Most college students are worried about acing their exams, joining Greek life or choosing their major. However, these college politicians are overcoming tremendous barriers so they can run for political office while they are in college. They have faced a plethora of obstacles related to factors such as campaign fundraising, discrimination, poverty and/or family difficulties. Yet, their passion for community advocacy and volunteer work is truly inspiring, and these individuals serve as role models to all students. We interviewed these college politicians and asked about their academic work, outside interests, political experiences and future goals.
1. Tay Anderson, Metropolitan State University of Denver '21
Tay will be a freshman at Metropolitan State University of Denver in the fall, and is running for a position as District 4 Director of Denver Public District Board of Education. He is the youngest candidate to run for this position on the Denver School Board, and stated that he is trying to "change the political narrative for POC and millennials." Tay's story is truly extraordinary because he overcame tremendous obstacles and barriers to reach his success as a student leader and politician. During sophomore year of high school, Tay was placed into foster care when he moved to Colorado. Tay was one of six homeless students in his school district, and lived at his friends' homes the rest of high school. Despite this, Tay became the chairperson of the Colorado High School Democrats, and participated as a state central committeeman in House District 9. He saw the poor treatment of marginalized groups within his school, and witnessed the failed educational policies within his school district. He decided to run for office so he could improve the current state of the school board within his district. Tay firmly stated that he "won't make a decision about conceding until the last vote is counted" and wanted to show millennials that they can achieve anything.
2. Nadya Okamoto, Harvard University '20
Nadya is a sophomore who is studying government and gender studies at Harvard University. Outside of school, she loves taking dance classes, and is involved in multiple dance groups on her college campus. Nadya is also the founder and executive director of PERIOD, a global non-profit organization that continually advocates for menstrual hygiene. Tampax even partnered with her organization to donate one million tampons across the country in thirty days. She is running for a position on the Cambridge City Council so that "young people [can] have direct representation and trust in their government." As a political candidate, her strongest concern is affordable housing; her goal is to push universities to house 100% of their graduate students. She has faced some barriers related to her age and stated that her campaign has "garnered support and hate from different sources" due to her minority status as an Asian-American. Yet, she still ran for this political position because of her strong devotion to the Cambridge community:
"I feel very strongly about pushing forward progress around the issues that Cambridge faces because I am personally connected to many of them – most significantly housing instability, education inequity and domestic abuse and violence. During my early years of high school, my family was displaced from our home because we could not afford it; it was through this time that I thought extensively about privilege as a spectrum. I serve because it is my way of reconciling the privileges that I do have, including having a supportive family and access to education."
3. Bushra Amiwala, DePaul University '20
Bushra will be a sophomore at DePaul University in the fall, and is majoring in marketing with a double minor in community service studies and public policy studies. She is running for a seat on the 13th District of Cook County Board. Growing up, she lived in Rogers Park where she witnessed public segregation and poor educational policies. When she was nine years old, she moved to Skoie and noticed the economic and racial disparity between the two communities. Due to these experiences, she became passionate about helping others and improving the situation of individuals in poverty. She has actively volunteered with a non-profit organization called Northside Power to implement systemic policies that address hunger in Northern Chicago. She yearns to solve many issues related to poverty and education, and wants to be a voice that represents her generation and the Muslim community:
"Being a part of the County Board with 16 other people makes it so I can be a voice for, and represent not only my generation, but other minority communities as well ... as someone who [has] spoken to many children of Muslim and South Asian backgrounds, I learned many of them felt discouraged and did not see a place for them in politics. I wanted to show them that there is a space of all of us in politics and our elected officials are here to represent us – so presumably it makes sense their physical makeup reflects the diversity out community holds as well."
4. Kevin Oyakawa, North Central College '19
Kevin will be a junior at North Central College in the fall, and will be studying political science and economics. He is running for a seat on the Dupage County Board in District 5 that includes Aurora and Naperville in Illinois. Kevin is originally from Wadsworth, Ohio and has always loved playing baseball since he was seven years old. He grew up with three older sisters who serve as his inspiration to fight for equal rights for women. He decided to run for this position so he could help out with the opioid crisis in his county, and push for better educational initiatives. Kevin has faced some challenges related to fundraising because he was not able to self-fund his campaign. However, he has been grateful for early endorsements from state legislators and local democratic organizations who have supported his political advocacy. He encourages all young people to become involved with local politics:
"My advice to millennials looking to run for office is to get involved with your local party and find ways to get involved that way ... running for local office means a lot of face time with real people, and millennials should not take that lightly. These are the real people that you will be representing as an elected official, so for millennials who are sick of politics and want to positively influence their communities, listening to the people is critical."
5. Heather Ward, Villanova University '17
Heather recently graduated as a double major in accounting and finance at Villanova University this Spring. She is running for the position of School Board Director for Tredyffrin/Easttown District in Pennsylvania. She is especially passionate about helping this school district because she was born and raised in this community, and education has always been a top priority in her family. She decided to run for the school board after the 2016 elections because of her dissatisfaction with the Trump administration. She has faced some barriers related to her age during the campaign process after many voters questioned whether she was old enough for the position. However, she is still awed by the enormous amount of encouragement from her community, and believes that these supportive voices far outweigh the critics. These are her words of advice to millennials who are interested in running for office:
"Go for it! Make sure you have a strong support system of family and friends who will help you along the way. If there’s a change you’d like to see, find the office that helps you make it and don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young to run. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it."
These college students have jumped over so many hurdles to reach their success today; they are empowering role models for any student who aims to take the risk and run for a position in local government. These individuals are seeking to improve their communities, and prove that anything is possible in the process. Hopefully all of these college students will score a victory as the finish the race to the ballots.