In an update that is both one of our most exciting and disappointing to write, we’ve got a lot to cover. To begin with, let’s talk successes.
To date, we’ve met with administration and faculty at Fort Lewis College, Southern Utah University, Missouri State University, Southern Illinois University, Colorado State University, and Ozark Technical College. In addition, via invite, we spent the weekend with the former lieutenant governor of Illinois, Sheila Simon, who provided us with a variety of resources and connections to advance our goals (we were also encouraged to reach out to Senators Durbin and Wicker regarding the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, which aims to expand study abroad programs for higher education institutions across the country). Beyond this, we’ve met with miners who have offered to connect us with their corporate heads to discuss fully-paid scholarship programs for miners who would like to pursue higher education.
At each meeting, we’ve explained that our goal is to expand representation of students from low-income, rural, and heartland backgrounds in DC as well as study abroad programs, and that we have the potential to offer a variety of services including application review, coaching, and roomstays. We want to help students overcome the skill and funding gap that currently exists between upper/middle class East Coasters and those who have had less access to resources and opportunities. Administrators and faculty have responded with overwhelming positivity and excitement. Each and every meeting has resulted in brainstorming sessions and promises of future engagement to get students from diverse backgrounds to DC and abroad.
At Fort Lewis College, a school that awards 16% of all degrees earned by Native Americans in the U.S., administrators asked us to organize student-led skype sessions for classrooms from all disciplines at the start of the semester. They believe there would be tremendous interest from their students, especially if they’re able to connect with young professionals near their age.
At Missouri State University, the head of the History Department asked if it would be possible to coordinate with us to build a new certificate program that would prepare students to be competitive in DC and overseas.
From the miners unions, we were asked if we’d be able to speak with workers about how to apply skills learned in the mining sector to careers in policy and international relations. There was particular excitement about SAIS’ Energy, Resources, and the Environment concentration.
In all, we have had the opportunity to interact with these institutions in meaningful ways that have helped establish long-term working relationships with school officials. Over and over, our partners said this was the first time a group from DC reached out to discuss how to bring their students to our nation’s capitol and that we have the potential to create pathways that could reach thousands of underrepresented students each year. We celebrate these successes as the first of many steps needed to change the landscape of the leadership in Washington, DC and abroad so that it better reflects the diversity of our country.
In sum, we’re excited, yet there is a lot of work to do when we get back — and we’re almost there.
Now for the disappointing news. SAIS has decided not to endorse us this year. The school has not yet given a reason, but we were promised an official message soon. It’s hard to frame this news in any other way than sincere disappointment. The students and professors we have met this summer are excited about SAIS, and we believe that we are contributing significantly to diversifying SAIS’ student population. In addition, the lack of cooperation from SAIS has made it near impossible for us to reach our second goal: to raise money for the SAIS Underrepresented Communities Fellowship. We have reached out to the financial aid and development offices several times to request literature about the new Fellowship and current fundraising mechanisms, but we have received very limited information. Our difficulty working with the SAIS administration is particularly disheartening considering that SAIS lags behind its peer institutions in terms of providing financial support to students from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds. When talking with students with limited financial means, we’ve been forced to be candid about how SAIS’ funding models compare to those of other institutions.
At this moment, many of our riders are facing sincere financial hardship. Several joined the ride under the impression that SAIS would help support us (indeed, we received encouraging words from our school’s leadership before we began). Now, our riders have been forced to finance the trip through leftover student loans.
Moving forward, we recognize that our work has just begun. Even after the ride ends, we will continue to build relationships with the schools we met with this summer. We are already planning skype sessions with students this Fall, are continuing to build our informal mentoring program, and are drafting documents to be reviewed by university provosts and administors. However, given the news we’ve received from SAIS, we no longer feel that we can promote SAIS exclusively over peer institutions. Instead, we will be promoting all international relations programs in DC equally. We will also be reaching out to new potential sponsors to see if they’d be interested in supporting us in the Fall.
As we reflect on our journey the last few months, we again call upon SAIS to reaffirm its commitment to diversifying its student body. Programs like our ride, while not officially part of SAIS, are key to building a more equitable university that reflects the diversity of our country. Should future SAIS students come to the university requesting support for a ride, we implore the university to listen, to reflect, and recognize that this initiative has the potential to positively change the landscape of the student body for decades to come.
As always, thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting us! — GoFundMe