An impeccably styled 1950s-esque pompadour with an edgy 21st century twist sits atop his head. Two-tone wayfarer glasses focus intently on the computer screen before him. He agreed to meet during his office hours because free time is not a luxury of his. He sits behind a neatly organized desk in a plaid button up, complimented by a skinny black tie and inviting smile.
Nothing on his extensive resume alluded to him being a fashionista.
Corey Wiggins is a 22-year-old Colorado Springs native studying political science and secondary education at CU-Boulder. Between papers and exams, Wiggins has served on student government, dedicated his time to various campus groups, spread diversity awareness, lobbied for education reform, spent too much money on clothes and somehow found time to maintain a multi-faceted social life.
As an overly involved and openly gay individual, Wiggins devotes his time to making a difference by advocating equality and respect of difference.
He uses his frequent experiences dealing with identity-based discrimination to fuel his dreams. Wiggins explained his greatest aspirations with optimism and undying passion.
His goal is to reform the institution that provided him with the means to succeed, the education system.
“I’ve always been really motivated,” Wiggins said. “Even when I was in high school I was doing way too much stuff. As I’ve gotten older I have refocused my energies on things that I think are more important, less about myself and more about helping other people.”
Growing up in Colorado Springs, which he refers to as a “different and very closed-minded world” inspired him not only to get out, but also to spread awareness about issues he deems important.
During his four years at CU-Boulder, Wiggins has devoted his time to countless activities but acknowledges the most rewarding as working on student government, striving to end discrimination with the LGBTQI resource center and raising diversity awareness on campus with the multicultural affairs office.
Megan Roper, 22, ran with Wiggins on the Propel ticket for CUSG in the spring of 2011. Wiggins and Roper met at a statewide student council camp in high school and reunited when they both came to CU freshman year.
Roper admits she would not have joined the Propel team if Corey had not asked her. She appreciates how welcoming, straightforward and helpful he was in integrating her onto the team.
“He is so inspiring and motivated,” Roper said. “He really made us believe we were running for the right reasons and that we could actually make a difference, which was exciting.”
The Propel campaign, led by Wiggins, focused on diversity, equality and working with the university to change the way it handles situations from blaming victims to moving toward more proactive measures to make the community safe for everyone.
After losing the election, Wiggins reported a verbal attack aimed personally at him and other Propel members. The phrase ‘we hate gays’ was yelled directly at them multiple times by members of the winning ticket, INVEST.
“I was shocked someone who was running to represent our entire student body was foolish enough to publicly make such hurtful comments,” Wiggins said. “But the fact of the matter is it happens everyday.”
Wiggins said that this incident, though not an uncommon one for him to encounter, was difficult to deal with because attack based on identity makes one feel helpless.
The issue he found most upsetting was that the accused denied any involvement.
In an interview with the Daily Camera, Brooks Kanski, the 2011 elected CUSG vice president commented on the situation, “We feel the falsified allegations against Dave Gillis are out of line, inappropriate and unprofessional,” Kanski said in a statement. “The student body chose their representative leaders last week in the election, and Invest will continue to represent this campus inclusively.”
The Propel team stood behind Wiggins as the university and IFC dismissed the issue. Wiggins remembers feeling humiliated as people accused him of fabricating the story because he was dissatisfied with the election results.
“It upset me that this issue was never properly addressed or solved,” said Roper. “I knew it hurt Corey but he stood strong to show they could not break him down.”
Wiggins acknowledges that common experiences with discrimination affect every aspect of the work he does. He hopes that one day our society will be one that accepts and respects differences.
“I think that one of the largest reasons why I want to go into education is because it starts there,” Wiggins said. “I would love to create a school environment where we actively work to stop the victimization for all.”
Although they lost the election, Roper describes her experience working with Corey as none other than amazing because everyone on the ticket knew how genuinely he wanted to change the way student government was run at CU.
“Corey taught me how messed up things were in this school and the system in general” Roper said. “He is so real and cares so passionately about getting the right people in office and making a change.”
Wiggins uses his positive and confident outlook to overcome negative experiences and applies what he learns to other issues.
He has spent his college career working extensively with the US Student Association protesting the inequitable higher education system.
Two years ago he went to Washington D.C. to lobby for a student aid reform bill, which ended up passing. Not only was the victory rewarded by a meeting with Nancy Pelosi but also, the bill that passed increased the Pell grant, which helped 50 percent of students at CU alone.
“It was really rewarding to see the work that you are doing make a difference,” Wiggins said. “When you are doing activist work or fighting for justice its so many, you lose so much so when you get the big win its so cool.”
With this win in his pocket, Wiggins has large aspirations for the future.
Securing a student teaching job in the fall, he hopes to move to New York City in Dec. 2012 to pursue a career in teaching, eventually working his way up to reforming the education system in our country to make it more equitable for everyone in terms of access and respect.
“I am so lucky to have gone to college and have all the privileges that I have,” Wiggins said. “For me not to do something about it and help other people seems worthless.”
This optimistic attitude will be necessary as he begins to face an institution in need of serious revamping. Hearing year after year how the education system is getting worse inspires him to make it better for people because without equal access to higher education, people do not get the same chance at success.
He continues to work as an activist for the LGBTQI community and plans to combine his passion for education and experience with discrimination to influence his career.
“I know too many students who have either tried to hurt themselves or had to leave CU because of the lack of emphasis on these issues,” Wiggins said. “ I think we need people out in the field who will not let those students be lost in the crowd.”