Ashley Dumas, a senior biology major and African-American studies minor, has used her time at Illinois State University to find her voice for student advocacy.
When Dumas arrived at Illinois State, she noticed that a lot of the extracurricular activities were very segregated. Each student organization did their own thing and stayed within their own bubble. She also realized, through joining the Black Student Union (BSU), that activities and events for the Black community were curated largely by students, rather than the administration. “In the Black community,” says Dumas, “We had to create our own space.”
This prompted her to create the Black Homecoming Committee to provide a central space for student organizations to come together during Homecoming and involve Black culture in the festivities. It just made sense. “What’s the point of five different student organizations hosting five different movie nights when we could join together to host one big movie night?” Hosting larger events like this allowed students from different organizations to get together, meet new faces, and interact with people who came from different backgrounds than their own.
Dumas’ Black Homecoming Committee eventually led to more change on campus when a Homecoming event was unexpectedly cancelled three weeks before it was set to take place in October 2019. This led to protests and rallies on the Quad, which ultimately sparked the #AntiBlackISU movement. Dumas stresses that this movement was not the result of one isolated event, but rather a history of discrimination and negative experiences on campus. “The more an event catered to Black students, the more issues seemed to come up with making that event happen. Black students haven’t always had the best experiences.”
Eventually, the Black Homecoming Committee put out a list of demands and was invited, along with other student leaders, to meet with administration in November 2019. These meetings have continued ever since, and students and administration are working together to come up with tangible action steps to make Illinois State a more equitable and welcoming place for students of color. Dumas says that being a part of this process has helped her find her voice and realize the power she has as a student.
“As students, our voices matter. We created an entire movement that got the attention of administration. It was really scary and intimidating at first because some of the experiences we’ve had can be hard to put into words. But without us, this institution does not exist. Don’t back down. You don’t have to accept the first solution offered, either. You can be creative when making changes.”
Dumas has been encouraged by her experiences on this committee and is excited about the work they are doing to build an anti-racist institution. She is hopeful that the changes they are working toward will help all students feel like they belong. “ISU has taught me a lot in ways I could never have imagined. The support of my community has gotten me through, and I want everyone to be able to find that.”
Looking to the future, Dumas hopes to continue her advocacy work for minoritized groups in the health care field. After obtaining a master’s in public health, Dumas plans to become a physician and advocate for change in a flawed and biased health care system. “What we need to understand is that everyone benefits when historically minoritized groups are OK. I want to aid in creating equitable change for all.” Dumas has been an incredible catalyst for positive change on our campus, and the Multicultural Outreach Team is honored to feature her in our Student Spotlight.
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 our Student Spotlight Story 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, please submit the form.