By Camryn Williams, MPH’23 in Behavioral, Social, Health, and Education Sciences (BSHES)
When my mom arrived in the United States from Sierra Leone, West Africa in 1993, she had hopes and dreams that this newfound land would be the opportunity to start over. She carried this dream on the backs of her children whom she cherished. While my brother had spent a good part of his childhood in Sierra Leone, I took my first steps on American soil. Born in a little hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, I was my mother’s miracle child, born 13 years after her first son. My childhood was full of joy, love, and family. What it was also filled with was exploration, hardship, and fear. My first-generation status constantly loomed over my head. Having to navigate various social and educational spaces on my own with no direction was incredibly challenging. In the same light, having to navigate different spaces as a Black girl proved to be one of the hardest parts. My compounded minority identities made me realize at an early age that I had to always be my best self and go above and beyond in everything I did. Engaging in different extracurricular activities and educational opportunities, I quickly found that my passions lied in cultivating people who had similar identities such as I did.
Throughout my undergraduate career, I worked to provide campus resources to first generation and Black students across the university. Working to diversify class courses, spearheading bilingual services in the financial aid department, and creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for underrepresented students to feel represented was my core focus. My identity drove my social philosophy in service, civic engagement and community. These are some of the core values I looked for when applying for Master of Public Health (MPH) programs. Rollins held all these values near and dear to their program.
Stepping foot on campus for orientation, I immediately felt accepted and supported. I entered a cohort in the Behavioral, Social, Health, and Education Sciences (BSHES) department where 60 percent of students are students of color. Our orientation included connecting with students from diverse backgrounds and cultures. RollinsTeer Day at Books for Africa allowed me to take part in service that was personal to my cultural background. I was afraid that feelings of having to overwork myself and going above and beyond as I did before would erupt but at Emory, I felt…at home. Within the first week I was able to connect with many other Black and Brown students on campus and get involved with many multicultural programming that occurred. I found my community of Black women who have helped me throughout the semester and have served as my rock through the good and tough times. While Emory is a predominantly white institution, Rollins really works to cultivate inclusive spaces for underrepresented students. Some of my favorite organizations and initiatives to be a part of as a Black woman have included the Association of Black Public Health Students (ABPHS) and being one of the founding members of the First-Generation Student Advisory Board. It also feels good to know that many of the classes offered at Rollins are reflective of issues that affect people who look like me. Racism as a Public Health Issue and classes within the social determinants of health certificate are some of the classes all students are encouraged to take advantage of.
When I sit and think about the women I am becoming and the agent of change I want to be for the Black community, I know Rollins is helping to cultivate that. The dream that my mother had when she stepped foot in this country is a dream that is alive and well in me. I know that my time here at Rollins will work to push that dream forward. Being a student of color can be challenging at times, but it is also rewarding, unique and full of opportunities to take what is near and dear in my heart and translate that into my research interest and coursework. This is the Rollins experience that I read about and am currently living.