Duke student Alejandra Gómez honored for community service

Duke University student Alejandra Gómez has been selected for outstanding leadership and service by North Carolina Campus Compact, a statewide network of colleges and universities that are committed to community engagement. Gómez is a recipient of the network’s Community Impact Student Award, which honors one student leader at each member school. The award recognizes students with a deep commitment to community involvement and ability to inspire peers. Campus Compact honored the recipients during a virtual awards ceremony on November 13, 2020.

Gómez, a senior majoring in Public Policy and minoring in Education, is the Family Head at Student U, Durham, a community organization that seeks to empower and equip students in their educational paths to build a more just and equitable Durham. While serving in a summer program at Student U, Gomez’s commitment to excellence resulted in her being recognized as ‘Middle School Teacher of the Year’ due to multiple nominations from her fellow teachers and students. Winning the award is an extremely rare accomplishment for a first-year teacher. As a volunteer in the Student U after-school program, Gomez is a fierce advocate for her students constantly communicating with the teachers and families of her students in order to help them meet their academic and personal goals.

Gómez is also the President of The Girls’ Club (TGC), a mentorship program at the Emily K Center, where she provides the leadership and reflective mindset to ensure that all mentors are thoughtful about the ways in which they explore topics like identity, diversity, sexual health, body image and self-esteem. Gómez has also worked with a local elementary school to begin co-teaching a dance class with about 20 students in 3rd-5th grade.

One of Gómez’s nominators, Lindsey Furiness, Senior Program Coordinator, Civic Engagement Office of Durham and Community Affairs said, “In Ale’s work with both Student U and The Girls’ Club, she centers community voice and recognizes the strengths and agency of those she works with. She is thoughtful about supporting others in their goals and she works to identify community partners and work with them in a truly collaborative and equitable way.”

Read Alejandra’s remarks on “Why Engagement Matters” and view the full awards ceremony here.

In March of this year, when we knew little about Covid-19 but the uncertainty of it hung in the air, I wrote, for a class assignment, that I could only see one possible silver lining to this major global catastrophe. And that is that we – as a country, but more so, as humanity – could take a step back to notice all of the pain around us. To realize that the only way out of the crisis would be a big, intentional, and collective effort. And that maybe, Covid-19 was our wake-up call. Sadly, we are even more divided and disconnected as a nation. 

Civic and community engagement matters to me because I believe in the power that many people can have, together. I know that it’s cliche, but knowledge really is power. Last week, when I taught 5th grade students about voting disenfranchisement and the history of voting rights in our country, they were agitated and confused, calling out the unfairness of our policies and our leadership. I think that there is a big push for social change happening in many communities right now, but that often times that push is another reinvention of the wheel. Another band aid solution. 

Community engagement is meant to be inclusive; everyone gets a seat at the table. The 5th graders too. It is unapologetically messy work. We won’t always agree. That’s okay. It is humbling. It is meant to bring people together, to be an authentic and organic process. Adults should take a step back and facilitate the space for children and young adults to lead the efforts.

I thrive when I’m in community, working with students, educators, peers, and families. I would go so far as to say that everyone can thrive when they engage meaningfully with their communities. And that, is how social change might come about. Community engagement is transformational, and I wish for everyone to experience the power of collective action. 

North Carolina Campus Compact is a collaborative network of 39 colleges and universities committed to educating students for civic and social responsibility, partner with communities for positive change, and strengthen democracy. Learn more at www.nccampuscompact.org.