<h1><span class=”NewsTitle” style=”padding-left: 75px”>Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity</span><span class=”NewsTitleRED”> News</span></h1>
Jakini Kauba is a senior in biological sciences with a concentration in human biology from Maxton, NC. She is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., an intern at the African American Cultural Center, member of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity program, scholarship recipient of the Black Alumni Society’s Lawrence M. Clark Memorial Undergraduate Scholarship, a member of Peace Church choir and a member of University Scholars Program, Biology Program and W.E.B. DuBois Honor Society.
What is your involvement in the African American Cultural Center?
At the AACC, I’m involved with everything from planning, hosting and facilitating events to attending and performing at events. I work to keep the community strong and I try to be an ally for the center. I also try to make sure that people know that they are cared for and loved outside of the center. So, being a support system for others and trying to reflect Mama Thorpe’s image and her light is what I strive to do. AACC is really my home on campus outside of my apartment.
Would you like to name a specific individual who has mentored you and describe how they have helped you?
My mentors change with time, so I meet new people and I gain a lot from them. Then, I grow and reach a point where I need to grow in other areas so I need other people to teach me something new. My mentors on campus have been Mama Thorpe, some faculty and mostly staff. Dr. Erin Banks over my research program has been a mentor; Dr. Felicia Jenkins, who is also over my research program. Dr. Tracey Ray has been a mentor. Dr. Melissa Pasquinelli, Dr. Thomas Easley, Dr. Jamila Simpson – they’ve definitely had an influence on me since I’ve come to college as far as making sure that I’m focused on my academics and taking time for myself to relax. Ms. Donna Battle – she’s no longer at NC State, but she has definitely been a mentor for me as well.
How do you define diversity and why do you think diversity important?
My definition of diversity is: unbiased perspectives – recognizing various cultures and recognizing your privilege, understanding everyone’s differences and having the perspective that is your own but that you can adapt to understand others without being biased. For example, I’m an African American female so I’m not going to understand everything that a Native American gay male is going to go through. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t have a conversation with that individual and it shouldn’t mean that I can’t support him and be a source of hope, compassion and love for that individual.
Diversity, in my opinion, is unfortunately something that has to be taught. It has to be instilled in us because we grow up in American culture being taught to figure out what’s different amongst each other, and rather than embrace our differences, we find what is different and we cast it out. I think diversity is understanding who you are and accepting others for who they are and maintaining, as best you can, unbiased perspectives so you can be an ally for other people when they’re not in the room. And that goes beyond race, it goes beyond gender, beyond sexuality, it includes different educational backgrounds, different majors and different home towns. So I can be cool with somebody and if they tell me they’re from Lumberton I should be aware and ask, “Is your family OK?” – Not “Did you get the homework done?”
I feel that diversity is just one of those things that brings us together as a human people and allows us to have that connection of caring for one another. At the end of the day, we all have the same blood, we all have 21 chromosomes and we’re all on this planet for a reason. I feel like diversity is really just bringing everybody together as one, and it sounds paradoxical because (the word) diversity is supposed to be different things. But it’s those different things that can bring us together.
What have been some of your most impactful experiences here at NC State?
Being in the AACC and going to Peace Church – those two things have kept me here. The family base that I’ve gained from those two environments and the support, the love and the genuine concern for my well-being is nothing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Walking into a room of people that barely know me and yet welcome me with a smile means a lot. Somebody who does know me and sees that I’m not doing well and when I say that I’m OK and they know I’m lying means a lot. People genuinely care and text you every now and then asking how everything’s going, or when they haven’t heard from you in a while and they notice that you’re missing. It means they recognize your presence and that you matter. I’m grateful to be in those spaces. The communities that I’ve become a part of and have been able to create and develop through AACC and Peace Church have been the most impactful cultures that I’ve experienced at NC State.
Why do you think a diverse student body is important at NC State?
It’s very important. It’s better for growth. If you’re around the same type of people all the time then you’re going to have the same type of ideas and perspectives. You’re not learning as much as you could because you’re staying within that realm of people. If there aren’t a lot of people that you can reach out to outside that perspective, then it’s going to be a little challenging. Diversity within the student body is very necessary for students, faculty and staff.
I was speaking to the dean of the college of sciences a little while ago, and we were discussing how some faculty and staff have an academic-only relationship with students. Students might say “I didn’t get this assignment done. Can I have an extension because something came up?” but the professors don’t recognize that the issue that caused the student to perform badly academically could linger for a long period of time and could cause issues later on. And because these professors don’t check in with the student on a human basis and show they care, the student feels as though they are only a grade.
In what ways do you want to see NC State become more diverse? More welcoming?
Representation is key. Representation of different demographics and populations needs to exist. Then, we need education. We need people to understand that people outside of yourself and your experiences exist and they are just as important. We have alcohol.edu that everyone has to take. Well, we need a “diversity.edu” to explain that when you say certain things, it is a microagression to a community because of the history of that community. When you use certain terminology, you and your group of friends who have accepted that as OK might actually offend someone else who has family in that community or who identifies with that community. We should educate people to be careful with our language, in the way that we express our perceptions to other people, versus just saying what we feel and saying our ideas. We need to state: “This is my perspective. This is what I understand. This is where I’m coming from – is this offensive to you? I don’t mean to offend you,” and then genuinely try not to offend people.
So representation, education, and third is execution. It can’t stop at writing things down or planning them out. When you start one project, you don’t stop because that’s not enough – it’s a good start. Keep going, you’re not done. We need execution of various programs and events. We need to invite speakers to come and speak on behalf of different communities and make it a requirement that everybody on this campus attends. It should be a class that everyone has to take. Representation to see, education to know about it and execution to practice it. Those are the three things that this university needs. They are things that the university will survive without, unfortunately, but won’t thrive without.
What is your advice to younger students?
My advice to younger students is to take care of yourself. You can only do but so much, you can only control but so much. I don’t know if people are religious or spiritual, but I’m both religious and spiritual so the serenity prayer is one of the best things for me. The serenity prayer is key because it gives you that balance of knowing what you can change – and when you can make that change, then go for it, don’t hesitate. Because we can sit around and talk about the issues we face, but nothing is going to happen if we are just having the conversations, so make a change. Some things are out of our control; recognize that you can do all that you can and it may not impact as many people as you want it to. Give yourself grace. And that final part, knowing the difference. You have to know the difference; if not, you’re going to try to make a change in every situation and run yourself down, tire yourself out, because it’s not producing the level of results that you’re expecting. You might feel that nothing you do is worth it, so you need to have that balance.
Jakini Kauba was interviewed by Austin Butler, ’18, communications intern in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.