The process of selecting a new Director of Diversity and Inclusion (DDI) for the Undergraduate Government of Boston College kicked off with a series of presentations by three candidates on Sunday night, hosted by Michael Osaghae, UGBC president-elect and MCAS ’20. Amaka Nnaeto, MCAS ’20, was voted into the position late Monday night.
The position was previously known as the vice president of diversity and inclusion. All vice president positions in UGBC are being converted to director positions beginning this fall.
The candidates—Arvin Mohapatra, MCAS ’21; Nnaeto; and Aneeb Sheikh, MCAS ’20—spoke in front of an audience of interested students and members of the Diversity and Inclusion Council. The council will vote and send their recommendation to the Student Assembly (SA) for confirmation.
Every candidate enumerated several detailed proposals for the AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC), the GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC), and the Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD). All three highlighted some form of reform to the DiversityEdu module, which the Division of Student Affairs pioneered at BC last fall. They also unanimously endorsed various infrastructure improvements for students with disabilities, which ranged from increased care for accessibility ramps and better Eagle Escort service to group therapy at University Counseling Services, as well as more options for pronouns on official BC forms.
Despite some similarities in the basics of their platforms, the three candidates managed to lay out different visions and driving messages for their potential tenures.
Mohapatra, who serves as an executive board member for the South Asian Student Association, focused on fostering empathy and open discussion among the broader BC community. One of his common refrains was a desire to help students who wish to know more about being good allies for their marginalized peers.
“A lot of my friends would love to learn more about [the] LGBTQ+ community, but they are afraid to ask, because they think it’s rude, they are scared to offend people,” Mohapatra said. “My kind of main goal here is to make sure that they know we have spaces where they can ask their questions and learn more so that they are less involuntarily ignorant.”
Mohapatra shared his own experience of growing up in a town that grew increasingly diverse throughout his life and how new and old residents interacted.
Mohapatra’s main proposal was the creation of a “Diversity of Personalities Branch” that would aim at spreading understanding to privileged groups of students. He stressed the importance of creating a “casual” space to encourage approachability.
“A Diversity of Personalities Branch is for those people who don’t really know much about AHANA+, LGBTQ+ communities, the Center for Students with Disabilities,” Mohapatra said. “It’s a branch for students who are afraid to ask questions, afraid to be rude, afraid to be offensive. It’s a space that they can … just become more informed about situations, scenarios, topics.”
In response to audience questions, Mohapatra clarified that this proposal would be a smaller sub-branch and would not divert resources from current Diversity and Inclusion Programming.
Nnaeto offered up a long list of policies and improvements, drawing on her experience as the chair of Diversity and Inclusion Programming Board. Nnaeto is also the events coordinator for the African Student Organization and a self-described “life consultant.”
Nnaeto called for upgrades to on-campus speakers, explaining that a focus on a speaker series could contribute to the longevity of important conversations, as opposed to booking individual and unconnected lectures. Although she used speaker series as her primary example, Nnaeto suggested that this mindset could allow for more consistent and continuous programming in general.
“I really like the idea of speaker series because it allows the conversations that get started to continue … event after event, so it gives people more opportunities to engage,” Nnaeto said.
Turning to Showdown, the yearly ALC-sponsored dance show, Nnaeto expressed a desire to make it an event for the Greater Boston area, rather than just the BC community. She also proposed a Showdown-like a capella event that would be organized by CSD.
Nnaeto saw her platform’s many short-term goals as an important foundation for a year of tangible progress.
“With the campus climate survey … you can really create some very focused, tangible, and streamlined advocacy work,” Nnaeto said. “And I think when you have more short-term tangible goals, as well as some bigger, loftier goals that we might not be able to see through in our four years of school, it allows for less burnout. And it allows for more focused work and … for people to feel like what they’re doing truly matters.”
Sheikh began his presentation by describing his own biography and his experience arriving at BC—and the United States—as an international student. Born in Pakistan and raised in Dubai, Sheikh’s first time living in the United States coincided with his arrival at BC.
“My fear and anxiety around these issues really manifested … when [President Donald Trump] implemented the Muslim ban,” Sheikh said. “That was something that targeted my community at BC and affected me very deeply, and it forced me to sort of see what I could do for my community at BC.”
Sheikh also ran on his record as a senator for the Class of 2020 in the SA, describing his history of working on important resolutions and collaborating with the administration in the wake of racist incidents at BC. Sheikh is also on the executive board of the Muslim Student Association.
“At the time [of the Muslim ban], I was a senator in UGBC—still am—-and I was able to use that position to pass a resolution working with Dean [of Students Tom] Mogan and [Associate Vice President of Student Affairs] George Arey to … provide those Muslim students who were affected by the ban [with] summer accommodation for housing,” Sheikh said.
Sheikh’s platform has three basic principles: creating intersectional programming, being proactive—rather than reactive—in policymaking, and fostering a sense of community among the Diversity and Inclusion Council members. Some of his specific ideas include more support for Muslim students when they fast for Ramadan and gender-neutral and single-stall restrooms.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor