Kassandra Colón’s passion to cultivate inclusive spaces and improve cultural representation in the classroom has only grown through her experiences at West Virginia University. Her commitment to community engagement has led to her selection as a finalist for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, the premier award for those who are pursuing careers in public service.
Originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Colón is a junior triple-majoring in Latin American studies, women’s and gender studies and geography. She has worked with the Title IX office and as an orientation leader to further issues of cultural representation and to combat discrimination on campus. She is also working to help K-12 educators create diverse and inclusive classrooms by conducting a workshop on power, privilege and diversity at this year’s State Conference for Teachers of English Language Arts in West Virginia. Receiving a full-tuition scholarship from West Virginia University for her skills in debate, debate has motivated Colón since high school.
“As an educational activity, debate emphasizes demanding justice as community building and teaches how literature and thinking critically about the world helps liberate myself and others like me.” Colón said. “Fort Lauderdale High School encouraged me to use debate as a self-expressive outlet. Since then, I’ve always turned to debate as a survival outlet.”
In July 2018, Colón founded the initiative Project La Resolana to help give back to her home community. In this project that Colón runs out of her Morgantown apartment, she matches students of color in South Florida to books on topics they are interested in learning more about, focusing particularly on cultural literature that enable students to feel more connected to their heritage. The project is funded entirely by donations from professors, students and friends.
“Kassie personifies the power of words, both spoken and written,” said Jay Cole, senior adviser to the president and faculty advisor for the Truman Scholarship Program.
“She is an award-winning debater, published author, literacy volunteer, and founder of an organization that collects and donates books to students of color. Kassie’s work to empower and inspire others through the use of words is exceptional. She is a wonderful ambassador for WVU in the Truman Scholarship competition.”
“My lived reality is I am a first-generation Latina from intergenerational poverty who is learning how to maneuver the predominately white institution while working to support myself and my community,” Colón said. “Debate guides my story. It is, and will always be, where I found love for advocacy and self-discovery.”
Colón is one of 199 candidates selected from 840 nominations who will be interviewed. She is also the only student in West Virginia in the finals this year. Each Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government and/or other public service organizations. If successful, she will use the $30,000 award for graduate school where she will continue her work in Latin American literature and advocacy.
Support for her application was provided by the ASPIRE office, which helps students pursue national awards like the Truman Scholarship. Students who are interested in learning more about scholarships, fellowships and other graduate school opportunities can schedule an appointment to discuss their goals.