Unread: 15 Emails, from Val Ojeda-Avitia

Behind the Work and Inside the Mind of KPU's Leader

NorthWest Wing | Alaina Rudnick | April 8, 2016

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Every student here at AU has received an email from Valeria Ojeda-Avitia, whether you recognize the name or not. She’s invited you to hang out with her and her posse—and it just so happens her idea of a fun isn’t a party, it’s congressmen debating issues on the floor of the Tavern.

Val, a 21-year-old junior in SIS, is the head of the Kennedy Political Union (KPU), which is possibly the best-funded part of student life at AU.

“If I could get congressmen every week to come and debate each other, I would love that,” she says on planning new events. “But it’s just not realistic. For example: Bill Nye took us starting to plan in September for a February event.”

Other visitor goals included having an event with Malala, which Val says is a dream, because she’s nearly impossible to bring.

“I saw the speakers that KPU was bring [before my term] and realized I couldn’t connect with them, for many reasons… their pathway to success was not something I could ever go through.”

But she also wants to bring more inspiring young, female, and persons of color to speak on campus. “I think you get a lot out of hearing from peers. For example, Jessica Williams is only 26 years old and was so incredibly insightful, and I think because of her age students were able to connect with her, because we’re so close in generations.”

This theme of representation and connection is one that KPU has been actively exploring while under Val’s leadership. She sees a need to change who is speaking at AU, and proudly proclaims the newest stats: in the last year half of the speakers were men, one was non-binary, and 44 percent were women.

“I saw the speakers that KPU was bringing [before my term] and realized I couldn’t connect with them, for many reasons… their pathway to success was not something I could ever go through. And also, I don’t know, it wasn’t always about the students. So I went into it thinking, ‘I want to get as many students involved, and make it as representative, as possible’, keeping in mind the demographics of the school, in ideology and backgrounds and interests, and make it more of a political union instead of just a lecture series of students.”

Val even says she has some experience being the odd opinion out. Her experience at AU has been an experience in confronting a position she previously hadn’t seen herself as occupying:

“Sometimes, frankly, I feel that I’m a token Hispanic for the university [in my role at KPU]… I know it’s well intentioned and I’m glad the university is proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I have never really been a minority until I came to AU. People never asked me what it’s like to be a minority until AU, because I come from a minority/majority state of New Mexico, and so I didn’t really notice it until people asked me what it meant to be Hispanic. So, my really good friend Carlos Vera, has been pointing out a lot of things to me, and pushed me to really be proud of where I come from and where my parents come from-both of them are immigrants.”

There’s far more on Val’s schedule than just KPU, though. Just this past weekend, Val and her mother were initiated into AU’s newest social sorority, Sigma Kappa. Sigma Kappa joins the many organizations that Val been involved in in the last three years. Before she was hanging with congress people, Bill Nye, and more for KPU, Val oversaw the College Democrats, and ran a show on WVAU, self-described as a place to vent her teen angst over Fall Out Boy.

“[I] try to understand why people believe what they believe, because everyone has a different reason, either a personal experience, or what they’ve researched or studied–or just how they feel.”

Val, in front of the WVAU Office | Credit: Alaina Rudnick
Val, in front of the WVAU Office | Credit: Alaina Rudnick

Walking past the WVAU studios now on her way to the KPU office, she presses her face and hands to the window excitedly. “When Karl Rove came, he walked by, then came back and slammed his face against it.” She makes a face at the people inside to demonstrate. “Karl Rove is the shit. He’s hilarious—I love him,” she grins.

This isn’t the response that many would expect of a member of the College Dems, but Val is hardly stuck in her ways. Krista Chavez, head of the conservative women’s group on campus, Network of Enlightened Women, heard the interview happening in Starbucks and leaned over in defense of Val’s record at KPU. “She’s really open to new ideas, from any person who gives it to her. If you give her a crazy idea like ‘I want this speaker’ she’ll try to work with you. However much we disagree, however much we think something is important or not-important, she’ll work with you.”

Val echoes this later while sipping on coffee before heading to her internship, and planning how she’ll get to her new one later this month.

“[I] try to understand why people believe what they believe, because everyone has a different reason, either a personal experience, or what they’ve researched or studied–or just how they feel.”