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SGA President Yolian Ogbu works to make a difference at UNT

SGA President Yolian Ogbu works to make a difference at UNT

SGA President Yolian Ogbu works to make a difference at UNT
November 22
10:50 2019

As SGA president, Yolian Ogbu has helped organize demands for UNT in response to Caitlin Sewell’s resignation and raised support for these demands with the help of her SGA team and supporters, all within the span of a week.

Ogbu also helped organize the silent, sit-in protest and a speech at the Board of Regents meetings as responses to the demands created by SGA, the UNT Black Student Union and UNT’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Because I just feel like every time something happens, I feel like I have a personal responsibility to do something,” Ogbu said. “I feel like everyone has a personal responsibility to do something, but I can’t control what other people do, and I only can do that for myself, so I recognize it’s my duty to do something whether or not I’m in a position of power because I would have done this regardless of the title for sure.”

During the beginning of the semester, SGA Senate struggled with getting resolutions passed. However, with recent events, SGA has come together to pass multiple resolutions, Ogbu said.

Ogbu said this is only the beginning for SGA to make good, effective change for UNT.

“After everything that went down [at the “When Hate Comes to Campus” event], we had so many senators and so many people say, ‘Can we write something?’, ‘Can we write a statement?’, ‘Can we write a resolution?’” Ogbu said. “I said, ‘Sure, go for it,’ and I think that it’s only heightened involvement because people recognize that they can’t be complicit and complacent by just sitting there and not saying anything.”

Ogbu’s term started on June 1 as SGA president and she had prior experience as the SGA Advocate General. Her term will be over by the end of the academic year, according to the Division of Student Affairs website. 

For the rest of that term, Ogbu said she plans on seeing these demands out and encouraging others to as well. Knowing these demands cannot be established immediately and will take time, Ogbu said she wants to make sure UNT is considering them and planning on establishing them by putting it into the Master Plan.

Ogbu said this was addressed in the end of SGA’s statement listing the demands by telling UNT that students should not have to create a plan as to how these demands should be established, it should be up to UNT staff.

“I think it was time for us to challenge people and recognize that we are just students just as much as everyone else,” Ogbu said. “While we have the privilege of being student leaders, we’re also just students … we don’t even have our bachelor’s yet. We want to make it loud and clear that people that have degrees, that are in positions of power, in Hurley, in [administration], in the UNT System, have the knowledge, the access and the resources to implement things that we’re asking for. And that’s all we want. So, we’re asking for them to redirect the power. We have the power to make demands and they have the power to actually implement them.”

Without her team, Ogbu said she would not have been able to handle everything. She said the SGA executive board has helped her with this process as well as other student organizations on campus such as the UNT BSU and UNT’s chapter of the NAACP.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I have handled it well,” Ogbu said. “I’d just come home, and I’d be so drained, but my mind would be racing because I’m like, ‘What’s next, what do you have to do?’ And a weakness of mine is I tend to put a lot of responsibility on myself, and I forget that I have a whole team, a whole community of people that want to do as much as possible. And so, I think I’ve learned a lot about myself this past week, and when stuff like this happens, I can turn to my support system. So, it’s been tough, but I think it’s because I have a really big, good support system that’s constantly being like ‘Hey, you’re doing great,’ and getting positive affirmations. And so, that’s been getting me through.”

Receiving backlash from the UNT Young Conservatives of Texas, Ogbu said she has been able to block out their criticism of her presidency with the help of her supporters.

UNT’s YCT chapter tweeted a video about unseating Ogbu as SGA president and put up posters around campus, so Ogbu decided it was best to block them on Twitter and continue doing what she can for UNT’s students.

“I think there’s more support than there is criticism,” Ogbu said. “I mean the criticism was really loud, but it’s only coming from a few people in my opinion. And so, I think that we have a bigger support system than I honestly realize, so this is the first time I realized that our community has got our back. We are going to show up and we’re going to do whatever is necessary… And so, I’m hoping this is the catapult for everyone to start having conversations and sparking dialogue about what are some issues that each community is facing, and how do we directly address them.”

Ogbu said the response to Sewell’s resignation was not just about Sewell and her use of a racial slur at the “When Hate Comes to Campus” event. It was just the tip of the iceberg.

“This incident … was not an isolated incident,” Ogbu said. “And that’s why we showed up in the sit-in [protest] and that’s why we performed a lot of these actions because this is about the third or fourth time that I know of, that’s happened in my three years here. And so, recognizing that there’s always at least some racist incident that happens on campus once a year is like, come on. So, I think that recognizing that we had a lot of those demands earlier, but we weren’t pushing them as hard … And so, as to what Caitlin Sewell did … it really hit me that day and I was like, ‘Wow, we need to start talking about this because we can’t have this happen again.’”

A turning point for Ogbu, she said, was when she noticed UNT Chancellor Lesa Roe crying at the Board of Regents meeting on the morning of Nov. 15.

“That was wild to me because I was like, ‘Wow,’” Ogbu said. “And so I think that at that point, that’s the first time that I felt like they really listened to us because they were like ‘OK, these kids are not going to stop talking,’ and I think that’s what matters. And so, I’m hoping that they’re going to continue consistently following up and honestly not back down but it’s unfortunately going to also be on the students because I can’t do this for forever, and so I’m hoping that what happened after this week, that there are so many students after me that are wanting to continue to follow up and make sure those demands are met.”

The UNT faculty and administration has shown their support of Ogbu publicly on Twitter as well as at the Board of Regents meetings, Ogbu said.

She said she feels supported by UNT and like they are taking her and her team seriously.

“The biggest impact that really, really, really is my biggest takeaway for this year, honestly, is that people recognize that they can make a difference,” Ogbu said. “I had so many people come up to me and like, ‘I didn’t know that we could do something like this.’ So, I think that sit-in … was extremely powerful, and folks that came, and even folks that were like tweeting and stuff in support. Within an hour of that sit-in, I was told by the President that one of the demands were going to be met ASAP. And that is incredible. But I know that if we were never to have done those actions, if we were never to have pressured people, then none of this would have ever happened. And so, I really hope people and students recognize how much power they hold when they come together like this.”

Featured Image:  Yolian Ogbu, president of the Student Government Association, poses in front of the UNT crest in the University Union on Nov. 15, 2019. Ogbu says the demands outlined in a student-generated petition outline efforts to help all communities at UNT. Image by Samuel Gomez

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Rebekah Schulte

Rebekah Schulte

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