There’s a new Queen of the Hill. At the end of last semester, the Kenyon student body elected Ubongabasi Asuquo ’23 as Student Council president. Now entering her final year and about to get her degree in biology, Asuquo has grown to love the friendly non-competitive environment that Kenyon offers. This semester, she quickly settled into her new role and got to work. She sat down with the Collegian to discuss her role and how she uses it to connect with and represent all Kenyon students.
Asuquo hails from Uruan in Akwa-Ibom State, Nigeria, bringing international student representation to the top of Student Council. In her campaign statement, she discussed how disheartening it was to have offices like the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) deny her aid to help her go see her dying mother due to insufficient funding. “I think what came to light was the way in which offices that are meant to support these marginalized groups were not in communication with each other and were not equipped enough,” she said. Her campaign started a discussion about how much Kenyon actually prioritizes outreach and giving aid to disadvantaged students. Some students feel uneasy entering Kenyon’s community, and Asuquo is aware of that isolated feeling. “Just by virtue of being a predominately white institution, there is cultural capital that is lost. Something that you cannot really explain until you are part of that community or part of that group,” she said.
As president, Asuquo wants to help students who may feel isolated further become a part of the community. She believes that the discussion around inclusivity on campus has evolved over the last few years. She thinks the conversation has grown from just dreaming of what anyone can be at Kenyon, to also acknowledging what might impede someone from reaching that dream. By addressing the marginalization that many students experience here, Asuquo believes that outreach can more effectively help students. Since the start of her presidency, Asuquo has seen the scope of institutional support expand and more precisely address what students need. “I know some of the things that we cover now that we did not previously consider. For example, support for reproductive access, flights for medical or family emergencies or even the availability of the bookstore grant on the K-Card. In different ways, we are rethinking what it means to support students on an individual level.” Asuquo also teased new student support: “I hope that before the year ends, there can be some more concrete steps. There are some things working behind the scenes that I cannot fully discuss.”
Student advocacy is critical to Asuquo. She works closely with the Office of Admissions, the Center for Global Engagement, ODEI, the Office of Student Engagement and what she calls her “babies” — affinity groups like Sisterhood. Shockingly, Asuquo is not a coffee drinker and juggles all of her responsibilities on a straightedge. Asuquo is devoted to helping others and plans to do so in the public health sphere following graduation. Her entire Kenyon career, she has helped students engage with our community, and she can do so more now than ever as president. For example, she has been steadfast in her support of increased funding to ODEI and has overseen the appointment of a new director, who will be announced shortly.
Inspired by former Student Council Presidents Delaney Barker ’20 and Micah Smith ’22, Asuquo offers office hours, which give students a couple hours a week to talk with her about anything they feel strongly about. Asuquo’s “office” is the Marriott Dining Room in Peirce Hall. She is there Mondays 6-7 p.m. and Thursdays 5-7 p.m. Asuquo appreciates the office hours because they give her a chance to hear more individual problems. She’s aware that a problem for one student is still an issue that needs to be addressed. A recent example: Peirce was the sole South Campus pickup location for injured students who needed rides from Campus Safety. A student made Ubong aware of this during office hours, and from there, she met with campus safety to expand the options for pickup and clarify communication to students.
“Advocacy is hard. It’s exhausting to go into a meeting and to keep on explaining yourself, and to have to repeat trauma over and over again,” said Asuquo. She wants students to know that she and Student Council are here to champion the student body and advocate on its behalf. Whether a student’s problem is social, academic or physical, it still matters. She invites everyone to come to her office hours, which she is revamping. “I hope to have some sweets and candy very soon, and President Bowman will be joining once a month. I just met with him today.” Asuquo hopes people aren’t afraid to ask her for a helping hand, as she is ready to work with them through any problems they may encounter as Kenyon students.