Empowering Student Voices in Wheaton Classrooms and Instructional Spaces

Left to right: Jada Prinopoulos-Taylor ’24, Cecilia Aruwajoye ’24, Zachary Barao ’23 and Florence Yu ’24. (Photo by Nicki Pardo)

This spring, Cecilia Aruwajoye ‘24, Zachary Barao ‘23, Jada Prinopoulos-Taylor ‘24 and Florence Yu ‘24 worked as student consultants in the Pedagogical Partnership Program through the Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning (CCTL). The student consultants were selected and trained by CCTL co-director Deyonne Bryant. As consultants, the students advised their faculty and staff partners on making Wheaton classrooms and library spaces more inclusive and accessible. Their staff and faculty partners were Ada McKenzie Thomas (English), Aubrey Westfall (Political Science), Rachelle DeCoste (Mathematics), Megan Brooks (Dean of Library Services), Cary Gouldin (Humanities and Student Success Librarian) and Kate Boylan (Director of Archives and Digital Initiatives). Florence, Zachary, Ceci and Jada were nominated for this year’s academic festival by Deyonne Bryant and have taken a moment to write about their experiences as student consultants.

I worked with Professor Thomas, focusing on increasing student participation. I approached my partnership by bringing my personal experiences as a student to meetings with my faculty partner and relating them to what I observed in her classroom. I would say that student criticism towards faculty can be quite scary for both parties because of the boundaries between the two, especially with students often feeling powerless or simply too scared to say anything. But I think offering criticism and being open to feedback is something that can be practiced, and with time be less scary. Also, I had to remember that everyone was new to this experience and that I had to often consider the concerns of faculty when it came to teaching. I also realized it was important to be realistic and also be empathetic to the many perspectives my faculty partner brought as a new faculty member. –Florence

To get the most out of this partnership for myself and Professor DeCoste, I had to remind myself that one of the staple parts of being culturally responsive is to act with integrity. This carried me through the role. I shared my perspective, ideas, and observations from the standpoint of a black student navigating her way through college and the outside world. Students want to be surrounded by peers and faculty that relate to them and where they come from. Acknowledging the various cultural backgrounds of the students in our classrooms is the first step to making the campus feel more welcoming to a wide range of the differences within our student body. I think Wheaton would benefit from having all faculty participate in a partnership like this where faculty and students can practice having awareness of one’s cultural identities, views, and backgrounds both inside and outside of the classroom.  –Jada

I worked alongside librarians Megan Brooks, Cary Gouldin and Kate Boylan to learn about the inclusivity projects within the library. In my role, I developed skills in interpersonal communication, dialogue facilitation and collaborative leadership. The skill that I particularly grew the most was interpersonal communication. I was able to listen to my partners’ concerns regarding the atmosphere within the library and articulate the student perspective about the materials they presented. Our partnership mainly focused on the physical spaces within the library and their uses in relation to the college’s history and future. I was particularly effective in addressing the need for underrepresented voices to feel comfortable using every service offered by the library. The skills that I acquired will come in handy in my career as an educator, especially in allowing me to better understand my students’ needs, communicate good solutions and work collectively to foster healthy future experiences for them! –Zachary

I have grown from this partnership and become more confident when speaking to a faculty member, and this confidence has enabled me to advocate for myself in my academics and my everyday life. And I am much more open-minded and receptive to change. Overall, this semester-long partnership as a consultant to Professor Westfall gave me the confidence to speak up and pitch ideas that might seem impossible to people. A memorable experience was when Professor Westfall proposed that I check in with her students, which I feel left a very positive impact on myself and her students. Having an opportunity to confidentially express their concerns with a fellow student who was not a member of the class or working for the professor must have been very nice for the students. I wish all professors could incorporate something like this in their classrooms. It feels really nice to be heard by your professors. –Ceci