We are continuing our What IFF? journey of finding what it means to be an intersectional activist with alum Reagan Williams. Listen as Reagan teaches us about the importance of an education that includes curriculum on race, equity, and inclusion, and follow along while we begin to envision these ideas at the future of CofC and beyond.
Click here to read more about the Intersectional Cougar Action Network (I-CAN)'s history of support for the implementation of a Race, Equity, and Inclusion curriculum requirement.
MH: Hello and welcome to What IFF? at the College of Charleston. This is a podcast where together, we imagine intersectional feminist futures by centering the work of local activists here in our very own college community. I’m your host Marissa Haynes, and today I am here talking with alum Reagan Williams. At the College of Charleston, Reagan earned degrees in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies and a minor in political science. During her time at The college, Reagan was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority as well as the Intersectional Cougar Action Network. She co-founded an organization on campus aimed at creating a safe space for students of color called Mental Health & Melanin and she currently serves as a member of the WGS Student Advisory committee at CofC.
MH: Now, Reagan works as a project and communications associate for a black and women owned business where she aims at Leveraging Racial Equity for Organizational Development. She is joining us in today’s episode to talk about her transition from student activism to professional activist development and in what ways the College of Charleston has supported its students of color and the areas in which she sees potential for progress.
MH: Hi, Reagan. Thanks for being here with me.
RW: Hi, it's great to be here.
MH: So good to see you. How have you been?
RW: I've been doing good. It's been a busy work day, but my mind is fresh.
MH: Well, I appreciate you making time to be here today. So, tell me about life post grad. Has it been at all what you’ve expected?
RW: Oh, my goodness, that's a very layered question, and I guess I can get into it a little bit more.But I moved to Charlotte almost a year ago, so I've been living it up here and trying to figure out how to get involved here. I’m still an outsider, been living a little bit of a privileged life in downtown Charlotte, so I’m not used to being so far away from the black community, and not being in partnership with nonprofits, which has been very different for me. But, it's been good. I’ve really been focusing on working and trying new things, trying new food, checking out the city.
MH: Awesome. So you're out of the nonprofit sector a little bit. What has work been looking like?
RW: So I tried for a long time to work in the nonprofit space. I literally spent a year from spring 2020 to spring 2021 looking for work in the nonprofit space in Charleston, and I couldn't find a job, if we're gonna be honest, and I think it was partially because of the pandemic, and because I was looking for entry level positions kind of in a field that I already had experience in, and I was getting a lot of feedback like, “hey, you're well overqualified and we're looking for someone who maybe is just kind of trying to get into the space.”
RW: So, I started looking for more corporate type jobs that were doing the same type of work. So, right now I am working at a boutique consulting firm. We provide expert advice to primarily philanthropic foundations. I'm working for Keecha Harris and Associates, and we have worked- I think the firm in general has worked with multi-billion dollar foundations, so there are large implications in the work that I’m doing right now, which is amazing. So I'm really proud of what I do and working for such a boss black woman that's really dominating her field. So what I'm doing right now is leveraging racial equity for organizational development.
MH: Awesome. Wow! So, you struggled with being right out of undergrad and with your Women's and Gender Studies degree and your Psychology degree being overqualified for many positions. I don't know how many undergrads expect to experience that! So that is, you know, really cool. Do you feel like the WGS program, specifically- and I know that you were involved in a lot, you know, when you were here, but how did those qualifications that WGS gave you maybe contribute to your search for work and your landing the job you have now?
RW: Oh, it helped tremendously. So, when I first got to CofC, I started working with the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center (GSEC), and that gave me a lot of experience in kind of developing events and making flyers, and students don't think of things like that, like managing events, as project management, but that's exactly what it is. If you're a president, or a vice president or working on an E board even or with any student club organization or center at CofC, you have some type of experience in project management.
RW: So I really listed all the different opportunities that I was able to take as a WGS student and compiled all of my extracurricular activities into an eportfolio, and not only was that part of like me trying to boost my resume and sell myself, but it was really insane for me to see everything that I had accomplished. And I definitely don't think that everyone's gonna leave undergrad feeling like, “oh, like I'm so experienced in my field,” but that's what landing that first job is supposed to do, right? So it's just convincing people, like: “hey, like I’ve built this set of knowledge and skills in undergrad, and I deserve an opportunity to try. And luckily I got that opportunity with a really good firm.
MH: That’s awesome, and it’s really cool to hear you speak to the set of skills that you gained during your time in WGS because I think it is one of those disciplines where you gain just as much from sitting in the class, experiencing and learning the things you do- that that time spent can be just as valuable as the actual piece of paper that you earn on graduation day. And I don’t think the same can be said for all majors, and I think that you are a great example of the way that WGS can manifest in a professional realm.
MH: And, of course, during your time at The College you took full advantage of everything that WGS has to offer a student, not just the community but the outreach, the tools to create social change and social advocacy, and that can be seen, of course, also on your resume. So, how have you been able to translate those types of lessons in activism to your professional life? Do you still see activism holding a role in the way that you move throughout your career?
RW: Oh, most definitely. It's absolutely insane. Really, it took the pandemic and me, like, questioning everything for me to even look into organizational development because when I really think about it, when I was at CofC I really pushed back a lot on student government, on decisions regarding selecting a President, decisions that were being made out of the President/Provost office. I was really kind of pivotal and in a space where I was helping to make institutional change at CofC. So, now I’m translating that into leveraging racial equity for organizational development. So it's really not that much different. It's in a completely different space, but I'm still really kind of leaning into that student activism.
MH: So amazing. I remember being a freshman, and especially into my sophomore year, when you and I had first started to really collaborate together, and I always looked up to you. Like, I could only see that you saw a vision for it, you understood what needed to be done, and you did it for no other reason besides that's what needs to be done. It's so exciting to have you on this show in the first place because you really are one of the first people I think of when I think about student activists during their time and beyond.
MH: I know that you're located in Charlotte right now, but I know a piece of your heart is still in Charleston, so what ties do you still have here? And what keeps you wanting to stay involved at The College?
RW: Oh, geez. What makes me want to stay involved? Honestly, the Women’s and Gender Studies department and Kris De Welde helped me so much in just really getting out of my shell and becoming the person that I am, and not only is it me leaning in to my passion, like I said, but I don't know, I feel a sense of responsibility to see it through.
RW: So right now I am an alum member of the WGS Student Advisory Committee. And I’ve been kind of helping, I co-founded Mental Health and Melanin, which is an organization on campus that focuses on the mental health of students or people people of color and queer folks on campus, so I've been able to nurture those 2 things that I started doing in undergrad and kind of working a little bit with the Intersectional Cougar Action Network, as well. I got to speak with some students who were helping with some push back on the Race, Equity and Inclusion proposal.
MH: I’m glad that you brought up the REI bill because, first, the fact that the WGS student advisory committee exists really speaks to what I love about the WGS department which is, like you said, it considers students, it considers the students’ perspectives and their needs in the curriculum. Speaking of curriculum and speaking of the REI bill, can you go in a little bit more, maybe, about what the REI proposal looks like and why it’s important?
RW: Okay, so what the REI proposal is, is it's a set of course listings that would turn into kind of a guidebook for requirements for incoming freshmen and beyond. So, what this will look like is that every student will have to have 6 credit hours in a class that is focusing in some capacity on race, equity and inclusion. What's really good about the requirement is that it works in lieu with a lot of gen-ed requirements, and I want to say that every department on campus will have a set of classes that will meet the requirement, not only for people who are further in their major but for folks who are taking those entry level classes.
MH: So why is the implementation of this kind of curriculum important for the progress of the college?
RW: So, I really think of 2 things. So, number one, in lieu of the requirement, faculty will undergo workshops and trainings around racial equity which the college needs: point blank period. It’s part of what I do professionally just in a different space, right? It is making sure that staff understand the importance of diversity and diversity of thought. I can't tell you, and this is leading into my second reason why this is so important, I can't think of a single person of color on campus, especially when I was there, that didn't feel kind of isolated in a room being the only black person, or maybe one of 2 black people students in a room with a white professor where either we didn't feel comfortable or perhaps there was a discussion that was brought up in class where our perspective was overlooked, or maybe even not considered.
RW: There have been a lot of situations where students have felt uncomfortable by things that the faculty members have said and brought up in class. There was an incident even when I was at The College, where a French professor said the “n” word in class, so I really think that it's going to put pressure on The College to look at Black CofC and our perspective of campus, and not only campus, but of Charleston in general. It takes a lot of courage, for people who are moving out of state, or even from further away in Charleston. To even come to Charleston as black people knowing the history of the city, and knowing that enslaved folks built The College of Charleston is really daunting, and you can definitely still feel the racial tension in Charleston as a black person. So, I really think that this will open up discussions across the board for every student to have uncomfortable conversations that need to be had.
MH: Well said. I mean it's absolutely unacceptable the level of discomfort that, as you've spoken to, black students experience, especially at a college that you know celebrates “diversity.” Every point is straight on, so where do you see the hesitation for passing it. What's getting in the way?
RW: What’s getting in the way? There are 2 things that are getting in the way. So number one: a lot of faculty, and I know the Provost, potentially the board of trustees, and our President are all really concerned about the pushback from Columbia. So, CofC is a public institution, and we have to work with folks in Columbia to pass these big level curriculum changes, and across the nation, there's been a lot of conversation about anti-critical race theory, legislation in different states. That conversation hasn't been a huge conversation in South Carolina, but it could be. We're moving into an election year, and it's been really important to our faculty that have worked on this proposal that it be passed. So there was a lot of hesitation about sending it to Columbia with its title, with “race” in the title.
RW: After that hurdle it was just kind of like, “okay, well, is this, number one, going to get passed through folks who have to approve this in Columbia? And are there going to be larger implications on schools and other institutions? Will this kind of encourage anti-critical race theory legislation in South Carolina? That's scary. So, I know that there was a lot of talk around that.
RW: Number 2: A lot of faculty members felt like this was being rushed because there wasn't a lot of movement for a few months getting a director for REI and getting work done on building these workshops and trainings. They felt like, “okay, well, if freshmen come, they realize that they have a requirement, and there's not this huge list of classes that they can take to fulfill this and faculty aren't ready, are they going to be able to trust this this system, this new director, and really be able to lean in and embrace the requirement? Of course, these are really points to consider. I don't think that they were lackluster in their thought processes. I don't think it was a huge pushback of the general proposal, but the fear is that this conversation is going to keep getting delayed over and over and over again.
MH: Right. It sounds like a lack of prioritization. So, yeah, I mean, you're right. Let me know the next steps because this isn't a fight that just has to be in the hands of students of color or even just the Student Advisory Committee. So you let me know, and our listeners know what we can do to get this thing through.
RW: Yeah. So, the Faculty Senate just had a meeting yesterday where the motion to push back the implementation of the REI proposal passed. So, it's going to get pushed back again, unfortunately. Now, really, in retrospect, like with a sense of looking from the past to now, this has been part of a conversation for a lot of faculty since 2013. That's almost 10 years, right? Yeah, which is scary. I know that it was so scary for faculty sitting in that meeting like, when is this going to happen? If it's not happening now, what other forces or conversations behind the scenes are happening or not happening for this not to happen right now?
RW: We all want it to happen right now, but I do think that a way that students can get involved and other faculty can get involved is really kind of creating transparency and pushing for transparency for when that deadline’s gonna be set. There needs to be a promise about when this is going to be implemented with CofC students.
MH: Yeah, I’ll get my best people on it. [laughs] I appreciate your sentiments because you're right. I mean, I think about what I’ve gained from being a WGS major more than just credits to check off on my list of things I have to do, and I really do believe in the power of this kind of education. Not to just get a job, not to put on your resume, but to be in our actual society and to interact with other people that don't look like you or it didn't come from where you did because it's inevitable and this kind of assumption that everyone will just be able to adapt to real work life in the real world after college- I don't I don't know if everyone deserves that kind of expectation, you know.
MH: Not everyone has earned that, especially at our college, and I think that everyone deserves the right to earn that kind of education, no matter what discipline you're in, so I thank you on behalf of so many people at CofC for your active work here. I did want you to maybe talk a little bit more, before we wrap up, about your legacy of mental health and melanin. What has that looked like since you’ve been gone? Did it make it through the pandemic? I know that a lot of groups on campus have, post pandemic, had to uproot or reroute, I guess.
RW: Yeah, so the pandemic really did kind of shake the foundation of Mental Health and Melanin. I founded Mental Health and Melanin alongside one of my fellow psychology majors who kind of saw a struggle with Cougar Counseling and Students for Support having real conversations with folks who are dealing with mental health issues tied to oppression and discrimination on campus. I remember going and talking to someone, and it really wasn't a fruitful conversation because they didn’t really fully understand the implications that they had on my mental health. So, it was really important that we create this space. And it was thriving. Oh, it was thriving, and I really hated to see the implications of COVID on a lot of different black lead student organizations on campus. But we did make it through, luckily. It’s not as robust, or I want to say it's not as robust as it was pre-pandemic. We have an amazing E board right now that's really just trying to put back together a lot of the pieces that we had in place. We had a completely different E board.
RW: It's been beautiful to see Black CofC come back together after kind of having this physical separation and having all these different organizations, like you said, either fall apart or have to figure out how to regroup and how to regain its foundations. But I really see a lot of hope for Mental Health and Melanin, and I’m really trying to help push people into those E board seats and get people out to events.
MH: Well, nonetheless, your legacy will always exist on campus far beyond your years. So, I appreciate you. Before we’re done I want to, in the spirit of Brené Brown, do a little bit of a speed around with just a couple of questions. Very low stakes. Do not worry about it. Okay, tell me the one place you want to visit in your lifetime that you've not been.
MH: What is your background on your phone?
RW: Oh, my God, let me look, it's a picture of me in all black, and I look very ballsy and assertive. I don’t know if you can see it.
MH: Yes. Oh, yeah. Oh, my God, love. Okay, what's one thing about you that surprises people?
RW: A lot of people say that I'm very calm, but when I'm comfortable with you, I'm very funny. I love to make people laugh.
MH: Okay. Last one. Fill in the blank: Right now, I am _____.
RW: Oh, my God! I am a prime example of black girl magic.
MH: [snapping] Yes. It’s been such a pleasure. You're the best. You make this so fun. I wish you all the best, and I can't wait to see you next time you're in Charleston.
RW: Of course.
MH: The WGS program misses you.
RW: Oh, and I miss it.
MH: Alright. Thank you, Reagan. Good luck with everything. We'll keep in touch about the REI Bill.
RW: Of course, and if any students are ballsy enough to ask, just stand up in class and be like, “oh, do you know what the REI proposal is?” [laughs]
MH: Yes, you hear that? That's a call to action, listeners.
RW: That’s a call to action. Ask them if they're taking racial equity trainings and workshops. Get into it.
MH: Thank you, Reagan. I appreciate you.
RW: Of course, Marissa. It was so nice speaking with you.
MH: This has been WGS What IFF at CofC. Thank you for spending time with us today and for supporting the Women’s and Gender Studies program at the College of Charleston. For future episodes, visit The College’s official news site, The College Today, at today.cofc.edu or keep up with us on WGS Connect at blogs.cofc.edu/wgsconnect/ and our Instagram @cofcwgs. Join us again next time as we continue to find inspiration from the many faces of intersectional activism in our greater CofC community. Stay feminist y’all!