On the night of the 2021 Tufts Community Union Senate presidential election, Amma Agyei waits on the phone surrounded by her friends, awaiting the outcome of her campaign. The phone rings and Amma answers, listening to the call with a blank expression. With all eyes on her, she hangs up the phone and immediately starts screaming with joy. Agyei is now the first black woman to be elected president of the TCU.
“It felt unreal at the time,” Agyei said. “Especially because I would become the first black female student body president. I felt like that was so powerful.”
Agyei, who moved from Ghana to the US at the age of 16, is finishing her term as TCU president and preparing to graduate from Tufts. Although she attended her last two years of high school in the US, she sees Ghana as her home base.
“I consider Ghana to be my home, because that’s where I learned all my morals and values,” Agyei said.
Those morals and values helped Agyei thrive in high school at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School in Marlborough, Massachusetts, where she was part of the biotechnology program.
Agyei applied to Tufts after hearing about the early assurance program through Tufts Medical School. She transferred to the School of Engineering after her freshman drop and declared a major in biomedical engineering.
Agyei wanted to enter university by focusing mainly on academics; however, she sensed that something was missing. As someone who has always had a passion for leadership roles, Agyei knew she needed more.
“I have all that free time. I should use it. I should be doing things,” Agyei said. “There are so many things I’ve seen at Tufts that I wanted to change.”
For Agyei, running for TCU Senate seemed like the best way to start. At the end of her freshman year, Agyei ran for and won a seat as senator of the class of 2022. The following year, she ran for and won the position of Africana community senator.
During her time at Tufts, Agyei was part of Roti and Rum, the only Caribbean dance troupe on campus; the National Society of Black Engineers; an Africana Center peer leader; a peer leader of the FIRST Resource Center; a Students’ Quest for Unity in the African Diaspora pre-orientation coordinator; president of the Black Student Union for two years; and a three-year member of the TCU Senate.
Engaging in productive change and making progress on campus gives her the most energy.
“It can be stressful, but in the end this gives me life,” Agyei said. “It gives me life to know that I’m trying to make changes.”
After two years as a TCU senator, Agyei had no intention of running for president. Agyei felt she could have had enough impact without having the top job, at the same time, she struggled to believe she could win even if she tried.
“I just said to myself, ‘You can’t do it. You’re not qualified and nobody’s going to vote for you,… you’re going to lose,’ Agyei said.
The night before the nominations for president, Agyei was still unsure if she could run. It was a phone call to her mother for advice that finally convinced her to try.
She said, ‘I didn’t raise you with the idea that you can’t do anything. So if you think like that, then I didn’t do it right,” Agyei said. “She said, ‘I raised you to believe that you could do anything.'”
Inspired, Agyei knew she owed it to herself to run.
“I felt that if I didn’t put myself in that position to become president, I would neglect all my morals and values,” Agyei said.
Agyei was also inspired by her mentor Katrina Moore, the director of the Africana Center. Moore helped Agyei run, and throughout her time at Tufts, Moore was constantly on hand for advice.
With the nudge from her mother and Moore, Agyei quickly assembled a campaign team and created her tagline, “She’s With Us.” As many different clubs and organizations began to give support, she knew she wanted to represent all types of students and groups at Tufts.
“I have to keep in mind that I represent students from different backgrounds, ethnicities and races,” Agyei said. “That’s how I embody ‘She’s With Us’.”
After winning, Agyei began to understand the weight of the track. She had to know the Senate rules perfectly, and she received constant emails with information about additional responsibilities of the position. She also understood the importance of being the first black woman chosen for this role.
“I was like, ‘There’s never really been one.’ And I was like, “You know what? I’m going to start. I’m going to be the first. And [there’s] after me there will be several,” said Agyei.
During her time as president, Agyei accomplished many of her goals, such as increasing the number of people of color in the Senate and chairing a governing body made up of students from many different backgrounds. Other than that, her proudest achievement is the progress made in reforming the Tufts University Police Department.
Tufts established a working group in April 2021 to brainstorm recommendations for new campus safety practices. After protests and student advocates fighting for change, released recommendations in March to deploy armed police officers or unarmed security professionals, depending on the emergency.
“There is still work to be done, but I feel better knowing that something would come of all these protests and all these similar campaigns,” Agyei said.
Agyei knew that TUPD wouldn’t go from armed to disarmed in a year, so she thinks this middle ground is a big step in the right direction. She strategically understood that Tufts would not change without solid evidence.
“As a scientist, you need data to support what you’re advocating, and Tufts’ argument was that if they didn’t have armed police officers, there would be incidents on campus,” Agyei said.
Agyei believes that if the two task forces can be implemented, evidence can be gathered that an armed task force may not be necessary. If the armed task force is deployed only once or twice a year, while the disarmed task force is deployed 10 times – for example to address mental health issues – then that may show the university that more reforms are needed.
While she is proud of this progress, Agyei still believes Tufts can improve in many ways. She has spent much of her time in the Senate fighting for a laundry program for low-income students, and this project has yet to be completed.
“One struggle is you only have a year to work on things, and you start things and then they just fall off because you don’t have enough time to finish it,” Agyei said.
She hopes future presidents and senate members will continue her mission of creating a laundry allowance.
Agyei is grateful for her time with Tufts and as TCU president.
“I’m in a position now where I can do anything.” said Agyei. “I feel like Tufts has given me the tools to be in any leadership position I want to be, and has given me the tools to stand up for underserved communities.”
Agyei will continue her education at Tufts next year while pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She has always wanted to be a neurosurgeon and she studies mechanical engineering to invent the surgical tools she would use in the future.
Agyei has marked Tufts with her leadership and hopes future students will get the most out of their years here.
“Just stick to your values,” Agyei said. “Stay with what you believe in and do what you love.”