The following is a written version of the interview with USG President Ama Appiah.
Transcribed by Stephanie Reyes
DANIELA: Hi Ama, how are you doing today?
AMA: Good, how are you?
DANIELA: I’m doing well. How has your classes been so far? I know it’s the start of the semester.
AMA: I know it’s already been stressful, it’s only the second day, but I’m ready to go and ready to get started and finish off the year with a bang.
DANIELA: Awesome, that’s fantastic. So, before we get into USG and issues at the university, I want to ask you something. You spent some time in Peru?
AMA: I did.
DANIELA: You spent some time there as a volunteer at a medical clinic.
AMA: Yes, I did.
DANIELA: Can you talk to me a little bit about that experience?
AMA: Yes, of course! So, this was sophomore year spring semester, it was right after the spring semester, I went to Peru to volunteer at a medical clinic as a part of the club Medlife. So, Medlife really focuses on going into these communities and just making sure we’re helping as much as we can and it helps us as students to gain some clinical experience in a different setting. So, I did go to Peru, I went to Lima. It was really awesome, I spent a week there and I loved it. I loved getting to know the culture. I wish I got to stay there longer, just to kind of immerse myself a little bit more. I learned so many new things and coming back to the United States after that week I had a very different perspective on the healthcare system and even on my personal life in general. I was very appreciative of what I had and I definitely want to go back there and work there more.
DANIELA: Did this experience give you an idea of what you want to do after you graduate?
AMA: So interestingly, it didn’t really impact that as much. I think it just impacted how I wanted to live my life in general. I am a molecular and cell biology major and a double major in communications, and at the time I was pre-med so this was a good way to kind of gain clinical experience in that way and kind of see how I loved working with people and working with the doctors there but now I’m actually not pre-med anymore. So I would say though after coming back, I felt that the experience really impacted how I wanted to live my life as I said. I wanted to live my life to the fullest, I wanted to make sure that I was being kind to others, making sure that I was being helpful to others as much as possible because you don’t know everyone’s story and you don’t know what people are going through. Especially being there for a week and really seeing how even the kids suffer there, how they don’t really have their basic necessities met as much as we do here. So coming back I realized this was something that was important to me and that I wanted to make sure I was helping everyone else as much as I possibly could. So I guess it wasn’t in terms of career; career-wise, it didn’t really impact me as much but just in my personal life.
DANIELA: Right, absolutely, and I definitely think that going abroad, no matter how long you’re out there, gives you a different perspective on just how you view different people, how you interact with different people and I’m sure that definitely is going to help you with your position now as the president of USG – which by the way, congratulations.
AMA: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to see what is in store for our organizations.
DANIELA: Did you celebrate the winning?
AMA: Umm, not really, I just kind of went to bed because I decided I needed a nap after the whole ordeal.
DANIELA: After all the work?
AMA: After all the work, I had an exam the next day.
DANIELA: Oh, man.
AMA: So I didn’t really – it wasn’t – I’m not really fun in that way, I’m kind of boring. I definitely went to bed and woke up early for my exam.
DANIELA: Well, congratulations either way.
AMA: Thank you so much.
DANIELA: So, going into USG, how did you get involved with student government?
AMA: Yes, so I guess I became involved in student government when I was in high school. I did a lot of different activities in high school in terms of government. I was on the senior executive board for my class, so I did a lot of work with our advisors and planning events for my class and I was in Model UN. You know, that obviously gets you involved with different aspects of politics like Roberts Rules and just kind of getting to know what the current events and current issues are. That’s how I guess I became interested in it.
So leaving my high school, I came in as a freshman, as a CLAS senator. I ran for that election in Spring 2016, which was awesome, I was so nervous to run, I didn’t think I was going to win at all but I am incredibly blessed. I was able to make an impact during my time as a senator. I ran again in the following year as a sophomore and I won again. I was very excited, and I knew that helping others in this capacity and representing such a big school and campus was something that I wanted to continue on because I knew that was just something I loved. I loved keeping track of others, I loved making sure that everyone was comfortable in their academic environments.
So I did that for two years and then as a sophomore I was academic affairs chairwoman. A lot of the work I did was working on issues revolving around academics. So advising, advising finals week exam schedules, things like that and I loved it, I loved it so much because I really do feel like obviously academics is the center of where we’re at and I thought that in academics I could make the most impact because that was something that I was passionate about but obviously we’re paying tuition to go here for an education so we want to make sure we are getting the best education possible.
That’s why I fell in love with that and I loved doing that for a year and then I decided to run for president. That was really fun and I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing people and so many amazing students even just from running. I can’t even imagine how it’s going to be this year being actually in this position.
DANIELA: Yea, it sounds like you’re very prepared. You had this very gradual progression to this now very prominent position here on campus. So Irma Velverde was your predecessor, and there was lot of positive talk at the time about how she was a first generation latinx student. She was representing minorities, not to mention females on campus, and it was a very big deal and obviously you are now continuing that trend as a female and as person of color. So I really wanted to ask you; diversity in high positions, whether it being in tier 3 organizations or usg or whatever it may be, it’s often talked about because it’s often said that it’s important for diversity to be represented in these positions. Do you think your position as a person of color, as a woman, has an impact on how you will take on this position throughout the academic year?
AMA: Oh, for sure. I’ve always said throughout my entire experience here: I went to an all-girls catholic school so I generally was the one African American woman in my entire class so I had to be a leader in that way and I wanted to make sure that anyone else who would come into the school could feel comfortable, could see themselves in that environment. I think having diversity in these positions is so important just for that reason. I know that I took a risk by running for president and now I’m in this position so I think part of my job is again making sure that everyone can see me, can see themselves in me and feel comfortable and say “Hey, I could also do that one day, I have the capacity to do that.’ and that’s part of my job.
My job is to really make sure that everyone is reaching their potential here at the university, everyone is comfortable. The way people can maximize their potential as a student at the university is to make sure again that their environment allows them to do that. If they can see themselves in these positions, if they can see themselves doing these amazing things, they are able to have the confidence to do better in school, to do well in their self-wellness and things like that.
This upcoming year, for this year, that’s going to be a major focus of mine. Really making sure that I’m at these events, I’m in the classroom, that I’m talking to everyone so that they can see my face and see that this is an African American woman who is in this position and look at how well she’s doing. And I think that’s so important, that representation is so crucial to everything that we’re doing on campus and just even in general, after we leave the university.
Diversity is so prominent and we need to really make that a major focus in everything we’re doing. So that’s definitely something that I will be focusing on and I am very aware. This is a very tough position to be in as an African American woman and I understand how much power that has so I want to make sure that I’m using my platform for good and to make sure that I’m using my platform to really make an impact in that way.
DANIELA: Absolutely, that sounds great. I had a chance to speak with Irma and she said this about you, I’m going to quote her, she said “Ama is wonderful, I’m so excited for her, I know she’s going to be absolutely amazing.” And she also talked about two major projects that she hopes you continue to work on. The first major one is the idea of transportation on campus. Over the summer we saw that there is a lot of controversy over the recent bus route changes and another big topic is the parking lot situation, the commuter lots. These are big issues that students are talking about and frankly complain about all of the time. Do you have any thoughts about how you can combat what has happened? Is there any way as president of the student government, or student body and student government of course, to see if there’s any way that we can actually hear what our students are saying and make a change?
AMA: You know you just used the word combat so I want to just be careful just with that word in general because I think sometimes people think that being in this position I can go and change something very fast but what people don’t really understand is that the process is very long and a lot of administrators are involved. So I think right now the best thing to do is really to have this student representation on these committees, on these boards when they’re making these decisions because it’s so important to have the student perspective when we’re talking about these issues because again it’s a university for students. So the students are generally going to be the ones using these services, right?
So for example in terms of the bus routes. For a student who lets say is a junior who most likely will live in south campus, who will most likely have a car because they are a junior, 54 credits. So, what is their perspective when they can’t afford a parking pass that is in their residential area and they have to park in let’s say W lot. What is their perspective? In that case, for most students they have to take a bus. Currently the bus system does not allow a direct route from south campus to W lot. So I think for a student to mention these things at these meetings is so important, again that’s student representation.
I think what I will be doing and what my committees will be doing is really just raising their voices and just saying “Hey guys, don’t forget this is what the students are saying, maybe you should think about things in a different way.”
I wish that this is something we could directly change, I wish I could completely change it tomorrow but obviously these processes they take a while. I think the best route right now is really just to make sure that we are voicing our opinions. I’m definitely – I have been going out into these classrooms and talking to people one on one about how they feel so that I can get a better representation of how students feel because again I’m only one person. I represent the student body but I obviously don’t know every single opinion that’s out there nor can I only use my opinion to make a decision or to represent the student body.
I know what we’ve been doing is going into Buy or Sell and making a poll saying “What do you guys think about this issue?” We just recently did that with our New York Times subscription and that had a big response. Those are the things that we will be doing this year to really get a direct response from students so that people can see that this is what students are thinking and then we will be able to bring that to the table when we’re in these board meetings and saying “Hey, maybe you should think about this, this way. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this before.” That makes sense because administrators also have their reasoning for doing things and budget comes into play and other things like that.
So just making sure that we are having the student voice there and making sure we are showing up more at these meetings and showing up in these let’s say town hall meetings that we might be hosting this year. Making sure that we are raising our voices and just being prominent is a big way to make change on campus and that’s what we will be focusing on this semester.
DANIELA: I think you bring up a very good point about this idea that if something goes wrong, the president is at fault, and that’s not just with you. That’s kind of reflected all over the place. We see it with our president, our own president Susan Herbst, we sit it with our own president of the country, it’s like you are the face of everything so we’re just gonna pin it all on you and-
AMA: Which, it’s okay I guess, but I mean, I’m an easy target.
AMA: That comes with the job, you know? You come in expecting that and that’s why I try to remind students, even with the people I talk to, my friends. I say, some people will be like, let’s say for example “I don’t like the paper straws in the dining hall, can you – can we just change it?” No, no, I can’t just do that tomorrow, but it’s important to remind students that we are hearing you. I’m going to do the best I can to bring this up at these meetings. If you guys have anything to say I have office hours, I have my email open. That’s a part of what I’m trying to do this year, being more accessible to students because again I’m just one person. I have my own experiences that I can form my opinions based on that, but that’s not representative of the 19,000 students. I know that I will be working hard in making sure that I do get an overall good picture of what students are kind of leaning towards on certain issues and I’m gonna try to make sure USG is more accessible in that way.
DANIELA: Yea and I think it’s also, I’m wondering is there a way for you, while you are going through this very long process of talking to certain committees or getting certain things brought up in meetings, is there a way for that whole process to be a little bit more transparent so that students can be a little bit more patient. You know at the end of the day students can’t really do much, they can just complain.
DANIELA: But, is it a option for students to have something almost tangible that they can say “Oh, something is going on with USG, something is being done, our voices are being heard.”
AMA: Definitely. Transparency has been a big issue in the past few years. I can understand students’ frustration when they say, USG hasn’t really done much for us. They haven’t really advocated that for us, because we’re not seeing that. People want something tangible. Whether this is through social media or this is through the Daily Campus, whatever that may be, we need to make sure we are putting this information out there.
That is something that we’re going to be trying to do this year. I just created a whole, entire PR team, so we will be revamping our website, making sure we’re putting all of our initiatives out there. Our social media is in the process of getting completely redone. My PR Director, Omar Taweh, he has been so amazing so far, promoting who exactly our executive board is, who is doing what, who to go to for certain issues if you have any ideas, or if you just want to voice your opinions, go speak to these people. He has been doing such a great job and promoting that and putting that out there.
I’ve even mentioned to other Tier III’s, you know, collaboration. I want to make sure I’m working with the Daily Campus to tell them what exactly we’re working on from the get-go. It’s already been the second day of school and some of my committees are doing amazing things so far. Working with the other Tier III’s, getting that message out there, working with WHUS, you know, us talking right now, promoting USG in this way, people can listen and say, ‘Oh wow, this is something that they’re doing.’ Once people hear that, maybe that will… shed more positive light on USG.
I would hope that students would hear and feel more comfortable in coming to us, saying this is an issue I’m having, can you help me with it? Because obviously, promotion and all that is the best way to really get people more interested in your organization. More comfortable saying what they want and feel.
DANIELA: For this whole academic year, what are your major goals as the president?
AMA: Right. As I mentioned, transparency. That’s always been an issue and I just hope that we can definitely bring that to the table this year.
We are going to be focusing a lot on the intersectionality between academics and wellness. I’ve been in talks with a few administrators. Some of my committee members have been working on this or have been talking about working on this a little bit more. I think people tend to forget that academics does depend on your wellness as a student. We want to make sure we are promoting the resources that we have on campus and make sure that students are doing the best in classes and that they feel that they’re doing their best, you know what I’m saying. That’s definitely something that we’ll be working on this year.
Mental health. Big, big thing we’re going to be tackling this year. My Student Services Chair Derek Pan, he’s a big mental health advocate. We will be working with him to put out some initiatives and he’s already working on stuff, which is awesome.
Promoting research opportunities. I know a lot of students have voiced to me in the past year, because again, I was CLAS senator. When I was speaking students, a lot of students did say research opportunities were very accessible to them, so I want to make sure that from the get-go, so let’s say if you’re a freshman, you can have the ability to a professor, know how to approach them, how to write the email to get every research opportunity and things like that.
One big thing that I will be working on personally is making sure that we are helping students to be successful in their post-grad years. So making sure that they’re using their four years as a student not just to do well, but just to make sure that they’re being prepared for what comes thereafter. I find a lot of the time, people don’t worry about those things, because they probably don’t really have to, but I want to make sure that students are coming and thinking with the mindset, ‘Ok, I want to make sure I’m doing well mentally, doing well academically, so that when I leave here, I am the best person that I can be and so I can know who I am as a person so I can start life thereafter.’
Those are the things I will be working on this year as president. I think this is going to be a good year. I think I will at least be able to get the ball rolling.
DANIELA: Fantastic. The last thing I want to talk about is the fact that although you are the president, you’re still a student. When I spoke with Irma, she did talk about how one of the most difficult parts of this positions is the idea of this balance between work, school, the position itself and just being to enjoy senior year as a whole. There is a big balance — you are juggling a lot. Some people say with this position that you have, there’s going to be a inevitable stress that’s going to come on you. How do you think you’re going to handle all that stress that may, some say, inevitably will come?
AMA: I like to joke sometimes because I am a molecular and cell biology major. I was pre-med. The stress was never-ending. It came from the first of school, freshman, I was already stressed, and I’m a perfectionist so I get stressed over every little thing. Even as a senior, I’m still learning how to handle that stress with whatever life throws at you. You never really know and I just know that as president, I want to make sure that I’m upfront with people in saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t going to work for me today. Is there another time we can schedule this?’
I think being honest with yourself is a big part of managing your stress. For me, I was always a yes person. I was always, ‘Yes, I can do this,” and I realized that I was doing everything for everyone else and not for myself. Yes, my position is essentially to represent everyone else and to do things for other people and help other people, but I also need to help myself. And I also don’t want to be failing my classes either. That wouldn’t be good as a senior!
I’m still learning. I’ve cut some clubs. I used to be involved in so much on campus, now I’ve cut back on a little bit of that just because of this position. That’s ok because I know that I will be helping a lot more people just because of the position I’m blessed to have now.
It’s really just being upfront with people. Teaching the people I’m working with, those within USG, just saying, ‘Hey, part of your professional development is understanding how to cooperate with your supervisor or how to cooperate with your directors. If I give you my number and I give you my email, you should know when to use what. If you need me for something like an emergency, you can text me, feel free to text me, but if you have something professional that you want to talk about, that’s for my email. You can send me that.’ Even just little things like that, just laying that all out on the table really helps me manage my stress because then I can categorize. My email has all the stuff I need to do. I set a day to do that and look at my email and answer everyone and do what I have to do.
Again, it’s really just being upfront and just letting people know, ‘Yeah, I’m not superwoman. I can’t do everything at once even though I’d like to be.’ Sometimes I want to do everything and that’s just how I am. It’s ok to be honest with yourself and say, ‘Hey, I need to really actually study for this exam. If something is not — if you’re not doing as well as you’d like to, you should take time for yourself to do that. If you just want a mental health day, feel free to do that. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you’re doing your work ahead of time, you are able to talk to people and be honest with them, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Again, I’m still learning. There’s no perfect formula to managing stress. You just have to do what you have to do. And I’ll be having fun once in a while. I usually don’t. I mean, I told myself, you know, three years, I’ve really just been, you know, school, school, school, focusing on that. I’m hoping to have fun a little bit, but I know it’ll be difficult, but I mean, I signed up for this. This is my job.
DANIELA: Well, I wish you the best of luck during the year, especially during the fall semester where you’ll definitely be showing the fruit of your labor. Is there anything else you’d like to touch on before we end this interview?
AMA: No, I’m just incredibly blessed. I’d just like to thank the UConn student body for trusting me to be in this position. I’m just so excited to see what we can do this year.
DANIELA: Thank you so much for coming in and speaking with me. It’s such a privilege to have spoken with you. Again, I wish you the best of luck in all that you do.
AMA: Thank you so much.