Triston Brown, a second-year graduate student studying cultural anthropology, wears many hats on Illinois State’s campus. When she’s not in class or working as a teaching assistant, you can find her assisting with various administrative tasks and organizing undergraduate events for African American Studies as a graduate assistant. Brown is president of ISU’s Capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance) group on campus, vice president of the Black Graduate Student Association, and serves as an editorial board member for Identity, a newsletter that highlights diversity initiatives on campus.
When asked about the importance of programs and other avenues centered on diversity and inclusivity on campus, Brown noted the importance of representation and talked of the lack of such programs when she was an undergraduate at Pepperdine University in California [TB1]. During her first semester here she took a history class that focused on Black intellectual and political life taught by Dr. Touré Reed. The course concreted Brown’s belief that exposure to and discussions of Black history and the resultant contemporary issues are necessary and crucial to creating a more inclusive climate. Her hope is that other students will be able to find a sense of community and recognition through some of these organizations at ISU.
In order to complete her thesis, she travelled to Brazil to conduct fieldwork with an Afro-Brazilian dance company. She had the opportunity to attend performances and workshops that centered on African heritage and that challenged the city’s conceptions and narratives of blackness. Brown recounts one particular performance at a local beef jerky plantation. “I had never seen anything like that in the United States,” said Brown. “Confronting what it means to be Brazilian, the dance company is able to define and vocalize their (Black) experience through the body and reinstate their presence in the city. The power of watching Black individuals repurpose a site that had once been a cause of much pain and inhumanity was striking, both incredible to witness and difficult to process.”
Brown also had the opportunity to study abroad in Barbados, an island with a predominately Black population. Not only was the locale breathtaking, but she also stated what a unique experience it was learning the history of the island and being included in a racial majority.
On the topic of mental health, she recalled her experience with a Black, female counselor at ISU. “For me, life experiences aside, meeting with someone who could understand intersectionality and the complexities of Black identity…it made all the difference, representation matters.” She hopes the mental health field and other professions in the United States continue to diversify.
Brown, who graduates in December and is currently considering several different career options, is excited for what’s ahead. She is an incredible leader in our Illinois State community, a powerful voice for equitable representation, and we are proud to feature her in our Student Spotlight.
Find more information on the Identity newsletter.
The Multicultural Outreach Team (MCOT), a part of Student Counseling Services whose mission is to foster a healthy, diverse, and equitable university community for underrepresented students, is seeking nominations for a new program in which we spotlight the achievements of diverse students on campus in a news story on our social media. If you know of a student who deserves to be featured, submit the form.