From club president to Ph.D. and a higher education career

By: Alana Anderson

“I think you should run to be the BBSO president,” said my friend Justin. These words in many ways changed the trajectory of what I thought my life would be.  “BBSO” stands for the Brandeis Black Student Organization and in my sophomore year of college I became president  of the group and experienced what it was like to lead the organization through a critical racial incident that occurred on campus.  I quickly became comfortable and confident meeting with and sharing my experiences with campus administrators.

However it wasn’t until my junior of college that I understood that going into the field of higher education was the right path for me.  I enjoyed the experiences I had working with the variety of administrators on  campus but more importantly I started to understand the importance of their roles in helping my development.  Many of these administrators were the people I talked with about feeling isolated or alone as a student of color on a predominately white campus,  they were the ones with whom I celebrated my successes of landing an internship, or doing well on papers and exams. These were the people who pushed and challenged me to take on leadership roles that scared me or that I didn’t feel prepared for and stayed by my side as I took a leap of faith. I wanted to pay it forward and become the person that did  that for other students. 

Today in my role in Multicultural Programs I get to bear witness to how being a resource and support system to my students can help them grow.  This past week I attended an event to watch a documentary and panel discussion by a student I work closely with.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday she traveled to Flint, MI to meet with residents and capture the experience of preparing a Thanksgiving meal without clean water.  Following her documentary she invited three Flint residents to talk about their experiences and the ways in which the town is changing and thriving post the water crisis.  I sat in the audience of this event beaming for two hours.  Seeing a poised, confident student who asked thoughtful and insightful questions to the panelists was a far cry from the shy, timid student I had met her freshman year at Babson.

My memory jogged  back to the conversations we had had where she  felt out of place and alone in her experience,  or the time when we were at lunch and she attempted to talk herself out of a study abroad opportunity because she assumed she couldn’t afford it.  The woman I was now watching discuss the sociopolitical issues that created the crisis in Flint was captivating and I felt a little emotional reflecting on our relationship. 

I am someone with whom she can confide her fears, celebrate her joys and help strategize her challenges.  I couldn’t have imagined when friend Justin encouraged me to run for president of the Black Student Organization that any of these experiences or even the connections I have made with colleagues who have become some of best friends and lift me up when needed would occur.

I could never have dreamed of getting a Ph.D. and becoming interested in research or writing on issues affecting black women on college campuses, but I think that is the beauty of taking risks and leaning into opportunities that scare us.  Working in higher education is my passion and while every day comes with different challenges and obstacles I am steadfast in my drive to do good work.  Every year that I continue to work in this field I find new ways to support students, challenge my understanding of the complex issues that affect the institution I work for and enjoy the culture and life of working at a college.   I can’t wait for many more years!