Privilege and Purpose with Dr. Bea Awoniyi

Dr. Bea Awoniyi is the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs at Santa Fe College, overseeing the disability resource center, serves as Ombudsperson, and helps to oversee grant awards among many other different aspects of her role. Dr. Awoniyi has a long career in higher education, previously having worked in other universities at their disability resource centers and serving in vast leadership roles. She is a member of the Association on Higher Education And Disability and together with her colleagues, they work to better understand what they need to do, with the national organization so that they can bring individuals from the minority population to the table.

In this episode, Tony and Dr. Awoniyi talk through how to navigate our identities in a healthy way, that integrates our social and environment context, in the way we live our lives. They dive into an important discussion in reflecting about who we are, understanding our purpose, and if we have the means- how can we give back.

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SPEAKERS: Bea Awoniyi, Tony Delisle

Tony Delisle  00:00

Welcome back to another edition of the independent life podcast. Today we have Dr. Bea Awoniyi. She is the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs at Santa Fe College. She oversees the Disability Resource Center’s their services ombudsman, she helps her oversee grant awards. She does many different things. She’s got a really good long history and career in higher education. She’s worked in other universities that their disability resource centers for the professional over organizations that oversee higher education, she served in leadership roles. She just has an amazing professional life in advocacy for people with disabilities. And even more so as you’ll hear in this interview, has a very deep and rich experience, as somebody who was not born in our country, came to our country, and has lived a life of many different identities that either get put onto us or that we assume. And in this podcast, she really goes deep into very important questions, that we all need to be asking ourselves each and every day such as Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Especially if somebody that has means how can I give back to others that don’t have what I have? Be I have found as one of the wisest people I’ve encountered in my life. And I’ve been privileged to know many, many wise people, and somebody that I continually learn from every time I encounter them and engage with them. I’m so excited that we were able to record one of our conversations because just about every time I am able to have the time to connect with Bea, it really goes deep into really what it’s like to be a human, to live this experience that we’re going through, you know, as an individual, but also as collectively, she really gives us some really good insights on what it means to understand who we are, our place in the world, how to overcome struggles and challenges, help for a better day illuminating where we have made progress despite you having many different issues, the importance of you know, identifying where things are going right is also important to include to get the whole lay of the land, and not just everything as being issues and problems to be solved. Without further ado, I bring you Bea, a very extraordinary person who is just somebody that I look forward to continue conversations on this podcast and enjoy meeting Bea. And here we are. Be about it has been something I’ve said on this episode and it has a different play on words right now. Because I am with Dr. Bea Awoniyi, correct me, how is pronounced? Alright, I’m going to keep practicing that and you know have asked you ahead of time and we’re going to be referring you to as Bea and that’s where my play on words has kind of come in here because in our podcast, one of the things that we’re really trying to encourage is being the best versions of ourselves not just talking about it but being about it don’t talk about a good person is be one. And so I look to you Bea as somebody that I aspire to being and see you as somebody that I would want to work towards and becoming a better version of myself and I know that out there there’s been this you know, what would somebody do in this situation just to help guide ourselves through what I might say, think or do, you’re somebody that I put into there I’m like what would Bea do? You know in this situation, and you have so much wisdom and it’s been such a wonderful for me to get to know you better, it seems like every encounter that I have with you I learned something new. But our listeners will be encountering you for the first time and some listeners have disabilities. Some listeners will not have disabilities but know and care for people with disabilities. Some people have a disability and perhaps know that they know somebody with a disability and likely will get one in their life. And so with that in mind, I want to ask you a profound and important but simple question. Who are you and how is disability impacted you?

Bea Awoniyi  04:26

Wow. Thank you, Tony. Its great to to sit down and have this conversation with you and have the opportunity to actually kind of explore who I am, who I was and who I want to be. Because I think I am who I am today but I’m not sure that I am where I want to be. So we grow each day. So when someone asked me who I am, I think there’s a B that is a professional B, there’s a Bea that is a more, you know, home Bea, there’s also the Bea that is the advocate Bea. And honestly, I operates kind of the same but differently in each of those circumstances. So when someone asked me who I am, I look at it as, okay, what exactly are they trying to figure out? So for this, for the purpose of this broadcast, I think I’m going to define myself from the professional and the advocates perspective. As a professional, I have been a Disability Services professional for several years, over three decades. And actually, probably, I think, is over four decades come to think of it. And as I was trying to prepare for this, I try to figure out where did it really begin my interests, my curiosity, my advocacy, actually started as a very young, naive school teacher in a very remote, rural area in Nigeria. I’m originally from Nigeria, in Nigerian, and of course, anyone who hears my voice will always know that this is from somewhere else. So I have that, I’m never going to lose that accent. But as a, an elementary school teacher, I realized that some students were excluded, intentionally excluded from school, and it hurts me, I was very young, again, naive, and I thought it’s good to be naive and young. And, and think you can take on the world, and you can win because that was the that was, that was what I had, I felt I can take on the world, and I was gonna win, and no stopping. So I went in, and I advocated for a young man to go to school. The parents did not think his type, that was what they told me, his type doesn’t go to school. But I asked them to please let me borrow this young man from them. And just to, and I’ll bring him back. And we can see exactly how we walk through it. Well, the guy is a college graduate today. I don’t know where he is now. But this young man, that experience actually defined who I was, and who I wanted to be. I do not want anyone left at the margin. I don’t want anyone separated from the rest of the group. And that was actually, so that’s a long answer to who I am.

Tony Delisle  07:55

Well, walk me through then where you feel like some of this, really, I get from it, you’re it’s almost like your life’s mission to include people. Where does that come from? Where does this force of really wanting to make sure that people aren’t left at the margins come from for you Bea?

Bea Awoniyi  08:15

Yeah, I think I can credit my grandfather and my uncle, for, for that. My grandfather believed that everyone needed to be at the table. And he, he always say, you, you are privileged. He helped me understood what privilege was, I didn’t know the name, I didn’t know the title. I didn’t know what it meant. But the, and he did not use that language. But today, I realized that was what it was. And he made me understand what privilege was, and that I had a responsibility to actually do something with it. And that’s it. And I don’t think he said, This is what you do, this is how you go. But it was the way he lived his life, and the expectation that he had for us. And for all of us, my, my siblings, and my and my cousins and my entire family. And the same thing with my uncle to say whatever it is that you’ve given, you are not given to waste on yourself, you are given to share. And how do you share that? So I’m always sort of looking, I know I miss some, to look at who is not at the table, who is who is on the outside of the fence? Who do we need to bring in, and I tried to sort of put myself in that perspective to see how we can bring people in. And when I sit at a table, I always try to check with myself, whose voice is not been heard here that I need to kind of bring in so it’s not about me sitting at the table, because I’m already privileged to be at this table. But how can I really bring the voice of those who might not be at this table? How can I make their voice hard? If I cannot bring them in, can I represent their voice?

Tony Delisle  10:06

So what have been some of the things that have helped to bring people to the table? And what are some of those things that have been obstacles and to bring in people to the table as you do this type of work?

Bea Awoniyi  10:17

Yeah. That’s a great question that, depending again, in different circumstances, there are times that people don’t feel people themselves, don’t feel that they are invited. And because they have not been invited, they don’t have the opportunity to actually participate and sit at a table. So if that be the case, then I need to really look at how do we invite those people to the table? Okay, that’s one. And let me use a good example about that. I am at Santa Fe College. Okay. I’m the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, and I supervise and oversee the Disabilities Resource Center here at the college. Our president came back one time because our president is always a former president, our president, he’s always looking at how do we give voices to people with disabilities? How do we empower them? That was his turn, and he came back and he said, well, we need to change the name of the Disability Resource Center. That name, I don’t like disabilities, I want abilities. They are just, they have abilities in different ways that disability tend to so I say, yes, sir. That’s great. But what would the students say? Do they want the name changed? So let’s not just take what it is that we think or what people are thinking, let’s ask them. So we did we did a focus group. And overwhelmingly is to then say, we’re not going to find it, if you give it another name. We want it to be DRC. Disabilities Resource Center, we want to own it. That is who we are. So I felt okay, it’s an identity that students actually they hold dearly, its something that they are proud of. So why should we take that from them? So that’s one way of actually bringing people to the table. Another way that if you’re bringing people to the table, I belong to the national organization, the association on higher education and disabilities. And we all know many disability professionals, we all know that many people with disabilities, many, many kids in K through 12, they are identified as having disabilities. But then many of them, especially the minority population, don’t make it to college. And why is it? We don’t know the reason why. So I started doing kind of a little research on why is it that we don’t see many of these minority Black and Brown students in colleges to actually receive services, they realize that even the tests that we use, tend to marginalize people, continue to marginalize them, the titles or the labels that we give to them. So when we say somebody is mentally retarded, okay? Even though we say with retarded, you know, we’ve retired those names, the mental retardation, but then that was the label they were given to many of many of these students, and then we write them off, they don’t have enough IQ to be able to make it in college. So those students will not make it to college. If they don’t make it, then we don’t see them. But those that we see, maybe they’ve tried to kind of walk through the system, and they’ve seen people who continue to encourage them. When they get to the college environment, they go to the disability offices, and they don’t see anyone that looked like that, because they don’t see anyone looked like them. They don’t want to be, they don’t want to have multiple identities. Okay, in the first place, you’re not supposed to be here at a college. So if I go to disability offices sense as if I’m using something as a crutch, so therefore, I’m looking at the easy way out, I don’t want to do this. So there are so many things that actually can work with people. So when I work with many of my colleagues, to really help us understand, what do we need to do within our own, the national organization so that we can bring individuals from the minority population to the table, and we educated ourselves, we got ourselves, ourselves informed. We had a language about diversity, we did not have diversity language in their head organization for so long, not because people were not thinking about it, but because they just didn’t think it was important. And then when we elevated it, we were able to kind of educate ourselves and then we become more informed. And I think we have many students now from the minority population, who go to the disability offices to actually access services. I find it fascinating that, that when polled the students wanted to have disability in it and I’ve encountered the other side of this in higher education particular Among student veterans, who at least the ones I was working with, were very averse to going to get resources at the DRC, the Disability Resource Center. From what I understand Santa Fe College has an amazing veteran friendly campus. And I wasn’t at this campus, but the one I was at was scaling up these resources and wanting to be more accessible, more, etc. And when I was talking to some of them, they just ran from the word disability. So it it’s interesting to me to hear that one group of, you know, perhaps, that I’ve heard from and then hearing you report on this, I don’t know if you could comment on that. Why, you know, some people may run from it, some people may run towards it, what what are some of the reasons you think, why that might? Yeah that’s a great question. So I think there’s something about having an identity, and then having multiple identities, multiple identities, sometimes that kind of make people feel that they are so different, and out of so the veteran population as an example, when they come back to college, many of them have gone through life experiences that many of us would never experience. So they are coming to college, they have a lot to deal with. And then you layer that and put another label on it, disability, then it’s like, okay, where do I really belong? They don’t see. And when we look at the identity of veterans, it’s about strength. It’s about courage. And then they look at disability as no, that’s not strength. So that’s the juxtaposition of those really creates a level of discomfort, for some, not all. But one thing that many disability offices do, and I’m proud to say many do right now, is the fact that they don’t wait for student veterans to actually come to their offices, they go to the offices where they feel comfortable, actually working with them. So it’s not about going to an office where you feel like, or the label, or the sign on the door really doesn’t, really it’s not inviting or, or it’s not about my identity, we go to where the identity that they actually value. So it’s the same thing when we look at so we have the Black Student Union, on many campuses, we, it’s not uncommon for many of the disability offices to have programming, with the Black Student Union, so they can do things together so that people don’t look like oh, okay, so now, that’s another label that you put on me. Student athletes, that’s another one. So then athletes, usually they consider the athletic area of the arena kind of their home, because that’s their strength. When you ask them to go to the disability office, oh, well, well, don’t tell me I’m not strong. Because I am strong. I’m, you know, I have this athletic ability. And that’s really, you know, like, wants to be an athlete told me, he says, on Saturday evenings, I’m the king on the field, because everybody come to watch me. And then you want me to go into an office and be separated in a way that I feel like I am nobody kind of is, is really kind of working through that. So many disability offices now, they partner with many of those ad agencies on campus, and do programming together so that accommodations can be provided in places where students will feel most comfortable. Because let’s face it, accommodation is not about the difference that is in the process. The accommodation is about our environment that actually doesn’t really accommodate, because if we don’t have any barriers, we don’t need anything to accommodate. Right? Okay. It’s because we have barriers on our campuses. That’s the reason why we need to really break down those barriers. So if there’s any other barrier, that is there within the college, maybe department or barriers or office barriers, we need to work very hard to break down those barriers.

Tony Delisle  19:27

So you’re scratching the edges here of what identity, multiple identities, intersectionality, right? So how do we integrate all these different identities together in a healthy way that we can navigate our social and environmental context of where we, you know, live our daily lives? So as the example you just gave a student who feels very, you know, empowered on when he’s in his element, but then in our day to day lives, we’re gonna not be in elements that you know are suited for, you know, empowering us, and we have all these different identities, we’re navigating this social environmental context that we’re navigating, the interpersonal world. I mean, it’s there’s so much happening there, I could see where that creates a lot of turmoil for people, especially if, you know, we’re not in touch with our identity. So what do you have in terms of recommendations for people, how we can navigate our identities in a healthy way that integrates the social and environmental context in the way we live our lives?

Bea Awoniyi  20:27

Wow, that’s a great question. And it’s a million dollar question. If it’s more, no more than a million dollars, but I don’t think anyone has an answer. And it’s something that people with multiple identities actually struggle with each time. So when I walk into an environment, I look at it and say, Okay, do you want me to be a woman today? Or do you want it to be a Black woman today? Or do you want me to be an international person today? So you, you look at all of those things, and it’s like, okay, where is it and when I, when I think of intersectionality, I look at, if we compare it to, when we come to an intersection in the road, we always have a sign, right, we have a sign that says, turn, you’re going to be turning, there’s a crosswalk, crosswalk, that slow down here, you know, all of those things, the terrain is dry, or its wet, or, or, you know, we have all of those things, when we are driving, we have the warnings. But the intersectionality of people have no warning at all. None. We just we get into it, and we get into it, and people who have those multiple identities who have to choose which one they want to own at that particular time. So it’s very hard for people who have multiple identities to actually deal with things. So if I am deaf, in an environment, I don’t consider myself as having a disability or having any type of challenges until I get to an environment. And by the way, there’s no interpreter, and there’s no captioning or nothing, oh, then you remind me that I am deaf, I may be a woman, I’m a black woman, I may be you know, whatever it is that I am is there. But you are just telling me at that point, you are not welcome because you are whatever. Okay, so there are certain choices that we make, or things that we do that actually help people or remind people of what it is that they don’t have. So if somebody is a wheelchair user, and you are having a function on the third floor of a building, and they get in there, and there’s no elevator to get on the third floor, everybody’s welcome. I guess I am not welcome. Because there’s no way for me to actually get there. So as individuals, when we are creating any type of things that we are creating, if we want people to come to the table, we need to think of different ways or different barriers that might be there, that may actually remind people of the reason why they may not have been invited.

Tony Delisle  23:30

There’s so much there Bea, and I’m constantly… So I started this interview out, we started this interview out with like, who are you? And to me, I think fundamentally that that is a question in play when we talk about identity, and all these different ways that we can identify ourselves. And for me, it’s a constant question every day when you’re saying every situation. And it seems like there needs to be a high degree of self-awareness that’s in play here. And so I was wondering what helps you navigate these identities to be able to have this self-awareness? Like if there was a warning sign to be provided at this intersection, what would you want that warning sign to read? So I’m kind of asking to multiple layers of questions here. Feel free to take that any way that you want. I think it’s just very interesting.

Bea Awoniyi  24:17

Yeah, absolutely. Is multi-layered. So there’s one layer of, or one aspect of it, which is how do I approach intersectionality? When I’m planning something, or I’m inviting people, then there’s another layer. How do I approach it when I am invited to something or the third thing, how do I approach it when I’m inside something and then I look around, I’m like, okay, something maybe a little missing here. And at every level of those, there are there are different awareness. For me, I, when I walk with students, I always talk with them and say, look when somebody invites you to dinner, if it’s not somebody that you always go out to dinner with, ask the question, is there a reason why you are inviting me to dinner? I’m not saying yes or no, I’m just asking, why are you inviting me to the dinner? What do you want me to bring to the dinner? How do you want me to show up at the dinner? What time do you want me to show up at a dinner? Who else is going to be at this dinner? Okay. When you invited me to sit on the CIL board, I think one of the first questions I asked you was, why? Okay, I feel very comfortable asking why because I want to be able to represent what it is that people need me to represent. And I want to be true to myself, to be able to say, I’m sorry, I cannot represent that. That way, I’m not going to disappoint whoever is inviting me. And I’ll be true to myself, because being true to oneself, is very important. But you gave me something that was empowering. I don’t know if you remember, you said, I want the whole of you. One. But then I want to learn, because there are certain aspects that I, I believe I need to grow. And I, I know you can help the board. So each time I go to the board meeting, I remember that because I took a note of that. I know, there’s a reason why I was invited. So for people, when you are inviting people, you really need to know and be true to the reason why you are inviting them, not just invite people for the sake of inviting them, because you just want to get the room full. But because there’s something you need them to contribute, because you want them to take something away from it, the value is there, when I know I’m able to contribute something. The other thing about you know, when we talk about intersectionalities. So I used to work in a state, I’m not gonna say the state. I worked in the disability services office where I was working with the school districts, okay, and helping and I do professional development for the school. But I had children in the same school. So whenever people see me come through the door, oh, Dr. Bea is here. Well, they know me. But I remember that they I went in, because I needed to be a mother. I wasn’t going there as Dr. Bea, I was going there as a mother of a student. So when I got to the front desk, I said hello. And he said, Oh, hey, Dr. Bea, how are you? I’m fine. And by the way, I am a mother today. So I want them to know the reason why I’m advocating for access. But it’s not for access because I walk into disability office because I want to work with the teachers or whatever, no, and therefore access for the Black students that were at that school that were marginalized, because that was what I heard. And I told them, I said, I’m here as a mother of Black children that are in this school. So I, it’s good for all of us to know why we are somewhere so that when I was talking with the teachers and talking with the administrators, I didn’t want them to really approach me in my role as colleagues, I wanted them to approach me in my role as a mother. I don’t want them to treat me differently. Because of the different type of relationship we had. I want to be treated as a mother, the way they will treat another mother that is coming in here. So I understood my privilege. And I wanted to put my privilege aside so that I can really be who I needed to be. Wow. So much there Bea. One of the things I want to draw back to is I do remember when we were having a conversation with you about coming onto the board and you did ask the very important question of the why. I do remember my answer too and I really was nervous in some ways of giving that answer. Because, you know, it did allude to you know, I have blind spots and the board has blind spots and you are a person that has rich experiences that can really help us out in that direction. Also didn’t want to come across as like we’re trying to check a box because that’s not what we’re trying to do. And I know some people can receive it that way, and wanted in my communications to be very clear that that wasn’t the case. And you seem very receptive and open and seem to get it that it wasn’t. And I just want to acknowledge you for just being so open-minded in that context. And I feel like, that was like, one of the first times we ever got to meet each other, but it was a pretty sentimental time for me, we were very vulnerable at the very onset of our first conversation, and that vulnerability, you know, yeah, I had some fear there had to lean in with a little courage. And, and so I would like to ask you, what do you do when, when you’re, you know, in situations, like, where there could be some times of where, you know, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. But I need to say what I got to say, how do you navigate and work through that yourself, maybe it’s not an issue or that is difficult for you. But I know for myself, and through my privilege, and through my race, I know, there’s others that have this, you know, man, I want to say the right thing. I want to say what’s authentic. I don’t want to offend. But I also need to say these kinds of things. And there’s this a little bit of a fear and courage needed. So can you help me and others that might sometimes rub up against this fear barrier when it necessitates authenticity, and to be able to do it? One thing I want to say is, Tony, I saw the honesty and the authenticity in you, when you and I talked. So I want to acknowledge that and, and I did not feel anything about checking the box. I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt that way. And I don’t stay there long. Because I wouldn’t want to be somebody’s puppet. And what I mean by that is that I’m probably gonna rub the people wrong. Because it will be very quick to kick me out. You, you were very honest. And you were authentic, because you said, I have blind spots. To me, I think that’s the most vulnerable way that people can say it. And when you say, well, the nervousness. I do, I feel nervous at times. I mean, when I meet with students, I don’t know the type of questions to ask. But I want to ask, but then, as soon as we begin to talk, it’s easy for people to see through the facade that that is there so they get to it, and people will just open up just like that. So you went, you went through it, and you made yourself vulnerable. You said, Look, this is what I like, this is what I don’t know. And, and we want to learn. So I I look at that as Okay, what an honorable thing to do for somebody to say, Okay, I want to learn. And it has been that way the relationship has been that way. The relationship has been, well, I want to learn, what else can I learn? I don’t want to say… and I remember we had a conversation along the way. And you say something about, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. You know, when you wanted to talk with people? And I said, No, because people can see if you say something, even if it comes out to wrong, the way people can read because you have that relationship with them. They know it may come out wrong. But that’s really not what you mean. So yeah, so I think authenticity is really the whole thing. And honesty is very important, we need to be honest with ourselves to say is, am I ready for this, that’s another thing. Sometimes we want something, but we are really not ready. And that’s where the caution really is, to really caution ourselves. And then there are times that I want to talk with people, but you know, I kind of feel it. And I’m like, this may not be the right time because I don’t have that type of relationship. And I’m not sure I want to be vulnerable. That’s another thing. I’m not sure I want to be vulnerable at this point. If I’m not sure I want to be vulnerable, then that’s caution for me. I really need to take myself out to go learn more. And be sure that I am ready to be vulnerable for somebody to say you know what, you are wrong. Yeah. If they say I’m wrong, am I ready to take it? Am I ready to accept it? If I’m not then maybe it’s not the right time for me to go into that type of conversation.

Tony Delisle  33:08

Well, I think that leads into a good one then have a question I’ve asked you I think before off any kind of recording but want to do when on the recording. If you feel like you would want to feel this kind of a question. There might be some vulnerability there. But one of the things that I care about this question from a personal level to get your take on it, because I respect you in so many ways and see you as very wise and and somebody that I care about. And in that context of the world we’re currently living in. We just, you know, Bea I think you came onto the board if I’m not wrong, like a little over a year ago, correct? Okay. So since that time, we quickly entered into COVID. social unrest this year, that’s been a year, right. And there’s so much going on in terms of that thread of disability through COVID, the social justice that’s been going on regarding the racial equity and everything else out there. Before I even get to what do you think about it? What should we do? or anything else like that? I’m interested to know, how are you doing through all this as a check in with Bea? Personally, this is of so many factors and forces interacting with you right now through the times that we’re living in. How are you doing? Thank you for asking that. You’ve asked that question before, by the way, this is not the first time you’re asking that. I just yeah. And I just think it’s always important to check. If you feel comfortable, I feel what you may have to share could be helpful for other people that are living in these times?

Bea Awoniyi  36:15

Absolutely. Yeah, thank you for asking that question. Um, there are days I have my days like anyone else. When I think of the times we are living in, in my role as the ombuds. Here at the college, I have many students that are struggling with online courses, that it tears me apart, when I know students are trying so hard to actually do the best they can in school, but they’re still not making it. That’s tough. I have students, I work with many students who are on the autism spectrum. And we often say socially, they tend to struggle with social interactions. And the first student that came to me to tell me about the struggle with this online format was a student on the spectrum. He says, I want to go to class, I miss my friends, I cannot come to the school. So there’s a routine of leaving home and coming on campus and getting dropped on campus, and go from class to class to class to class, and interact with people. That is so messed up, that this student is struggling, there’s nothing to hold on to. And so I asked the question, Tell me, did you say you don’t like to really interact with people? So what is it that you are missing people? And he said, I do like to interact with people. I just want to be in my space with people. And that was something that I did not get. He wants to interact with people. But in his own way, sitting at home and going online, and looking on the phone is nothing. I mean, it’s even, even meeting with him was so challenging. On the phone that he says, Dr. Bea, can I just come on campus, so we can just talk, you can stay on one side of the walkway. And I’ll stay on the other side of the walkway. And we can just walk around and we did, we walked on campus and we wore our masks and you know, we can, so that interaction meant a lot to him. So I’m struggling in that. I’m also struggling with people who have mental health disorders, this situation has actually exacerbated it. Okay. I have a student that says, I know I have a problem. But it was never a problem until I cannot get out of my, my apartment. And the students isn’t even able to do the homework. Okay. Do you want to see a counselor? Yes, but I don’t want to do counseling online. I want to meet with people so they are not able to finish the semester because of that. And as a nation, we see that people are having mental health breakdowns. And what do we do with the place that shot them and they are dead? We’ve lost lives because of this. Because we are given commands and people are struggling because they are home by themselves or they are home with family members and the families are not able to actually deal with many of the instances or the situations that they are dealing with. So they are dead, not because they’ve done anything wrong. But because they are struggling with mental health disorders. I’m dealing with that. I’m also dealing with as a Black, a mother of a Black man, and a wife of Black men, do I know if my husband is gonna come back when he goes out? Do I know what is gonna happen to my son, when he goes out, do so that’s that’s also something people have watched the video of the place kneeling on somebody’s neck that he couldn’t breathe. As a mother, I cannot watch that video at all, I can just close my eyes, its difficult. So watching the news sometimes can even take, you know, it takes a toll. And as an international person, we see the news and many people are getting vaccinated. I read about India, and how people are dying because less than 1% of the population there is vaccine fully vaccinated. So I mean, it’s difficult to see. So again, when we talk about multiple identities, you know, the intersectionality, it depends on the day. I cannot take one off and put on another one. I can’t. I have to leave all of those things together at once, but I’m doing okay. There’s hope.

Tony Delisle  41:27

Thank you for sharing Bea, and being vulnerable to technology and where the struggles are in and I really, I hear you in the struggle being trying to reach people who are struggling themselves is one of your struggles. And that is very hard, you know, as someone that you know, give service and all these other things and then seeing in you know how right now the racial tensions that are going on the inequities, the violence, being married to a husband, son, internationally, I mean there’s so much there that is so heavy. How do you process this in a way to maintain your health? You’re still showing up every day, it seems to me that you’re still becoming a better person, like you’re still going on despite the struggles? Or maybe you’re becoming better because of these struggles? I don’t know. But how do you work through these struggles in a way that helps to maintain your health or to allow you to become a better person?

Bea Awoniyi  42:31

Thank you for that question. I am not becoming a better person because of the struggles. I’m becoming a better person in spite of the struggles. And I think is more of the hope that I have, that things can and will get better. And again, going back to what I said earlier about the privilege that my grandfather said you are privileged, and what are you going to do about it. So it’s using the privilege that I have, I am privileged to have a job that I can come to. I’m privileged to be able to speak with people. I’m privileged to be able to access resources for students. I’m privileged to be able to talk with people in different areas and in the community and, and on campus who I can advocate for the needs of the students. I’m privileged because I have the health that I can get up. I’m privileged because I have a car that I can go. So there are so many privilege that I have that I have to look at it and say what am I gonna do with my privilege today? And then I go, and I look at who can I do? So honestly, being an advocate is probably one of the best things in my life. I have a purpose. I used to say, if any of my colleagues will hear this. I know they know they’ve heard it so many times. When people ask me questions when I was doing Disability Services 100% of the time, I usually will say I don’t do anything else. I do disabilities. I’m like Kentucky Fried Chicken. I do disabilities and I do it right. That’s all I do. I don’t do anything else. I don’t, I don’t go in different directions. So, so when I look at it, I look at the, the, what I’m faced today, and what can I do with it with the privilege that I have. So that’s that’s the only way I can move on. So it’s in spite of what is going on.

Tony Delisle  44:39

You mentioned a couple of things in there that really want to point to is that you’ve been very articulate and describing what privilege is and how having it seems to draw you towards being there for other people that don’t have it is something that has been instilled from you from your grandfather also heard in their purpose, being In in it for a reason that’s just bigger than be as big as you are. And so that calling to do something for a purpose that’s greater than our own, plus having the privilege or resources or background or experiences or connections or seat at the table, etc to do that seems to be part of the formula here. If I’m not just kind of mirroring back what you said there.

Bea Awoniyi  45:23

You’re right, I didn’t think about it that way. But you’re right. That’s really what it is. That is the formula. What is the purpose, I define my day, by the purpose for which, you know, I’m called to do and if I’m driving on the road, and I see something that I have to, I feel called, but I have to really respond in that way. And I make a choice to respond positively than negatively because we all face circumstances, on different days. And I choose to be a victor in situations rather than being a victim in situations. So I look at things to say, Okay, I have a purpose, and what is the purpose for victor in this situation?

Tony Delisle  46:15

All right. Now I got privilege purpose, and then perspective, it sounds like perspective. So what is in my control, and what is not in my control, I find to be a huge thing to be able to categorize with different kinds of things, and then choosing the positive or the negative, how we define things, how we assign meaning to things, and what that might be. So all right, I think we got a formula that we’re baking here on how to help us through these struggles. So that’s what I want to map in into my own life when I again said that, you know, people that are wise, learn from other people, and I’m trying to learn from you. So when I, when I think about my struggles, you know, I want to look at those, the assets that I have in my life that I can leverage to a purpose that’s bigger than just a single old me, but also be able to have perspective in those kinds of things and understanding what is in my control what is not in my control. And being very stewardess about where that begins and ends and the choices that I make from there. That’s huge. So you mentioned hope, in your your last response there and hope. And I think, for me, it’s important to also shine light in areas where that A, gives us hope, but also progress. So we we can see a lot of the videos that are out there right now, we can see where a lot of the issues and problems are that COVID has really illuminated in the inequities across systems in the healthcare system. And we see really, I think, you know, very clear hopefully now to more and more people were a lot of the problems and issues and everything else lie. At the same time. I hope there’s an and, and we’ve made progress in other areas as well. Do you see areas that we’ve made progress in? And if so, what are those areas?

Bea Awoniyi  48:17

We’ve made lots of progress, and we’ve made progress in so many areas? I think there’s a lot of we’ve shed light into what many people from the minority population face. I don’t think there has been a time that many people understand exactly what Black men actually what the danger that they face. I don’t think there has been a time that this country has really seen things to really look at the disparities, the healthcare disparities, the the economic disparities, the, you know, all of those things we have, there are so many things that we’ve learned in this. And there’s hope because we are trying to make amends, We try to we try to solve some of those issues and different ways. Many states are now passing the different kinds of laws and how the police actually interact with people. Yes, that we might be thinking about it only from the Black people or the Black men, but it will affect everyone else. Okay, when we really look at it, we see the disparity that happens with people who are incarcerated and how they are not getting vaccinated and how people are getting vaccinated and how people who are incarcerated are saying we don’t want to get vaccinated. Okay, so there are so many things that are happening. We see the lack of trust that has really existed in this country with a minority population. We have all of these vaccines that black people are saying no, I don’t want to get vaccinated. I don’t trust the system. I know exactly what they’ve done. So we’ve learned to really go back in history and say, Look, yes, we made that error. But this is really what we need to do. And then we change how we educate people. And we change how we actually engage people who can help educate people, we learn how we can actually empower people within the community, to help us to actually reach the unreached people that we haven’t really thought of reaching before, we’ve learned how, even though we have a lot of money that we give to students, that those money really isn’t within the needs of many of the students, and we live students on the fringes, we’ve learned, there are so many things that we in this. And also, we also learned that we are not alone. And that’s really something. I know the story in the Bible that a prophet says, Well, God, I am alone. There’s no one else. I am the only one here and God is like no, you I’m not the only one. I have other people there. But I know that you are not the only one. So there are times that we feel so alone. So we’ve learned because of what is going on right now that we are not alone, that there are other people who are also struggling. And because of that it gives us hope that we have people that we are actually bringing together.

Tony Delisle  51:30

So when we talk about bringing people together along the lines of hope, one of the things that’s in play right now is the hope that we can achieve a level of like, say herd immunity from the Coronavirus. And we’re at a point now where it seems like many people, not all, who want the vaccinate, you know, vaccine have gotten vaccinated. But it seems as though we’re at least as a center being charged to think about well, how can we get those that are either on the fence about getting vaccinated or those who don’t want to get vaccinated? How can we help to encourage people to get vaccinated? So one of the questions I have for you is how do we encourage those who don’t want to get vaccinated at a very young to me sounds like very reasonable reasons, particularly people who aren’t white, such as, obviously, the Tuskegee study, experiences that people have had within their own life regarding exclusion of quality of access to good health care. And in some of the practices and life experiences that they have that they point to, to say, like, Look, why should I trust the healthcare system? Why should I trust the science behind this? Why should I, you know, trust these other kinds of things to get a vaccine in, etc. So, so being somebody, you know, that might have some more insights than I do. And now I’m somebody that has to really try and promote this to a population that doesn’t look like me, I don’t share the same background and experiences with how would I say, or what have you had to say, you know, to this?

Bea Awoniyi  51:36

Well, there are so many reasons why people don’t want to get vaccinated. And I think if there’s anything we’ve learned from this, is that we need to reach those people, by using or working with people who are like them, in the same neighborhood. We cannot rely on just the people in authority or people who have the power, because power has failed us. People who don’t want to get vaccinated is because they don’t trust power has failed them before. So they don’t want to trust the power anymore. So how can we use the people. I mean, I think I heard about people going into the churches to actually use because that’s where people tend to trust people, that people go to family members that they can actually work with, people go to their colleagues that they work with, that they have relationships with, that can really help them is very hard, very hard to actually get people to trust people that they don’t have any relationship with. But people that they have relationships with, we need to, we need to look at the places that we don’t even think about. You may be thinking about maybe a child, a child that has if you have a child that has a friend of another child and they would be so close, and you’d get vaccinated for that child to come you go you visit them and you say okay, have you gotten vaccinated, you know, this is really what it is. I mean, it’s gonna help us is the benefit people need to understand the benefits of the vaccination is not just for you, it’s not just for me, it’s for all of us together. It’s something that we work with, together. When, when we haven’t really held somebody hand before to say let’s walk together. And now we say let’s play together. I can’t play with you have worked with you. So we need to really reach people who have those types of relationships with them. And we just have to look at things that are not in the same type of it’s not the same… it’s not in the usual ways that we actually do things.

Tony Delisle  55:04

Yeah, I it resonates with me and getting people who are connected with the people we’re trying to reach to look like them walk the, and live similar lives have similar experiences is huge. And telling those stories is a big time thing. So Bea if you had to, you know, give you a perspective on perhaps where we are today. And you’ve mentioned advocacy a lot, in terms of advocacy, and what needs to be done with disability. So where would you say we are today with advocacy, and what we need to be working towards for tomorrow, with advocacy?

Bea Awoniyi  55:42

Yes. We have a long way to go when it gets to advocacy. And I think it’s because of the lack of education. We still have this mentality, even though we said we’ve moved away from medical model to social justice model, many of the processes still rely on the medical model. When we don’t trust people who experience disability to help us understand the challenges that they face, we are still in trouble. Let me use a very simple example. When CDC was working about how do we do these things, they got together and they say, Okay, what we need to do is mask, everybody wore masks, people who are deaf, you just made them become more deaf. Now they can read your lips. So they don’t know who, what you’re saying. So many people just go they smile at you because they can’t read your lips. They don’t know what… so people who have gone without using an interpreter over a period of time, you go to Publix, you just go and you shop, they can read the lips of, you know, the the cashier, but no longer you can no longer so they just go they buy their things they go and people look at them as Oh, that’s so rude. And if you say something to them, they can’t hear you. Because we’ve passed, you know, a process of procedure that actually puts them at a disadvantage. So that’s that’s one of the things, why don’t we bring different people together? When we want to advocate, we need to really look at who is not sitting at the table. Who is missing at the table? That is how we can get there, I think.

Tony Delisle  57:34

So if you had to design a better world and wave a magic wand, what would that world look like?

Bea Awoniyi  57:44

The world to me will look like I educate people with different needs and different, that represent different areas, I educate them to a level where they can get to a position where they can make decisions. That way when they see if a deaf person was at the CDC, that person would have really tell them Oh, no, this isn’t gonna work. Right? Because you’re putting me at a disadvantage. Then they can look at, oh, maybe we need to look at so everybody will be wearing a mask that actually is open right now. Right? Okay. So. So if I can design that’s really what it will be. And, and I know we can never have a perfect. I’m not…

Tony Delisle  58:29

No, yeah, this is a very utopian question.

Bea Awoniyi  58:31

Exactly. Just saying, Let’s educate people, and there are times that will feel Oh, that person doesn’t want to get educated, we need to understand why is it that they are not participating? If we understand the reason why somebody isn’t participating, then maybe we reach them in a different way. Or we are saying we want to educate people. Education is not only within the four walls of a classroom, I remember my friend telling me that the grandmother told him that he was he was smart that he wasn’t intelligent. Okay? All right, he’s smart, because he can pass all of the things that he’s not intelligent, because he doesn’t know how to apply the knowledge that he has. So we need to be smart and intelligence at the same time. And we need to really look at people who can actually bring all of those things together. And when we come together, and we make rules or policies or procedures, let’s kind of bring different people around to say, what do you think? Ask people what they think about this so they can give us some type of feedback.

Tony Delisle  59:37

So as smart, intelligent world that invites everyone to the table.

Bea Awoniyi  59:41

Yes. I like the way you kind of capture all of these things.

Tony Delisle  59:45

I have to weave a thread sometimes like because there’s so much there I like I really want to connect on the points that you’re making. And for me, it’s like when I hear you say smart as you define smart and intelligence they’re combining those two, I think leads to wisdom. And I see you as a very, very wise person Bea. And one of the questions that we ask all our guests just to get their take on is, you know, what is the independent life mean to you, you know, this concept of independence, you’ve now you know, sitting on the board for centers for independence you, my gosh, the life that you have, and what independence may mean to you, and all the different roles and identities and experiences that you’ve had. I’m very interested to know from such a wise person, how do you define or see or describe what is the independent life?

Bea Awoniyi  1:00:35

To me, independent life is the life that someone has chosen to be what they want, or what they, yeah, so I usually when I, when I did disability awareness, I always say, when you see somebody in a walker, or wheelchair, or somebody who is blind, and they are walking, don’t open the door for them, if they don’t want you to open the door from them. Let them ask you, you know, or if you feel the need to, you know, if they don’t ask you don’t be rude to just go and slam the door in their face, you can stand back and say, Would you like me to? And then they can say, Oh, no, thank you. I got it. Or they can say Yes, please. So I think respect. Yes, respecting people’s choices is independence.

Tony Delisle  1:01:38

That’s beautiful. It’s sometimes as we work here, you know, at Centers for Independent Living and serving people with disabilities and allowing them to have choices. And you know, we want people to have their own choice, and etc. And then when we see people make choices that don’t necessarily serve them, we still respect the ability to have the freedom to make choices that might be ended up being a mistake, but they hopefully can learn. But you know, there’s still respect in that sense that I think it’s really important for us, as senators, and I’ve heard this many times is that the independence to make real bad decisions, is still within our control. And to deprive people of that is to deprive people of learning, and experiencing life and all those wonderful things. So be it this is so wonderful to connect with you. And I can see this being one of many times that I would like to bring you back and have conversations or scratching the surface here. Like as much as we might have covered and got into here, I still feel like it’s there’s so much to you and what you have to offer and what you have to share. And it’s just what an honor, it is to have this space to be able to talk to you in and of itself is just an honor to me, to be able to be a point of privilege to be able to have a platform to share this with other people so that they can listen. And the fact that you had decided to sit on our board, and contribute to our center to the people that we serve, for your work in higher education. I see this being phenomenally important for people with disabilities and as their walk through life and to be somebody that’s there. Just want to acknowledge you just for all the wonderful things that you do, have done and we have yet to do.

Bea Awoniyi  1:03:21

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And thank you again for inviting me to sit on the Center for Independent Living board and it’s been a great learning opportunity for me and, yeah.

Tony Delisle  1:03:34

Well you’re great. I love learning with you. And then Till next time, we’re gonna sign off, onward and upward. Bea you’re fantastic, thank you so much for all that you offer the world.

Bea Awoniyi  1:03:46

Thank you.

Amy Feutz  1:03:48

Thank you. Thanks for listening to the independent life podcast brought to you by the Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida. If you like what you hear, please rate review and subscribe. And if you know anyone who might benefit from listening, share this podcast and invite them to subscribe to for questions, suggestions, or if you have a story you’d like to share, please email us at or call us at 352-378-7474. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, support, advocate and empower each other to live the independent life.