The importance of representation in leadership at St. Joe’s
From the moment I set foot on campus at St. Joe’s, I was appalled by the lack of diversity at our institution. It’s one thing to hear the statistics. It’s another thing to feel like one of the five percent that make up the black and African-American community on campus, in comparison to the 80 percent white student population. I remember sitting at orientation in tears because I felt like an other. Growing up in the melting pot that is New York City, I had never encountered this feeling before.
After orientation, I realized I had to participate in and even be the change that I wanted to see in St. Joe’s. The only way I was going to make St. Joe’s a space I wanted to be in was to get involved on campus. I’m very passionate about diversity, so I assumed leadership roles within the Office of Inclusion and Diversity. In addition, I decided to apply to be a RA during the middle of my freshman year. I was selected and accepted the position.
After extensive training, I have had the pleasure of being an RA to 36 residents that have brought so much joy, laughter and headaches to my life. This article is not a marketing tactic for me to tell students of color to go run and apply to be RAs because it is going to be the best experience of your life. Instead, I want to share what I have learned thus far as a person of color in leadership positions at St. Joe’s.
One of the most important things I have experienced is the importance of representation on our campus. Representation is imperative for the overall diversity and inclusiveness of our campus, but it is particularly crucial in leadership positions, too. Taking leadership roles allows us to be a voice at the forefront of conversations that affect our community. As people of color, it’s important for us to show up and partake in roles of influence.
Deciding to be an RA required me to get out my comfort zone. It’s easy for me to want to be a part of groups, organizations and roles that are a part of my identity such as the Black Student Union or Caribbean Student Association, and I am so glad that we have these organizations on campus to create safe spaces for us. However, the conversations that we have within these organizations are crucial, so we should bring our thoughts and experiences as people of color to other groups, departments, organizations and roles on campus in order to be parts of dialogue as well active participants in the changes of our campus.
To my people of color, I urge you to find ways to get involved on campus that might be outside of your comfort zone. We have a lot to offer in the dialogues that are happening and need to happen on our campus. Our voice and our participation matter. However, that cannot happen if we stay only with our people.
I am glad that I made the decision to step out of my comfort zone to become an RA, because I am able to facilitate conversations with my residents that they may not have the opportunity to have in their classrooms. I am able to have conversations with my staff about my experience as a person of color on campus and how it is shaping my education at St. Joe’s. I am able to bring the conversations that I have with the organizations within the Office of Inclusion and Diversity to Residence Life to see what we can do within our office to be a part of that change on campus.
Find the ways to get involved on campus and create the dialogue. This can be applying to be an RA, running for Student Senate or becoming a member of the Student Union Board. Whatever it is, just show up and participate. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
I say, before you do that, be the change you want to see in St. Joe’s.