James Luyirika-Sewagudde Jr. looks at each student’s individual needs
When people stop by the International Student Advising office of James Luyirika-Sewagudde Jr., they can’t help but notice the collectibles on the shelves and walls.
Take, for instance, a ceramic tile on the window—it holds a cartoon of a man lying back comfortably (much like Luyirika-Sewagudde in his office chair) and reads “El trabajo es sagrado no lo toques.” Luyirika-Sewagudde won’t just tell you what it means; he will ask you to figure it out, and when you do, he will shake your hand.
Then there’s the photo of a thin black man sitting against a cube-shaped, poorly built structure, almost colorless, under a piercing sun that dried up the nothingness around it.
“That’s the result of apartheid,” Luyirika-Sewagudde said.
It may be a relic of an era that’s past, but it serves as a keen reminder of why Luyirika-Sewagudde strives to foster diversity.
While he was growing up in Uganda, apartheid divided South Africa. As he grew, so did his awareness of inequality between black people and white people.
“I went to South Africa quite confident about my knowledge, but I found that I didn’t know anything at all,” Luyirika-Sewagudde said. “It’s like when you read about the Golden Gate Bridge, but it’s not until you walk across the bridge that you see how long it is.”
In the 1960s, Luyirika-Sewagudde left Uganda for Minnesota, where he studied psychology and biology. During the ‘70s, he moved to Chico to earn his master’s degree in education and psychology. When the International Student Advising position opened up, he took it.
Freshman Diyana Zainal, a Malaysian student, has visited Luyirika-Sewagudde a couple of times. Her parents, alumni of Chico State, were Luyirika-Sewagudde’s international advisees almost 30 years ago.
“He is very warm-hearted, joyful, young-at-heart definitely,” Zainal said. “He’s exactly the same now as when I met him 10 years ago.”
During his seven years in Chico, international student Nabil Gacimi, from Morocco, has visited Luyirika-Sewagudde several times as well. Sometimes it’s just to talk about each others’ families, and other times it’s to discuss more serious matters.
“He always has a story to say,” Gacimi said, “and somehow you can relate to that story and it makes you feel better about yourself.”
Luyirika-Sewagudde eagerly accepts invitations to speak at local schools, even if students do sometimes ask him tough questions. One at an elementary school once asked him if that color on his skin comes off. He replied by extending one of his hands, rubbing it with the other and asking the child to come up to him and to try to rub it off.
“It doesn’t offend me, and it doesn’t bother me,” Luyirika-Sewagudde said. “It served its purpose.”
The map on the wall by the office door has tiny red and blue flags pinned across the globe to represent all the different countries from which Chico State students have come. That same map suggests that Luyirika-Sewagudde is not finished building ties to that world overseas.
“I haven’t grown up yet,” he said. “I’m still working on that.”