Our Campus: 2020–22 GSS President Kimani Karangu on pandemic presidency and political pursuits

As Kimani Karangu connected to the audio, I could hear the ending of another meeting. He appeared on the screen with Mt. Kilimanjaro as his Zoom background, a Kenyan flag bracelet on his wrist and a huge smile on his face, even after a long day. Karangu was president of the Graduate Student Society (GSS) from 2020 to 2022, President of the Kenyan Community in BC organization and a volunteer co-host of the African Vibes show on CiTR.

“And don’t forget the PhD,” said the former president, laughing. 

Karangu finished his PhD in curriculum studies this spring. In May, he put a bid in for the gubernational race in Nyandarua County, Kenya although he withdrew his bid in late June.

Karangu juggled multiple positions this past year. He said he did so by remembering the importance of “focus and discipline” — a phrase he has repeated to himself many times. They’re simple but affirming words that help him keep moving forward both in the good and bad times.

While juggling so many positions may seem challenging or perhaps not even the best idea, Karangu said that he took on being president because “there was a need for me to be in that kind of position. To be able to move the agenda forward. And especially to be honest, [in regard to the] issue of racism and oppression on campus.”

Karangu said he ran his GSS presidential campaign on a platform focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and increased health coverage — especially mental health coverage — for students. During his time in office, the GSS along with the AMS managed to increase mental health coverage. 

“We have increased that to $1,500 [from $1,000] and we are still having discussions on how we are going to make it better.”

However, Karangu’s main focus was EDI. He is very proud of initializing the GSS’s internal EDI audit this past February.

“We have forgotten about the issue of race for a long time … and in the last year, I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” he said about the GSS.

Karangu believes understanding where people come from helps, in his words, “be together with other people.” This, he believes, helps create a strong sense of community — needed in stressful times. 

According to Karangu, the GSS has grown from 700 members in 1961 to 10,000 people in 2022. But he says the GSS is still a tight-knit community that he enjoys seeing thrive together. 

As a pandemic president, he faced his fair share of challenges. According to Karangu, three VPs stepped down in one year during the pandemic, but The Ubyssey was unable to confirm this. That was on top of the other challenges the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine created.

The hardships of these past years affected his personal goals too. He was planning to finish his PhD in three years but it was pushed to five. There were times when he was challenged to change abruptly, especially when his four-year fellowship, funded by UBC, could not cover his fifth unexpected year.

“Getting stressed is fine. The problem is staying within that stress because you are not making any progress.”

This is not the end of Karangu’s political career; he has aspirations of much higher office. He hopes one day to run a country. “That’s my dream,” said Karangu.