As a first generation, low- income, woman of color the truth is that Wesleyan did not feel like home. There was a point in my educational journey where I questioned the purpose of education –then I found the AFAM Department. AFAM made me believe I could survive, that I belonged, and that one day I could be an academic. AFAM is more than an academic space it is a way of life that encourages you to think critically of society. The passion, the support, and the community formed in AFAM are unique and for many a means of survival. Although during my undergraduate career, I would consider myself as one of the more “quiet” AFAM majors. At the time I was dealing with multiple institutional challenges and decided to function on “survival mode.” Even in survival mode, AFAM affirmed my passion for justice, my desire to engage communities in working across difference, particularly around race, class, and culture.
AFAM restored my faith in higher education when I was at a loss of its purpose in an institution built on white supremacy. The AFAM community is filled with leaders who are movers and shakers in their communities. AFAM fosters community members who are socially conscious in their respective fields. We push ourselves to be better citizens, teachers, students, advocates, professionals, and overall better human beings. We are lifelong learners because AFAM taught us to unearth the hidden and often silenced history of the Americas through the lens of identity.
As an institution that values diversity, equity and access, it is your responsibility to foster a community and a climate that affirms communities of color while engaging across difference. AFAM is a historical achievement for the Wesleyan community and we can’t expect for it to flourish — if its importance to Wesleyan’s history is disregarded. If Wesleyan fails to foster and reprioritize the multidisciplinary departments; we fail to meet the function of a liberal arts education. What message are we sending to our community as to the value of AFAM when Wesleyan fails to support a department with a rich history? AFAM has been and continues to be critical to the progress we have made as a community.
Since my time at Wesleyan, I have had the privilege to work in multiple states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Texas and currently New York as an organizer, educator, and advocate. I am honored and humble to know that my fellow AFAM peers are doing the same. I ultimately decided to continue my advocacy work in higher education, and I obtained my Masters in Counseling Education from Central Connecticut State University. I’ve had the opportunity to work with great peers, mentors and students thus far. I have organized conferences, and designed and facilitated workshops and dialogues. I have been able to design and create leadership programs to unpack and address the impact of identity on leadership and social justice work. In five years, I have been able to both obtain my masters and land my “dream” position. I am currently the youngest director at my institution and the AFAM department played a major role in affirming my voice and passion in race, clas s, and culture. AFAM provided me with the academic foundation and the resiliency to be the best educator and advocate I can be for marginalized communities.
If Wesleyan fails to re-prioritize AFAM you will rob current and future students of the impact of a vibrant community. In addition, not prioritizing AFAM dismisses the history and progress achieved by the community of color. I am holding Wesleyan accountable because it is a community I care for. I am proud of the students who have organized. The students do so with love and compassion for the Wesleyan community and I am hoping the Wesleyan administration can choose to also reflect love and compassion through increased support of AFAM.
Burgos-Lopez is a member of the class of 2009.