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Ricco Wright

Ricco Wright - 2008 Student Senate President.

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Ricco Wright is easygoing but serious about change

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Wright celebrating with students at the Welcome Back Reception image

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Senate President welcoming the class at orientation

 He’s an Easygoing Guy, But Student Senate President Ricco Wright is Serious About Change

Last fall, when Ricco Wright stood up to speak in TC’s Cowin Center at a special town meeting called by President Susan Fuhrman in the aftermath of racist incidents on campus, there was a sense of anticipation in the big auditorium.

With his friendly grin and trademark dreadlocks, the rangy, six-foot Wright, an African American doctoral student in mathematics education who has been at TC for the past four years, was someone most people at the College already knew. But over the past 24 hours, as one of the leaders of the protest marches and discussion groups, he had achieved a new order of visibility, appearing on CNN Live and CNN International to talk about the internal climate at TC. Now the floor was his to set a very public tone for how students might conduct themselves in the coming weeks.

Wright addressed himself to Fuhrman and Tom James, TC’s Provost. “If you have expectations of us right now, I hope you’ll share them,” he said, “because we’re a family, and we don’t want this to be the students attacking the administration. We need to work together."

Not long afterward, the TC Student Senate asked Wright to join them as senator for institutional affairs, and in the spring, he was elected President for the next two years.

If you know Wright, none of this is that surprising. The first time I met him, some years back, I asked him about his dress code, which seems to call exclusively for slacks, long sleeve shirts, and ties.

“If you look like you take yourself seriously, then others will take you seriously,” he said.  He also freely admits that he would like to serve as a U.S. Senator some day. Still, Wright says he joined the Student Senate out of a genuine desire to work on behalf of others (“servant leadership,” he calls it). Of all the Senate’s achievements last year, he is proudest of its success in changing Everett Lounge from a study room to a social space, “as students need places to relax and have a chat with their colleagues over a beverage,” he says.  His goals this year are to improve student financial aid, strengthen relationships between students and departments, and, in general, improve the TC experience for all students. Oh, and he’d also like to increase the number of student senators from 30 to 200.

“Government by the people, for the people,” he says with a grin. “We need more students involved so that we can be assured that the Senate is working on behalf of students from all walks of life and carrying out its mission as the voice of the students.”

With his calm demeanor and easygoing ways, Wright may be a student leader whom administrators feel they can work with, but he’s not shy about voicing criticisms.

“Student concerns at TC are often not addressed properly or at all,” he says. “But so long as we push the envelope and remain consistent and persistent, we can affect change.”

Those words represent something of a life philosophy.  Wright grew up poor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His family lived in government-subsidized Section 8 housing, and neither of his two older brothers finished high school.

“I broke the curse,” he says.

Wright, who grew up without his biological father, says that along with Nelson Mandela, his mother is his hero – his greatest source of strength and the motivational force behind his academic achievements.

“Mom demystified the erroneous ideology of the poor black male’s pre-determined life careers and aspiration choices,” he says – meaning that, among other things, she prodded him to dream of being more than a good basketball player. “She made sure her sons believed that any possibility was available to them as long as they had the will and invested the time and effort to grab them.”

Early in September, when Wright again stood up in Cowin – this time to welcome the incoming class – that was more or less his message. He urged the new students to enjoy New York City, travel abroad on study tours, build their curriculum vitae, attend professional and academic conferences, apply for as many fellowships as possible, and, of course, get involved in Student Senate.

“I’ve had a great experience here, but you want to hit the ground running, because Week One is like mid-terms and it doesn’t slow down,” he said.

Later, he said to me, “I’ll be happy if I helped someone have a better experience at TC.”

The betting here is that he will.

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