Social work senior Yakira Sanders never thought she would come to college, but UNI helped her build confidence to succeed. And a new internship opportunity with UNI’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice (DIS) has helped her hone her leadership skills while providing a valuable resource to empower other diverse students on campus.
This past semester, Sanders was named the first-ever peer advocate intern for DIS. The role was created just for Sanders — in fact, she approached DIS with the idea of working for them as an intern, because it’s a resource she’s loved using as a student and as a leader on campus. (She’s had leadership roles with Black Student Union, Ethnic Student Promoters, and was the Director of Diversity for Northern Iowa Student Government.) The internship focuses mainly on advocating for diverse students who have experienced bias-related incidents on campus, acting as a listening ear and a source of resources.
“Students who go through these experiences typically don’t like to talk to administration or staff,” said Sanders. “As a peer, I make it less intimidating to talk to them and let them know that I also go through these things and this is how we can get through it.”
This role has been a vital addition to the resources provided by DIS. The office, which combined the collective efforts of the Center for Multicultural Education, Military & Veterans Services and Gender & Sexuality Services, now offers intersectional and inclusive services devoted to addressing the needs of students with a variety of diverse experiences and identities. Sanders supported all of these students and sees the position as a sign of a larger shift towards a more inclusive vision of diversity.
“The real change is to be able to see that our institution is actually doing something about [diversity],” she said. “I’ve truly enjoyed being surrounded by different people, being challenged to step outside my comfort zone and being able to learn from them. The idea of having differences just makes everything better.”