Graduate student serves as diversity champion for learning communities

Jailene Rivas

Since arriving at Iowa State, Steven Waddell has been nominated three times for graduate student of the year, with two nominations for the Graduate and Professional Student Senate.

Waddell, a graduate student in education and an African American, hails from the west side of Chicago. He plans to pursue a doctorate degree in higher education at Iowa State following his master’s.

When he was a child, Waddell’s mother relocated him and his brother to a different school in the suburbs of Chicago for a better education. The decision moved them out of public schools, where all their friends were people of color, to suburban schools where the majority of students were white.

Waddell said this was the best decision to make for the betterment of his and his brother’s future. He learned at a young age that education was the key to a better life.

“[Education] is the tool a lot of people use to get out of poverty,” Waddell said.

Waddell said he hopes to start his own school where black and brown students can have equal opportunities.

He wants to be able to build a school like a community college, where students of color can gain the same opportunities large institutions say they will provide for the students but do not end up keeping their commitment.

Waddell said the biggest hurdle set up by the education system is people buying into multicultural students.

He said he hopes institutions execute their words rather than just saying they are open to diversity. Simply wanting diversity on their campuses without taking action does not help accommodate their diverse students into a racially homogenous campus.

Waddell decided to attend Iowa State for his master’s degree, rejecting other opportunities at Penn State University and Ohio State University, to begin creating a better experience for students of color.

“If I do not go to Iowa State, that will be one less [person of color] to build a community with,” Waddell said.

Waddell has taken a personal responsibility to make student experiences the best that he can possibly make them. He currently serves as the graduate assistant for the Bridging Opportunities in Leadership and Diversity learning community, otherwise known as BOLD. He also serves as the treasurer for BGSA, the Black Graduate Student Association.

Waddell said he sees the learning communities as a way to keep black and brown students in college. Waddell said that with his example of leadership and involvement he hopes to influence these students to stay in school.

He attempts to plan events and activities with Christy Oxendine, multicultural liaison officer for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to unite students of similar backgrounds in one setting.

As a black man attending a predominantly white institution, Waddell said that the most important advice he has to give is for multicultural students to find their support group.

“Support will not always come from who you think it will,” Waddell said. “Do not just rely on those of your same ethnicity.”