What can students do with just $600 to move the social justice needle across the College campus and greater Lowcountry community? Quite a bit, judging from the seven students who received the 2018–19 Student Leadership Award through the College’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI).

Vanity Reid Deterville

political science major

AIDSWatch: AIDS United Annual Conference, Washington, D.C.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community and a woman of color, I have seen how the HIV/ AIDS epidemic has swept rampantly through both of the communities that represent the multiplicities of my identity. Having made instrumental connections through AIDSWatch, I plan to study the legislative action Senator Scott Wiener of California took to lessen the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and develop a better means of community collaboration to address the prevalence of AIDS in Charleston.”

Sylvie Baele

M.P.A. in nonprofit management/M.E.S.

2019 National Bike Summit, Crystal City, Va.

“At the College, it can be difficult to implement pilot programs and active transportation studies. There tends to be a lot of ‘maroon’ tape, with unclear or multiple approval processes for everything. The National Bike Summit helped me better understand several creative methods to overcome the challenges of increasing bike use for college students and minority populations on campus and in the Charleston area. By cultivating a bike-friendly culture with the tools and infrastructure to sustain it, we are truly empowering students and the entire college community. I am proud to say that we will soon have three bike repair stations installed on campus. Part of this future accomplishment is due to the successes of our free Bike Share program, the weekly Bicycle Fix-it Clinic pop-ups in Cougar Mall and a pop-up bike lane during the Sustainability Week Street Fair. We are slowly but steadily moving in the right direction, and I hope that we will continue to work towards establishing more equitable transportation options.

Thomesena Thomas

political science major

Research on Reconciliation in Rwanda Post-genocide

“My experiences in Rwanda have given me a nuanced perspective on reconciliation in general and what that means for resolving the current differences that exist within our campus community. The Hutus and Tutsis have been able to reconcile because they were able to forgive and work together to rebuild their country.

“One reason is Umuganda, the practice that takes root in the Rwandan culture

of self-help and cooperation – family, friends and neighbors come together to complete a difficult task. I personally saw a glimpse of this culture early one Saturday. Hundreds of Rwandans were cleaning the neighborhoods and walking miles to help others clean. It was such a beautiful way to unify the country.

“In Charleston and at the College, we need to unify opposing sides and help each other thrive to fix the issues we face time and time again. We tend to sugarcoat things at the College; having a mandatory diversity and inclusion course would keep the stories of injustice alive. Hopefully, the grand celebration of 2020 will lead to actual change.”

Allie Stern ’19

public health major

Black Lives Matter: Looking at Charleston

“When the Race and Social Justice Initiative unveiled the first detailed report on the disparities in the lives of Charleston County’s black and white residents in 2017, I decided to create a safe environment where uncomfortable issues could be addressed freely. I arranged for speakers to share their thoughts on racial disparities and social justice activism through the lens of poetry and politics. By bringing together people with different backgrounds and knowledge of racial disparities, we were able to elevate
the issue.”

Ebony Venson


Ignite: Young Women Run Conference, Houston, Texas

“I learned a lot about the barriers women face when running for office and how to run a successful campaign. I plan to use my knowledge to harness the energy of women in Charleston and support black women candidates. My goal is to break down barriers so that black women are viewed as people who represent all people and are not just viewed by their race and gender.”

Malayna Nesbitt

public health major

Environmental Racism in the Lowcountry

“My research in the Charleston area showed that segregated areas are more exposed to environmental hazards, such as landfill sites and incinerators. Unfortunately, in my discussions with different community groups, I discovered that many focus on the social aspect of issues and not enough on the health impact. My goal is to change that by creating more awareness about how the environment in low-income communities often leads to health issues. I plan to speak with policymakers and continue my fieldwork in order to devise a solution to eliminate this issue.”

Ethan Davis ’19

African American studies and political science major

Metanoia, a community development organization, North Charleston

“I learned that gaining situated knowledge is an imperative step in the community-building process. As an outsider, I had a tendency to focus on the community needs, inhibiting me to only exploring negative community characteristics. Over time, I realized that untapped capacities and unrealized potential in the community open more positive paths for sustainable development. I worked with Metanoia to create an alternative approach to community engagement – one that reflects the needs and aspirations of the community. Based on Metanoia’s history and tradition of annual community gatherings, we are introducing a pilot project that focuses on appreciative inquiry as it relates to early-childhood development, where we will test our ability to harvest untold stories, identify unrealized potential and build on the assets from within the community.”

Featured illustration by Timothy Banks.