Sociology professor runs for Ames School Board position

Danielle Gehr

At a young age, Monic Behnken said it was clearly communicated to her that the world was not for her. 

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Behnken grew up in poverty. Behnken said Houston has a very racialized structure, discouraging her from seeking higher education after graduating from high school. 

“So, I actually went straight to work out of high school and I work as a, I think the word we use now is an administrative professional. I was a secretary,” Behnken said. “ So I decided at one point to go back to college because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in the job that I had.” 

Behnken made a conscious decision to not let other people tell her no. 

When it came time for graduate school, she ignored the advice of a professor who told her she would never be accepted into graduate school and that she should just get a job.

She was accepted to one of the seven schools she applied to and now is a licensed attorney and holds a doctorate in clinical psychology.  

“I knew that because I was a woman, because I was African American, because of the way people perceived me people would always tell me ‘No. No, you can’t have this opportunity,’” Behnken said. “So, I just decided to ignore those voices and go for what I wanted.”

Now, Behnken is an Iowa State assistant professor in the sociology department and has been campaigning since January to be a member of the Ames School Board. 

A mother of two Ames public school students, Behnken’s reasons for entering the race reflect the three words on her campaign signs – diversity, dialogue, data. 

One of the main reasons she gives is a disrespect for the law, the role of government in people’s lives and a disrespect for people’s humanity that she saw in the last national election. 

Behnken describes her love of politics as in “the way most people love football.” 

She said, as a connoisseur of politics, she was horrified with what transpired, not necessarily by the outcome, but what she saw in the process. She said voices of communities of color were being dismissed and mocked and this is not how government should work.                                             

“Throughout the process I kept waiting for someone to get in the race who would echo my sentiments and kind of have a vision about the role that I needed to see, and I realized on Nov. 9 that that person was never going to show up,” Behnken said. 

Since her campaign’s launch party in January, Behnken has, in her words, “made about 3,000 new friends.” 

She chose to engage in events that allow her to have true dialogue with the community and focused on meeting new people, since if elected she wants to champion diverse perspectives since she describes herself as someone who’s had a lot of lives. 

Behnken hopes to fix a gap she sees between the school board and the community it serves. She said the community is frustrated because it feels unheard.

If elected to the school board, Behnken will be balancing this new position on top of her position at ISU. The school board is completely volunteer based and unpaid.

“As a woman who is engaged in society as in someone who works full time,” Behnken said. “I’ve always been someone who juggles many obligations, as many working parents do, and I have been able to attend school board meetings and school board functions and handle the myriad of responsibilities I have because that’s what most people in today’s society are required to do.”

Early voting already has begun, and the official election is Tuesday. Behnken, a member of the Presidential Search Committee, will be spending election night helping choose the semi-finalists for Iowa State’s next president.