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'It will be there:' Opere says race will play a role in his presidency without defining it

Bradley Opere, an international student from Kenya, wins the student body presidential election. Opere’s passion for issues on campus played a role.

Bradley Opere, an international student from Kenya, wins the student body presidential election. Opere’s passion for issues on campus played a role.

Deborah Stroman, former chairperson of the Carolina Black Caucus, said she thinks race was a factor in Opere’s election — but his platform mattered, too.

“I do believe race plays a role,” Stroman said. “Let’s just say that there is no doubt that ethnicity plays a role in prominent political campaigns.”

She said unusually high voter turnout and a wide margin of victory demonstrates students’ awareness of issues on campus.

“I think it sends a very important signal that the University student population is looking for leadership — not only in the sense of policy and curriculum but also in engagement and inclusion,” she said.

Stroman said she thinks Opere is well-positioned to bring positive change to UNC because of his relationship with the student body.

“I’m excited that Bradley is very well liked by his peers, has lots of energy and will probably bring perspective that will help us with this next academic year,” she said.

Taffye Benson Clayton, associate vice chancellor for diversity and multicultural affairs, said the election showed students’ desire to solve problems on campus, but she said she thinks Opere’s platform and perspective — he’s an international student from Kenya — played a more important role than race.

“I think it’s a reflection of the level of student engagement we’ve had around a variety of issues on our campus,” Clayton said. “We all come with our own experiences, our own identities into any context. He’ll bring his own unique perspective, and that perspective is informed by who he is, his lived experiences and what he’s been exposed to.”

Opere’s confidence in his perspective helped separate him from other candidates and solidify his position as an innovator, Clayton said.

Nagwa Nukuna, co-president of the Organization for African Students’ Interests and Solidarity, said Opere’s platform resonated with students.

“I do think, just realistically, race played a factor. It definitely got more black students on campus to vote. There was definitely a push for that,” she said. “But I also think he had a really good platform comparatively to the other people running.”

Opere said he thinks several factors besides race contributed to his victory.

“I would be slow to necessarily point that out as one of the main reasons, just because we have had previous elections where minorities have run at UNC,” he said. “It’s not really the first time a black candidate or person of color is running. There was a (Graduate and Professional Student Federation) issue that drove students to the polls as well.”

Opere said his team’s response to issues on campus ultimately decided the election.

“Part of the reason minority candidates don’t win is because it’s almost an unwritten rule you have to work twice as hard to stand a chance,” he said. “I think people on my team took up that challenge. I think we did a lot of good work, and that definitely gets credit.”

While Opere said factors beyond race also influenced the election, he did acknowledge the significance of race for his campaign and the role race will play in the future.

“I believe my ability to win this election is because of the different work that has been going on by different groups on this campus, already going on before I started running.” he said. “I definitely think (race) will affect my work. It would be a major flaw if I actually didn’t think it would affect my work. It will be there, it will follow us, it will follow the people that work with me.”

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