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Emerging scholar adds momentum to diversity initiatives at WVU

Kassandra Colón
Kassandra Colón

Kassandra Colón, a junior triple majoring in Latin American Studies, Geography and Women’s and Gender Studies, is an influential figure in creating a more inclusive and welcoming experience for students from underrepresented groups at West Virginia University. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native is the former executive director of diversity for the Student Government Association, has developed a microaggression training at WVU for the New Student Orientation staff, serves as an emeritus board member for The Women’s Debate Institute, is an intern for Title IX and is the project organizer for Project La Resolana, an initiative that donates books to students of color at the Miami Urban Debate League. Colón talked with us about the inspiration for her involvement at WVU and her plans for the future.

How did you choose your majors?

I was interested in Latin American studies and women’s and gender studies because I really enjoyed learning about the intersections of identity. As someone who identifies as Puerto Rican and Mexican, I felt these majors would help investigate my identity and influence how I go about praxis in my own communities; however, what I really love about geography is that it focuses on how I understand myself and my community in the context of the world and society. Geography adds a dimension to the interrogation of my social location especially as I maneuver the world as a woman of color.

Where did the inspiration come from for the microaggression training?

When I first arrived on campus I was faced with adversity. I longed to find students like me; I longed to find other students of color because I needed a sense of community. I was struggling. Our institution is predominately white, and I needed to find the best way to survive and thrive in my practices. I am a Latina from South Florida experiencing displacement, and I search in every avenue to find explanations to better myself and my community. My inspiration for the training came from being asked to serve on the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s panel, “The Realities of Being a Minority Student at a Predominately White Institution.” I needed to share with my fellow Mountaineers my story – I wanted them to know that we need to develop tangible solutions for the many problem’s students of color face on campus. Due to this, I approached Title IX and asked if we could develop a microaggression training, a workshop that interrogates subtle instances of discrimination that cannot physically be seen, but rather, are suggestive and subtle instances of violence. Title IX was completely on board, and I began developing the program in March and conducted our first training in May for the Office of Admissions’ New Student Orientation staff.

Do you have any memorable outcomes from the training?

I realized that after the workshop, my peers started coming to me more. They felt comfortable with me and began asking me questions like, “I don’t really know how to engage in this situation. What do you think is the best way?” I was proud of myself, but I was also proud of my peers. We learned how to ask questions, be more welcoming and acknowledge differences at WVU. Everyone has a story, we all come from different social locations and it’s important that the institution prepares effective advocates and leaders, so we can engage in a politic that is more welcoming to minority students on campus.

What other activities have you been involved in?

I am the organizer for a project called Project La Resolana, an initiative that gives free, donated books to students of color who participate in the Miami Urban Debate League, a nonprofit that uses debate as a vessel to form argumentation surrounding themselves and politics. My initiative is simple: students tell me their story and what they wish to learn, and in return, I send them a book to aid their quest for self-discovered knowledge. The idea for my project came from both my love for literature, but also because of the love for my community. I served as the executive director of diversity for WVU’s Student Government Association and worked with the administration to push agendas for a more inclusive campus. I also reestablished the Women’s and Gender Studies Honor Society Triota, a student organization that focuses on social justice within our community. I currently serve on the emeritus board for The Women’s Debate Institute, a nonprofit with a mission to close the gender gap in debate. The purpose of this organization is to teach advocacy skills to college and high school students who identify with marginalized gender identities. We connect them with lifelong networks of scholars, activists, coaches and other debaters, aiding them along their quest to creating a more inclusive community. I owe my love for advocacy to speech and debate. Participating since I was 14 years old, debate is a radical transformative activity that creates future politicians, activists and scholars. I now debate and coach for WVU’s debate team on a full-tuition scholarship.

What are your future career goals?

I am really involved in my own scholarship and have a peer-reviewed article published in “Sprinkle,” an undergraduate research journal for feminist and queer studies. I am aspiring influential Puerto Rican and Mexican scholar seeking to uncover my identity’s impact on society and my community by interrogating structures of power. Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I plan to pursue a juris doctorate in human rights law and a master’s degree in Latin American studies. I will continue with my efforts with Project La Resolana, hoping to file as a 501(c)(3) in the future. I find catharsis in books and writing; I think they provide explanation to our world and to ourselves. You could catch me at the library every single day when I was younger and even now. I know there are many students who do not have access to literature of self-discovery, but I hope my influence generates a bridge from literature to the hearts of many.