On the night of the 2021 Tufts Community Union Senate presidential election, Amma Agyei waits at the phone, surrounded by her friends, anxiously anticipating 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 promptly screams with joy. Agyei has now become the first Black woman to be elected TCU president.
“It felt surreal in that moment,” Agyei said. “Especially since I was going to be the first Black woman student body president. I felt like that was just so powerful.”
Agyei, who moved from Ghana to the U.S. at the age of sixteen, is finishing up her term as TCU president and preparing to graduate from Tufts. Though she attended her last two years of high school in the U.S., she sees Ghana as her home base.
“I consider Ghana as 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, Mass., 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 first-year fall and declared a major in biomedical engineering.
Agyei wanted to begin college by focusing mainly on academics; however, she felt something was missing. As someone who has always had a passion for leadership roles, Agyei knew she needed more.
“I have all this free time. I should put it to use. I should do things,” Agyei said. “There’s so many things I saw at Tufts that I wanted to change.”
For Agyei, running for TCU Senate seemed the best way to begin. At the end of her first year, Agyei ran for and won a seat as a Class of 2022 senator. The next year, she ran for and won the position of Africana community senator.
Over the course of her time at Tufts, Agyei has been a part of Roti and Rum, the only Caribbean dance group on campus; the National Society of Black Engineers; an Africana Center peer leader; a FIRST Resource Center peer leader; 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 TCU Senate.
Engaging in productive change and creating progress on campus fuels her energy the most.
“It might be stressful, … but at the end of the day, this gives me life,” Agyei said. “It gives me life to know that I’m trying to make changes happen.”
After two years as a TCU senator, Agyei had no intention of running for president. Agyei felt she could have had enough of an impact without holding the top job, and she simultaneously struggled to believe she could win even if she tried.
“I just told myself, ‘You can’t do it. You’re not qualified, and no one’s gonna vote for you, … you’re gonna lose,’” Agyei said.
The night before nominations for president, Agyei was still unsure whether she could run. It was a call to her mother for advice that finally convinced her to try.
“She said, … ‘I didn’t bring you up to think there’s nothing you can do. So if that is how you think, then I didn’t do a good job,’” Agyei said. “She said, ‘I raised you to believe that you could do everything.’”
Inspired, Agyei knew she owed it to herself to run.
“I felt like if I wasn’t putting myself in that position to run for president, then I was kind of neglecting all my morals and values,” Agyei said.
Agyei was also inspired by her mentor Katrina Moore, the director of the Africana Center. Moore helped push Agyei to run, and throughout her time at Tufts, Moore has been a constant presence for advice.
With the push from her mother and Moore, Agyei quickly assembled a campaign team and created her slogan: “She’s With Us.” As many different clubs and organizations started giving endorsements, she knew she wanted to stand for all types of students and groups at Tufts.
“I have to take into consideration that I’m representing students from different backgrounds and ethnicities and races,” Agyei said. “That is how I embody ‘She’s With Us.’”
After winning, Agyei began to understand the weight of the job. She had to know the rules of the Senate perfectly, and she constantly received emails informing her about additional responsibilities of the position. She also understood the importance of being the first Black woman to be elected to this role.
“I was like, ‘There’s never actually been one.’ And I was like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna start. I’m gonna be the first one. And [there’s] going to be multiple after me,’” Agyei said.
During her time as president, Agyei has accomplished many of her goals, such as increasing the number of people of color on the Senate and chairing a governing body with students from many different backgrounds. Beyond that, her proudest accomplishment is the progress made toward reforming the Tufts University Police Department.
Tufts created a working group to brainstorm recommendations for new campus safety practices in April 2021. After protests and student advocates fighting for change, Tufts released recommendations in March to deploy either armed police officers or unarmed security professionals depending on the emergency.
“There’s still work to be done, but I feel better knowing that something was going to come off all of these protests and all these like campaigns,” Agyei said.
Agyei knew TUPD would not move from armed to disarmed in just one year, so she thinks this middle ground is a great 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 arguing for, and Tufts’ argument was that if they didn’t have armed police officers, there would be incidents on campus,” Agyei said.
Agyei feels that if the two task forces can be implemented, evidence can be gathered that an armed task force may be unnecessary. If the armed task force is only deployed once or twice in a year while the disarmed task force is deployed 10 times — for instance, to address mental health issues — then maybe that will show the university that more reform is necessary.
Though she is proud of this progress, Agyei still feels Tufts can improve in many ways. She has spent much of her time on Senate fighting for a laundry stipend program for low-income students, and this project has yet to be enacted.
“A struggle is that you only have a year to work on things, and you start things and then they’re just dropped, because you don’t have enough time to finish,” Agyei said.
She hopes future presidents and Senate members will continue her mission to create a laundry stipend.
Agyei is thankful for her time at Tufts and as TCU president.
“I’m now in a position where I can do anything.” Agyei said. “I feel Tufts has given me the tools to be in any leadership position that I want to be in, giving me the tools to be able to advocate for disadvantaged communities.”
Agyei will continue her education at Tufts next year as she pursues a master’s in mechanical engineering. She has always wanted to be a neurosurgeon, and she is studying mechanical engineering in order to invent the surgical tools she would use in the future.
Agyei has marked Tufts with her leadership and hopes that future students will make the most of their years here.
“Just stick to your values,” Agyei said. “Stick to what you believe in, and do what you love.”