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Interviews with the Student Diversity Fellows

The Government Department's Diversity Committee recently hired five students to serve as Student Diversity Fellows for the department. They spoke to us regarding their experiences as Diversity Fellows.  
Vicky Morales '22:

Vicky Morales is a senior double majoring in Government and Kinesiology with a concentration in Public Health. Outside of the Diversity Fellows, she is involved with Student Assembly, Latin American Student Union, Phi Mu, and the Parks & Ecotherapy Research Lab. Vicky is a returning member of the fellowship. She hopes to focus on improving outreach within the department surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and diversifying academic materials used in courses.

1. What made you decide to apply to be a Student Diversity Fellow?
I decided to apply to be a fellow my junior year, the year it was a pilot program for the government department. I saw an ad for it in Student Happenings, and at the time, I knew the department was not always the most welcoming to all students. The Government Department has always been a predominantly white space. The culture and norms this created made it slightly awkward for me as I was hesitant to approach professors and felt like the materials of courses were never related to my life. I knew I was probably not the only one that felt that way, so I decided to apply. I wanted to raise issues like this and microaggressions my peers faced not only from some faculty but also from students within the department.

2. What do you think you personally contribute to the Diversity Committee?
Within the committee is someone who has seen some changes within the department. I want to make sure not only short-term issues are addressed but also long-term. The biggest issue with committees such as this is the potential for lack of continuity. I want to dedicate a portion of my contributions to assuring the retention of fellows and transition material is as detailed as possible. Working with alumni who feel that the department has not been representative or catered to their needs while they were students at William & Mary. Another thing is reminding fellows and the department to take an intersectional approach to issues since I feel like a lot of the focus on diversity is related to race. As a first-generation Latinx student acknowledging these many identities is crucial.

3. What are your long-term goals for the Diversity Committee as a whole? What impact do you want this committee to have on the Government Department?
One of the biggest goals is diversifying the curriculum of the Government Department. I do not want future students when they take a government class to only read literature written by white men. Working with professors and students to make sure materials written by people of color are integrated into as many courses as possible is a major goal for the committee. Also, as simple as it sounds, creating a relationship between faculty and students of color so that their voices can be heard if any issues occur. Hopefully, helping push this bond will lead to more trust between both parties enough where necessary dialogue can occur. I see this committee as the wake-up call for the department to work on bigger issues and step up when the school administration does not.

Claire Wyszynski '23:

Claire Wyszynski is a junior at the College of William and Mary studying International Relations (IR) and History. On campus, she participates in the Conduct and Honor Advisory Program (CHAP), the Student Engagement and Leadership Advisory Board (SELAB), and the Courageous Leadership and Authentic Excellence (CLAEX) Fellowship. Claire also conducts research for AidData and the Exodus Project, and she serves as an intern for the CDC's Global Emergency Response Capacity Team. Her favorite campus involvement is making cotton candy for students on every Cotton Candy Monday.

1. What made you decide to apply to be a Student Diversity Fellow?
In my time at William & Mary, I have at times struggled with finding my niche in the government and international relations departments. My core classes’ sole focus on aspects of “hard security” left me feeling isolated and wondering whether I was simply “too soft '' for this kind of work. In the contexts of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, I also began to question some of the underlying theories of international relations and reckon with my Asian-American identity. I came to my major hoping to gain new perspectives and learn about issues and experiences affecting states and people unlike me. It was not until I found fulfillment in my IR electives, classes I took in the Sociology and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies departments, that I recognized that what made me feel unwelcome in the major was not my softness the field’s exclusivity. I applied to be a Diversity Fellow to make the department a more inclusive space that can provide fulfilling education to students of all backgrounds.

2. What do you think you personally contribute to the Diversity Committee?
As an international relations major, I can provide specific feedback to the committee from my experiences in those classes. I am also proud to contribute my voice as an Asian-American student.

3. What are your long-term goals for the Diversity Committee as a whole? What impact do you want this committee to have on the Government Department?
I want the committee to advocate for students historically underrepresented in the field and promote changes in speaker invitations, syllabus reading selections, and Government Department culture. Among other things, this year I hope to see our group establish greater communication between faculty and students through open forums and town hall meetings and develop guidelines for evaluating diversity and inclusion in the classroom.

Paige Maxa '22:

Paige is a senior at the College, double majoring in Government and Religious Studies. She is originally from Washington State, and a few of her academic interests are gender politics and civil rights law. Outside of her studies, she is involved in the Best Buddies club, the Student Rights Initiative, the national political science honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha, and a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, as well as being a coffee enthusiast.

1. What made you decide to apply to be a Student Diversity Fellow?
I decided to apply to be a Student Diversity Fellow because I believe that DEI should be a core foundation of any organization. I want to ensure that the Government Department holds these values as key priorities in its decision-making processes and highlights the importance of diversity within government and society. My involvement in organizations on campus centered around DEI issues has deepened my understanding of the importance of creating a space in which every voice is heard and appreciated, which I hope to help usher in as a fellow.

2. What do you think you personally contribute to the Diversity Committee?
As a senior, I contribute a perspective from someone who has been in the department for over three years. Within my past three years, my conversations with Professors and students about William & Mary and the Government Department have been invaluable; I hope to use these experiences to help form the future direction of the Department’s diversity initiatives.

3. What are your long-term goals for the Diversity Committee as a whole? What impact do you want this committee to have on the Government Department?
Ultimately, I hope to help foster an environment within the Government Department that cultivates diverse voices to encourage personal agency of our students and accountability within the Department. My goal is to help the Diversity Committee and the Diversity Fellow program have a lasting impact on the priorities of the Government Department. I hope to see evidence of the program’s influence through the increased prevalence of diverse perspectives and experiences in classroom curriculum and the promotion of DEI education in the Department. I am very excited to work alongside students and faculty to achieve our common goals and continue the Student Diversity Fellow program into the future!

Martha Tyler '23:

Martha Tyler is a junior at the College of William and Mary. She is currently double majoring in Government and Japanese studies. In her free time, she enjoys photography, drawing, and laughing at cursed memes, but her primary joy comes from helping those around her in an impactful way. She looks forward to hearing any questions, comments, or concerns from the W&M community, and hopes to meet with you all soon.

1. What made you decide to apply to be a Student Diversity Fellow?
I’ve always wanted to contribute to a diversity initiative here on campus, but I’ve never felt comfortable enough to participate with pre-existing organizations. So when I received the email to apply for Diversity Fellows, I felt that I understood the group’s environment enough to efficiently and effectively contribute to its end goal of inclusivity.

2. What do you think you personally contribute to the Diversity Committee?
I believe that as a low-income student, I can address the worries and fears that often attach themselves to students in my predicament. I want these students to know that their place is here and their time is now.

3. What are your long-term goals for the Diversity Committee as a whole? What impact do you want this committee to have on the Government Department?
Long-term goals: Continuity. Without evolution, all of the work we plan on doing will be for nothing. We must make sure that whatever we do, we understand that diversity is a constant process, not a stagnant one. It is a goal that requires vigilance. Impact: Our professors, chancellors, and faculty, in general, are naturally very busy. Due to this, some things may slip through the cracks. As a Diversity Fellow, I want the Government Department to have the information it needs to find those things that have fallen through the cracks and to find a solution or place for them.

Sam Roth '24:

Sam Roth is a sophomore from Irvington, New York (about 30 minutes north of midtown Manhattan), intending to major in Government and minor in History. Sam decided to apply Early Decision to come down here all the way from New York, specifically for the Government department. In high school, he worked for March For Our Lives and worked for numerous Democratic campaigns in New York. He interned for his state Senator, Andrea-Stewart Cousins, who is both the first female and first woman of color to lead a Senate chamber in the state’s history. In his work with her, he founded her Youth Advisory Council. A lot of the values that he felt called him to action in politics were attributed to his Jewish background and the Reform Jewish community. He loves 90s hip-hop (particularly any NY artists, such as Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Biggie, and Jay-Z), R&B (Brent Faiyaz, H.E.R, Frank Ocean, Lauryn Hill), has a heavenly affinity NY bagels and pizza, and is a die-hard Mets, Jets, Knicks and Islanders fan.

1. What made you decide to apply to be a Student Diversity Fellow?
I applied to be a Student Diversity Fellow because I wanted to commit my time to something meaningful and specific to an important cause that will outlast my time at this institution. Given that the Student Diversity Fellowship is only in its second year of existence, I don’t take the work that we plan to do lightly as we lay the groundwork and foundation for this program and I felt it was almost a duty to have a chance at an opportunity to be a part of that.

2. What do you think you personally contribute to the Diversity Committee?
I will contribute commitment, ideas and be a helping hand or ear to all who may come to seek help and help with the work that our Committee is a part of but from a student perspective. I want to make a lasting impact on the curriculum and help make the discourse in this department more antiracist, less heteronormative, and more inclusive.

3. What are your long-term goals for the Diversity Committee as a whole? What impact do you want this committee to have on the Government Department?
My long-term goal for the Diversity Committee as a whole is to help the school commit to an ongoing and generational pursuit of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Government program at this school. Part of this includes assisting in leading this institution to a path where it can more completely reckon with its past and its white supremacist roots. Professors should come into this department open to a dynamic and constantly improving curriculum that is more inclusive and representative of the LGBTQ+ thinkers, thinkers of all colors, faiths (or lack thereof, agnostic, atheist, etc.), and with a key goal of cultivating a comfortable environment for students of all backgrounds. I hope to help further establish the groundwork to see that the department consistently strives to fulfill these goals, as they are ongoing fights.