Student Ambassador Program Empowers Students to Be a Force for Diversity and Inclusion
The University’s new Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) student ambassadors program enables students to serve as advocates for their fellow Chargers and to play a critical role in enhancing the University, impacting everything from student programming to course curricula.
March 17, 2021
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Before he began pursuing his master’s degree in business analytics at the University of New Haven, Chinedu Ibeme ’22 M.S. worked as an international development consultant. Part of a team that developed an economic inclusion project that would create job opportunities for 10,000 people in Nigeria, Ibeme learned firsthand the importance of fostering inclusion and the impact it can make.
Through that experience, Ibeme cultivated a passion for promoting diversity and inclusion, and he is now part of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) student ambassadors program at the University. Working with the University’s Pompea College of Business, he is leveraging his own experience to ensure that students’ voices are heard and responded to.
“I am very passionate about diversity, justice, equity, and inclusion, and I have a personal commitment to making a positive impact on the world,” he said. “As an international student, I am always happy to contribute to class discussions by leveraging on my past experience because I believe my voice will be heard. I believe the JEDI program is important to have at the University because it fosters a healthy learning environment where everyone – especially underrepresented students – feel safe and confident that their voices will be heard.”
Ibeme is one of eight students who are now serving as JEDI student ambassadors. The group endeavors to be a force for positive change and unity that ensures a welcoming and inclusive University community. The ambassadors include graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds and fields of study.
They serve as a resource for their fellow Chargers, and they are eager to connect with them, hear their input, and address concerns. Daniel Stott ’21, a criminal justice and national security double major, is a dedicated advocate for diversity and inclusion, particularly for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and he is passionate about making sure all students feel included and have the resources and tools they need to succeed.
“The JEDI program was an opportunity for me to transform my ideas and passions into action,” said Stott. “It allows students to be the driving force behind change at the University, and it can show all students that our voices mean something. Diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot be achieved solely by a small group of people – it is a result of the actions of the entire campus community.”
‘I am excited to foster the best interests of students’
Finley Chapman ’22 is helping to organize the University’s inaugural Lavender Ceremony, which will honor graduating LGBTQ+ students this spring. A member of the Accessibility Resource Center Task Force, he is dedicated to ensuring that the campus is accessible to all Chargers.
“I am most excited about being able to make a difference on campus,” said Chapman, a communication major. “I would like to have a social justice-based career after finishing my education, so a position like this has always been a dream of mine. It will help me gain more experience in the field while also helping to foster change that will last long after I have graduated.”
Chapman is working with his fellow ambassador Krista Grajo ’22 M.A. to organize the Lavender Ceremony. A member of the assessment subcommittee of the University’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Council, Grajo is drawing on her coursework and her interest in program evaluation in her work as a JEDI student ambassador.
“I hope that I can contribute to a culture of inclusivity and justice at the University so that students do not feel alone,” said Grajo, a candidate in the University’s graduate program in community psychology. “I am excited to foster the best interests of students, and I hope I can be a bridge to facilitate challenging conversations about these topics.”
‘An influential force in addressing issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion’
Developed by Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, an assistant professor of public health and assistant provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion, the JEDI ambassador program enables students to establish supportive relationships with their peers, as well as with faculty and staff, while creating a sense of connectedness and belonging.
“Since its creation, the JEDI program has been an influential force in addressing issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus,” said Dr. Tran. “It serves as a model for why including the student voice in decision-making is pivotal in making positive changes on campus. It is my hope that the program will expand over the coming years once we have a stronger foundation. Based on the positive results so far, the outlook is promising.”
Student ambassadors serve as liaisons to their respective academic colleges and schools and participate in anti-discrimination trainings and workshops. Their work could also inform the University’s curricula, which is something Jennifer Edwards ’21 is focused on. A forensic science major, she is collaborating with the Lee College to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion education in the classroom. She is also collaborating with the English Department to revise the race and ethnic studies minor.
“The JEDI program is very important because it allows a small group of students to network and connect with other students on an individual college level,” she said. “Each college and school has different concerns related to DEI, and it’s important to have representation in each of them to make sure the voices of students are heard and addressed. I hope we can enhance the social and educational experience for students, at both the undergraduate and graduate level.”
‘I am most excited to help students know that they belong at the University’
For Mabintou Darboe ’22 MPH, being a part of the JEDI program is personal. A student ambassador for the School of Health Sciences, she is collaborating with the University’s Career Development Center to organize a workshop series for international students.
She is also organizing the University’s inaugural Youth and Public Health Conference, which endeavors to introduce first-generation high school students and students from underrepresented groups to possible careers in the health sciences field.
“This event means so much to me because I wish I had someone who would have informed me of the endless career opportunities in the health sciences as a first-generation student,” she said. “I know how it feels to be a target of microaggression, prejudice, and discrimination. It is often difficult to navigate your way out of these situations without losing control. I am most excited to help students know that they matter and that they belong at the University.”
‘We're recognizable students who represent each of our colleges’
Student ambassadors are compensated for their work, which Jordan Harris ’21, a political science major who is representing the College of Arts and Sciences, says is important because it offers students – including those who may be struggling financially – an opportunity to do meaningful work on campus that supports their dedication to advancing diversity and inclusion.
Harris hopes to create a special library focused on Black history and anti-racist practices. He hopes the University will support a Black-owned bookstore in the community that will, eventually, become a resource for students.
“It's important to have JEDI at the University because we're recognizable students who represent each of the University’s academic colleges and schools,” said Harris, who serves as president of the University’s NAACP chapter. “I hope it gets students more interested in DEI work and shows the University values our work. Having it become a paid position is also very motivating, and this is a great resume builder. Professor Tran has been a solid ally for the students fighting for DEI work, so I'm happy to have the chance to work with him.”
‘We will make sure that their concerns are addressed’
Kevin Misaro ’22 M.S., a candidate in the University’s graduate program in civil engineering, believes the problems of racial, gender, and religious discrimination at a global level make the work of the JEDI student ambassadors more crucial than ever. He endeavors to foster unity between undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty in the University’s Tagliatela College of Engineering. An international student, he is excited for the opportunity to connect with and represent as many of his fellow Chargers as possible.
“I want to ensure that all students have a holistic university experience without worrying about judgment or exclusion from any facet of student life,” he said. “I hope to see the JEDI program grow over the coming years. I also hope students know the JEDI ambassadors are here for them, and we will make sure that their concerns will be addressed.”