not be the best person to tell you that. Even if I have a general idea, I’m not going to ruin your college career by butting out of the whole thing. I’ll probably say, you know what, there’s a place in Old Main, or the student outreach center that’s there specifically to help. Why don’t you go make an appointment there. You know what, I actually have the number right here, why don’t we call them together an see what’s up. So, if there’s something that’s outside of your scope, don’t quit. We used to think the Earth was flat, right? If we stopped like that, where would we be now? We might still have that mentality. Now, we know that it’s round. We have to quench our thirst. We have to make sure that curiosity by students is respected, so that any issue that comes up isn’t stopped there. We can make sure that we have the results for that student so that their question is answered, regardless. That means pointing them to the right direction and not just telling them, go there, but actually taking a second out of our time to walk them there, or make the arrangements for them, as well as research before I get back to them.