Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Karessa Irvin

Karessa Irvin ’12 studied the African diaspora in Mexico.

Scholarly aptitude: When I was applying to college, my advisor nominated me for the Posse Fellowship. Wheaton was one of their partner schools, and it fit with what I desired for my college experience, including personal attention and small classes. I visited Wheaton after getting accepted, and I left with a feeling of assurance because I felt comfortable on campus. That was what allowed me to know I had made the right decision.

Seeking answers: My major is African, African American, Diaspora Studies. I studied abroad in Mexico for a year and remember asking myself, Where are the black people? This started my quest to find out if the African diaspora had in fact reached Mexico. My final answer was: it did. I visited towns with Mexicans of African descent and learned that Europeans had brought African slaves to Mexico since 1519. Many Mexicans are still visibly black, but unfortunately, many live in marginalized communities and are not recognized by Mexican society in general.

Race issues: Colorism is a concept I had not formally learned about until I took “Multicultural Psychology” with the wonderful Professor Fhagen-Smith. Colorism is tied to racism, and unfortunately it helps to perpetuate injustice in the world. Growing up, I was familiar with the fact that even within people-of-color communities, preference to lighter skin-toned people exists, but coming to college has given me the correct language to understand it. It is the responsibility of our generation to confront these issues if we are aiming for a multicultural society that, instead of wanting to ignore race, embraces it.

Giving back: I am proud of the mentoring programs I have been involved in, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and HERO. I believe that it is my responsibility to give back to others. Youth of color need more role models who look like them and can encourage them to not just “make it out from their neighborhoods” but can be encouraged to go back, stay, and even make some real change. I am only at Wheaton because of the many people who believed in my potential. It is my life mission to help other youth of color who come from urban, low income neighborhoods to be empowered to do the same.