Raven Preston, a graduate student in the English Department’s technical communication program, is making an impact for anti-racism at Illinois State University and beyond. When she first came to the University as an undergraduate, the Ferguson riots were in full swing, and she didn’t quite know where she fit in on campus. Eventually, she found her home in the English Department and was inspired by several professors and Black female leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement to do her own anti-racist work. “Black Lives Matter is very visible right now and is led by Black female leaders, so I thought, ‘How can I get involved in this work in grad school?’”
Now as a graduate student finishing up her master’s thesis, Preston serves as a graduate assistant for the Diversity and Equity Committee in the English Department, a position she was asked to apply for in order to provide further anti-racist education to the department. This committee is focused on infusing more anti-racist ideologies into the English Department and listening to students and faculty about which issues within the department are most important to address. “Just because you’re talking about multiculturalism and diversity, doesn’t mean you’re being anti-racist. It has to be more than that.” The committee also hosts a speaking series, workshops, and collects anti-racist resources to help faculty and graduate assistants in the classroom.
Preston also holds a seat on the Anti-Racist Pedagogies Advisory Board in the Writing Program, a committee that provides a space to have discussions centered on anti-racism and examines works of literature and films through an anti-racist lens, in order to support teaching graduate assistants in incorporating anti-racist texts in the classroom. Preston notes that they have encountered some hesitancy about including these topics in the classroom because they may make white students uncomfortable. However, as Preston said, “This uncomfortableness is already happening for Black, Indigenous, and other students of color. Why are we not considering that?” The Advisory Board is in its early stages, but Preston is hopeful for where it’s headed in the future.
Outside of school, Preston continues her anti-racism work by serving as a facilitator for Black Girl’s Mental Wealth Academy, a program started by Dr. Venus E. Evans-Winters that equips young Black girls with health and wellness skills necessary for managing physical, mental, and financial wellness, a concept known as mental wealth. Preston facilitates conversations for a cohort of girls in California about fostering mental wealth. She notes that their conversations have also addressed how they can be accomplices for the Asian community right now in the wake of increased discrimination brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In addition, Preston co-hosts the Planet Venus Podcast where she interviews Black women about Black women’s issues. “Black women experience things differently. We experience grief differently; we face higher birth mortality rates. We need this cultural space to have these ‘front porch talks’ with each other.”
Preston, whose thesis examines the increased risks Black and Indigenous people are facing during the pandemic, hopes to continue her advocacy work after graduating in May by doing risk communication consulting that focuses on addressing risks faced by minoritized groups. “Pandemics are going to happen again. Black people were in an epidemic before COVID and it will continue after this. Institutions don’t cater to these groups. I want to continue to inform people about the risks these communities are facing and serve my community in this way.” Preston is an inspiring student who has already taken her empowering work far beyond the limits of campus. Multicultural Outreach Team (MCOT) is honored to feature her in our Student Spotlight Story.
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.