Challenging Racial Inequity on Campus
Symantec supports Net Impact’s Racial Equity Fellowship and the passionate students who want to change the world.
Symantec is a world leader in cyber defense with a mission to make the world a better, safer place for everyone. Symantec’s longstanding relationship with Net Impact began with a general grant to help equip young leaders to thrive at the forefront of social change efforts. Our partnership morphed over time to focus on racial equity and their support has helped establish undergraduate chapters at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and helped create the Racial Equity Fellowship.
Kriti Vashisht and Natalia Chavez are passionate about challenging racial inequity and bias. As two participants in Net Impact’s most recent Racial Equity Fellowship cohort, they each spent the last few months educating their peers, initiating difficult conversations, and inspiring change on their college campuses.
Supported by the Symantec Foundation, Newman’s Own Foundation, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the fellowship is a leadership development program that supports students as they design and implement a racial equity action project on campus. Kriti and Natalia received a stipend to complete their action project, virtual leadership development training, and free registration to the Net Impact Conference as part of the program.
Kriti, a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University, brought marginalized voices to the mainstream in India before moving to the U.S. for graduate school. After using digital storytelling with children from low socio-economic backgrounds in slums in India to tell their stories about safe spaces, she saw firsthand that policies affecting marginalized communities were enacted by those living in high-wealth countries.
She came to Corpus Christi, Texas as an Indian woman of color and international student to add her voice and contribute to humanity. According to Kriti, “My department is very diverse and has been inclusive and open about the discomfort international and non-white students were facing given the U.S. political environment. We saw hate posters displayed in the library after the 2016 election and while I believe the administration handled the situation well, I saw that international students were looked upon as a liability – as people taking away American jobs.”
Above: The photos Kriti selected as part of her own immigrant asset story
With a background in gender and racial equity, Kriti applied for the Net Impact fellowship to tell the stories of international students. “A lot of the narrative around immigrants is around how people discriminate and marginalize us. I think it’s equally important to provide a counter-narrative on how we are contributing to the United States. I found that I needed to flip this in my own mind as well – I am educated and competent and needed to start seeing myself as an asset.”
Working with Dr. Rosa Banda, Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Texas A&M, she created a framework for an asset-based photo narrative project. She chose photo narrative, which often includes fewer power dynamics when engaging research participants, and collaborated with A&M’s International Culture Alliance. She asked participants to take photos of their experience as international students and contributing members of the university.
Kriti included the story of the university’s first Fulbright Scholar, a Muslim woman from Jordan who wears the hijab in her action project. “On campus, her identity is as a Muslim woman and no one even knows that she’s the first Fulbright Scholar our university has ever had—these are the stories of immigrants that we need to tell.”
Above: Fulbright Scholar Dania Al-ashhab delivering a presentation on Breaking Stereotypes
Natalia tackled her action project from a different angle as she’s getting her master’s degree in Urban Planning at Boston University. She’d been thinking a lot about how race and gender impact identity and saw in her classes how planning policies affect segregation. “Take redlining for example. African Americans were not allowed to get loans to buy a house and live in certain areas and that policy still affects people today. As city planners we can affect the world as we’re designing – perhaps our plans can make up for some of the past wrongs or at the very least we can incorporate racial equity into our plans for today,” she said.
Natalia implemented a “Table Talk Series” to create a space where students and outside experts could discuss urban planning topics using the lens of racial equity. One session, a book talk, was devoted to talking about race and affordable housing, while another discussed creating a sense of place in a neighborhood through art.
Above: Flyer for the table talks, Natalia organized
“The table talks were a space where we as students could discuss these issues openly and intentionally, instead of as a brief side note during class. We dove deeper, asked questions, and worked to bring attention to these issues,” she said.
Both Kriti and Natalia were grateful to be a part of the fellowship program. “Net Impact really supported me. The stipend allowed me to get people involved and I relied on the readings Net Impact provided. I learned a lot from the subject matter expert they introduced me to. She helped me see that digital storytelling isn’t just about sharing and awareness raising, but also about sustaining the stories to change the system. With her suggestion, I’m now working on incorporating the visuals I created into campus events — think about if you could see the impact international students were having at activities all over campus throughout the year,” Kriti said.
Kriti is continuing in her Ph.D. program and hopes to work as a community engagement researcher. Natalia will finish at Boston University this summer and then will start a second master’s degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School in Public Administration. She also recently co-founded Urbanability, a nonprofit urban planning consulting firm that helps make cities equitable, with a focus on empowering underserved communities.
To learn more about Net Impact’s Racial Equity Fellowship visit www.netimpact.org/programs/racial-equity-fellowship. To learn more about Symantec’s commitment to corporate responsibility and diversity, please visit https://www.symantec.com/about/corporate-responsibility/corporate-responsibility-report.