Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor: Students Raising Their Voices and Leading the Way

On the cover of this issue of Diversity & Democracy, Amherst College student Surya Adams speaks passionately to the students, faculty, staff, and administrators who gathered in the college’s library in November 2015 during a sit-in that came to be known as the Amherst Uprising. As a black premedical student majoring in French and philosophy, as well as a student athlete, Surya spoke about how students of color did not feel welcome in certain places on campus—including in classrooms, at office hours, and in social spaces. She joined many other students who for hours shared stories of their lived experiences of discrimination and marginalization on campus.

These students bravely raised their voices, and faculty, staff, and administrators listened and committed to partnering with students for change. The Amherst Uprising led to many ongoing efforts to create a more equitable campus climate where all students could feel that they belonged.

Later, Surya helped create the Council of Amherst College Student-Athletes of Color to support students who often felt isolated as the only people of color on their teams. Her organic chemistry and French professors set aside several days of class time to facilitate conversations about inclusion and belonging. In her senior year in 2018, Surya enrolled in a student-driven, student-centered course called Being Human in STEM (HSTEM), which aims “to understand how humanity and science intersect on our campus and beyond,” as Sheila Jaswal writes in her article in this issue. Surya wanted to work with professors who cared about students’ experiences in STEM, and the class gave her the opportunity to increase students’ sense of belonging in STEM at Amherst, at other colleges and universities that have implemented their own HSTEM courses, and elsewhere. For Surya, the most meaningful part of the course was working with three other women of color to develop and implement a project at a local elementary school, teaching both accessible STEM content and the message that STEM is for students from all backgrounds.

At the time of the Amherst Uprising, many Amherst students from marginalized groups reported feeling as if they didn’t belong in STEM, and some abandoned their plans to pursue STEM majors or careers. But Surya asserted that the HSTEM course cemented her decision to go to medical school, both to provide holistic patient care and to be a role model for young future black doctors. “I want to pursue medicine not just for me or my patients but to make changes in the field for future generations,” she said.

Throughout this issue of Diversity & Democracy, students, faculty, staff, and higher education leaders tell stories of how students are taking the lead to create change at their colleges and universities—in the curriculum and cocurriculum, policies and practices, facilities and student services, and campus climate and institutional priorities. Students are pursuing many of these goals through high-impact practices, such as undergraduate research on relationships between black students and campus police, a capstone course in which students pioneered sustainability initiatives, and global learning initiatives to promote a culture of global citizenship on campus and ethical engagement around the world.

Some of these efforts are entirely student led, such as a student organization that embraces ideological diversity and promotes constructive discourse. Others involve partnerships among students, faculty, staff, and administrators working toward shared goals such as more inclusive classrooms, fairer and more transparent policies and practices regarding sexual assault, and accessible campuses that celebrate disability culture. Through these collaborations, educators and leaders are empowering student advocates by elevating their voices, listening respectfully to their perspectives and insights, providing guidance and support, and including them in institutional decisions.

As Chatham University student Fernando Soriano said as a plenary panelist at the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ 2019 Diversity, Equity, and Student Success conference, “Students should be considered institutional stakeholders just as much as members of the board of trustees are.” As colleges and universities become more diverse, students are speaking out. They are experts on their own needs and experiences and—in concert with administrators, faculty, and staff—they are leading the way to more inclusive campuses that serve and celebrate all students.

—Emily Schuster
Editor, Diversity & Democracy

Emily Schuster is the editor of Diversity & Democracy.

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