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Democracy in Action (but After Class)

Ramya Kumar, female collegiate representative on the Democratic State Committee, with John Walsh, the committee chairman.

Ramya Kumar (CAS’10) has always had a lot on her plate. Last year, the freshman premedical track biology and political science major became vice president of the Towers Residence Hall Association. She was involved with Voices of Choice for Planned Parenthood, the Women’s Club, and the Hindu Student Council. As one of the University’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholars, she volunteers 100 hours at the Howard Thurman Center each year.

Now Kumar has a new and sizable item on her plate: she was elected the female collegiate representative to the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee last March, and her first major meeting is tonight.

Katherine Kennedy, the director of the Howard Thurman Center, describes Kumar’s balancing of clubs, schoolwork, and a state election campaign as an amazing feat. “I admire the fact that she was able to be heavily involved in state politics and keep up her good grades,” Kennedy says. “And she was still an active voice and presence on campus.”

“I’ve always been doing heavy political activities on the side,” Kumar says. She became involved in politics in her early teenage years, when she became aware of social issues in her hometown of Lowell, Mass. She saw the growing lines at unemployment agencies and she questioned health-care programs. She witnessed her struggling single mother “fall between the cracks,” she says, and she watched as some of her friends turned to drugs and gangs. “Each one of my questions spurred another question more complicated than the first,” says Kumar. “At some point, I aligned myself with the Democratic Party.”

At 15, Kumar volunteered for the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign, and she later worked for Christopher Gabrieli when he made a gubernatorial bid. As president of Lowell High School’s Social Justice Club, she helped to raise $4,000 for tsunami relief. Part of the money was used to fund a school for children orphaned by the tsunami. But raising money wasn’t all Kumar did: she traveled to Chennai, India, and helped build a shark storage facility and motorized fiberglass boats to increase fishing productivity. 

But it is the Democratic State Committee post that Kumar proudly broadcasts at the top of her résumé. The at-large seat for female collegiate representative, which is voted on by current committee members, opened up last October, and by November Kumar’s special-election campaign was in full swing. When two opposing candidates dropped out, Kumar officially won the uncontested seat. After her two-year term ends, she can run again in a general election for a four-year term.

As a committee member, Kumar hopes to sign up for two subcommittees — youth and affirmative action.

“One of my main focuses is to get help with federal grants and loans to help any student get into college,” she says. “I’m blessed to be at BU only because I’m an MLK Scholar.” The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholarship is a four-year, full-tuition scholarship given to students of academic excellence who embrace the ideals of King (GRS’55, Hon.’59) — among them commitment to social justice and community involvement. 

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.