December 2019 – Drew University senior Virginia Leach has co-chaired the Student Government’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee since her sophomore year.
We talked with Virginia, a sociology major and French minor, about her time at Drew and the changes she’s seen and hopes will continue:
Not originally being on the senate of Student Government gave me a different perspective on how to manage this leadership role. In my all-girls high school, we had a lot of justice and female empowerment—oriented events and protests. I came to Drew with a justice-forward mindset, so when the Diversity & Inclusion opportunity opened up, I pursued that passion.
The point of the SGA is to be accessible, so at first, the committee held office hours where people could come to us with their concerns. When that didn’t work, we got more proactive and started hosting and co-sponsoring events with identity or race-based clubs that created a more comfortable atmosphere for people to voice their concerns or issues so that we could help address or alleviate them.
We’ve created events like Lit Night where we speak about black authors and poets, and partnered with the United Methodist Archives and History Center, which provided some primary sources to highlight Black History Month. We’ve had and are going to have people from the American Association of University Women come in to discuss women empowerment in the workplace. We also just held a LatinX/Hispanic Student Panel where Drew students who identify within that spectrum discussed their experiences at Drew, which had a great turnout.
I'd love to come back in five years and see that we're still holding programs like Decolonizing Your Bookshelf, Community Conversations, Queering the Forest and others.
We start our Diversity & Inclusion events by setting the ground rules for discussion. We make sure people don’t talk as if they’re speaking for an entire group or race or class—it’s ‘I’ not ‘we’—and that nobody is using discriminatory or oppressive language. It creates a healthy, safe space to discuss sensitive topics and we make sure they’re abided by 100 percent.
In the future, I’d love to create something like a weekly community bonding time to discuss important issues and voice experiences. Having conversations in person is important and makes people feel safe and heard.
After Drew, I’ll be getting a PhD in sociology. I’d love to come back in five years and see that we’re still holding programs like Decolonizing Your Bookshelf, Community Conversations, Queering the Forest and others—that these initiatives and clubs and efforts continue. I’d love for everyone in the student body to be able to look at the professors at the front of the class and see themselves represented—an area we’re passionate about on the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. It will have a positive impact on everyone connected to the university.
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