Meet 15 'Lions of Social Justice' From the Class of 2022
For many 2022 graduates their time at Columbia has been marked by a pandemic that has forced the world to witness societal inequities and racial injustices like never before.
Columbia News is proud to highlight a few of the many students graduating this year who are passionate about social justice in all its forms. They are people for whom this passion informs both their work at the university and their future hopes and dreams.
MBA, Columbia Business School
Buenos Aires, Argentina
I am the founder of Gender Equity Matters (GEM), which helps venture capitalists assess and report on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their portfolio companies. We also help startups build strong DEI foundations.
Before I started at Columbia Business School, I worked in investment banking at JPMorgan and management consulting at Boston Consulting Group. I've always cared about DEI, and helped push these efforts forward in the organizations where I worked.
When I arrived at Columbia, I decided that I wanted to dedicate my career to DEI. I worked at the New York City Commission on Gender Equity and in partnership with UN Women. I learned a lot from these experiences, but working for the public sector made me realize that I belong in private industry, where I can have the greatest impact. I founded GEM to combine my business background and consulting expertise with my passion and deep knowledge of DEI.
With GEM, I hope to bring a business lens to DEI, and use all the tools that I have acquired both in my previous jobs and at Columbia. I plan to leverage the networks that I have created to engage business leaders and make them understand that "DEI is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do." I believe that GEM can drive real change.
MA in Climate and Society, Columbia Climate School
Los Angeles, California
At the Climate School, I’m learning how to analyze climate data and communicate climate science in a way that mobilizes everyday people to take action in their communities. As a community organizer with WE ACT for Environmental Justice in West Harlem, I’m helping to empower disadvantaged communities to speak out on policies that can improve their health and quality of life. I aspire to run for Los Angeles City Council in the near future. I want to be a part of placing equity at the center of policymaking to save lives.
I attended high school in South LA’s Pico-Union district, where 98 percent of students are low-income and Latinx. Our building was located directly under the 110, one of LA’s busiest freeways. Many children in the area suffer from asthma or lung-related issues from breathing in the diesel-laden air. My community was also home to a superfund site and a hazardous waste site. When I began studying at UCLA, I learned the term ‘environmental racism,’ and chose to further my education to learn the science behind climate change and find my role for supporting disadvantaged communities.
MPH, Mailman School of Public Health
Bronx, New York
As part of my commitment to social justice, I’ve vowed to be a life-long volunteer in my community. I’ve volunteered with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice to lobby for equitable laws and educate residents in the Bronx. Academically, I’ve studied sexual and reproductive health through a public health lens, and focused on community participatory research to ensure that the communities I serve are heard and represented. In my personal life, I’m committed to being at the forefront of the fight for social justice.
Being an activist and public health professional focused on social justice is important to me. I’ve faced adversity throughout my life, and I’ve struggled to feel like I belong in higher education. I’m passionate about social justice because I’ve witnessed injustice first-hand and want to save others from the many inequities I’ve seen, from systemic racism to homophobia to sexism. All of this has inspired me to further my education and to use my public health knowledge and lived experiences to promote health equity and social justice. If I can have a positive impact on one person’s life, then I’ve done my job.
DDS, College of Dental Surgery
Although I am grateful for the opportunities and the goals I have achieved in the United States, I also had to endure a great deal of social injustice. As a Hispanic immigrant, I overcame many insecurities such as housing, transportation, and food insecurities. That is the reason why I have a passion for helping others in need, who like me, must overcome many obstacles to achieve their goals. During my time in Dental School, I became part of the Hispanic Student Dental Association in which I served as President to serve the community of Washington Heights, a predominantly Hispanic Community. Through several community service events, we focused on improving not only the oral health of the community but their overall health as well.
I’ve faced a lot of hardship growing up and later when I began my new life in the States, but that never stopped me from feeling optimistic and working for a better future. I am very proud of all my accomplishments so far, and I hope to inspire others. I feel inspired by my own life story. I want to tell other young immigrants that if I did it, they could do it as well. I want to continue giving back to minorities and unrepresented communities. I plan to continue this work when I become a professional orthodontic provider.
Julie “Julz” Greene
Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program Certificate, School of General Studies
As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, I have served on several committees, including the Social Action Committee. As a member of The Links, I serve as the co-chair for the National Trends Committee on an initiative called the Purses for a Purpose/Feminine Hygiene Pantry and on My Baby’s First Birthday coalition, which addresses infant mortality. Here at Columbia, I am a co-president of Social Justice Medicine, which hosts a myriad of events and sustainable programs surrounding various social issues. I am proud of the tagline we’ve implemented for this organization: Stand Up…Speak Out…become a more socially conscious (future) physician.
I consider myself a “documented immigrant,” which simply means that because I maintain an immigrant mindset, I’m well aware of the fortunate position I’m in. I don’t take my U.S. citizenship for granted. I understand what it means to be from another country and to not be treated fairly. Therefore, I feel a strong sense of obligation to do my part in seeing that marginalized communities are extended the opportunities that will allow them to thrive. My plan is to serve in the healthcare sector, as well as in the various organizations that I’m a part of, to mitigate injustice and leverage equity.
Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling
MS, Columbia Journalism School
Ossining, New York
In 2020, I co-founded a new media organization, @Protest_NYC, to cover the demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. The project brought shoe-leather beat reporting to Twitter and had content and reporting regularly highlighted by The New York Times, Gothamist, CBS, ABC, and other media outlets.
While a Stabile Fellow at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, I covered: HIV on the 40th anniversary of the epidemic, the intersection of public housing and climate change in South Brooklyn, rare diseases, the Troubled Teen industry, and much more.
I also freelanced for The Guardian, producing articles on the ethics of the egg donation industry and the costs of higher education, as well as a piece about alternative family models.
Post-graduation, I hope to keep writing stories that highlight and target wealth inequality across myriad industries and social issues.
My journalism career is rooted in community reporting, which instills in me a strong sense of responsibility to my sources and the places they come from. Looking to counteract the sweeping tribalistic narratives offered by TV political media, I see journalism as a community-binding mechanism and a way to bring people together. I hope to bring enough nuance to my work so that it provokes thought and conversation with a strong dose of humanity.
BA, Computer Science, Columbia College
As an Office of University Life Ambassador, I have led conversations around justice and inclusivity for new students. As an aspiring product manager, I have provided free career counseling to underrepresented groups of people on how to break into the tech industry, and I am committed to continuing this project for the unheard and the unseen.
It is important because there is so much to be done to change the systemic injustice. In an era where social issues are polarized by politics and COVID, I want to contribute to redefining the narratives of equality in race, gender, class, sexuality, and so much more.
MSW, School of Social Work
Prior to the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW), I was a community non-profit program coordinator focused on supporting pan-Asian-identified survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and human trafficking. This experience truly helped amplify my work at Columbia as a growing mixed-practice social worker, namely with Student Life as co-leader for CSSW affinity caucuses, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy as a social justice fellow, and the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights as their MSW technical assistance intern. Moving into this next chapter, I'm planning to take my MSW beyond the public sector because I am committed to making social justice an imperative everywhere, from our direct service leaders to corporate executives. I believe that divestment from white centrality needs to happen for racial equity and justice to thrive, but I realize that much of that responsibility has historically fallen onto those over-burdened yet under-resourced. I’m hoping to work towards shifting this power dynamic, and lead in thought partnership and collaboration across disciplines to share wealth, knowledge, and resources for social impact.
This work is important not just to me, but also in honor of my Lao family, community, and ancestors who did what they needed to give me the space to be here. The opportunity to sit in a justice-centered role is a manifestation of their legacy, with a nuanced understanding that healing from cyclic trauma spans generations. I recognize that access to an MSW is a privilege, so it’s important for me to do my part in uplifting historically silenced voices with limited positionality as the fuel for systems change.
Kellian Anise Staggers
BA, Ethnicity and Race Studies, Columbia College
During my time at Columbia, and throughout my studies in the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, I have continued my own research into analyzing the role of Indigenous women within Native and post-colonial societies and the challenges we face, such as violence and invisibility. This research has contributed to my personal growth as a community leader and activist. For the last three years, I have worked closely with the Admissions Office to expand Columbia’s outreach to Native and Indigenous students. While also trying to maintain the current Native community on campus through the Native American Council.
I have always wanted to be a role model for other Native/Indigenous youth. There were many times along the road where I was told I could not do something, or was made to feel inferior, and I want to do everything in my power to keep another student from feeling that same way. I have enjoyed the work I have done to not only be a role model, but also a good relative for students who are considering higher education. I aspire to be a strong matriarch who continues to strive for change within my community.
MPA, Development Practice, School of International and Public Affairs
Trinidad and Tobago
I am a vocal student member on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Climate and Engagement Committee (DEICE) and the Working Group on Race, Inequality, Solidarity and Economics (RISE) at SIPA. I stress the importance of including learning on race and power in the curriculum to make students aware of how these topics shape global relationships, opportunities, and social justice. Three classmates and I developed and presented a proposal to the Academic Sub-Committee of DEICE, which jumpstarted the process of determining opportunities to integrate these topics in SIPA’s coursework. Additionally, as part of RISE, I supported the organization of a two-part workshop, SPEAK UP 2021, to engage students, faculty, and staff in learning to facilitate conversations on antiracism and understanding internal biases.
My colleagues, Jasmine McClam, Lindsey Streeter, and I founded SIPA’s first Black Graduate Students’ Union. This organization aims to promote an understanding of the problems and needs of underrepresented Black students at SIPA and the wider Black community and to provide a safe space for them.
I am passionate about reducing global inequalities and creating opportunities for marginalized and underserved communities, primarily because of my identity as a Black woman from a small island nation. I have seen how a lack of discourse on race and power dynamics in development and international affairs can result in a lack of understanding of the root causes of challenges faced by marginalized communities. Students at SIPA will become global leaders, so it is important for us to understand these topics to ensure that we can find meaningful and effective solutions.
JD, Columbia Law School
I am focused on challenging state violence and will be continuing that as a fellow with Human Rights Watch after graduation. Before law school, I worked for The Carter Center monitoring the Syrian conflict and, later, electoral violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During my law school summers, I returned to the American south to challenge death sentences and mass incarceration. I supported post-conflict truth finding in the Central African Republic as a member of the law school’s Human Rights Clinic.
I am driven to make state systems stop and listen—really listen—to the people whose lives they affect. Growing up in Georgia, seeing its history and present, has certainly provided part of that drive. Another part was growing up in a digital age and eventually becoming an open source researcher. Knowing many friends and colleagues who live through rights violations has taught me they are not passive victims but, rather, agents of change. I want to ensure their voices are heard loud and clear.
MA, American Studies, Graduate School of Arts and Science
Westbury, New York
I am very committed to activism through my non-profit, The Prosp(a)rity Project. We are dedicated to improving the financial and economic mobility of college-educated Black women. Additionally, I am finishing up my M.A. in American Studies at Columbia, and I will be entering into a Ph.D. program in the fall. My research centers around Black American women and the mental health crisis in our society. I am looking into how the Black Church has both a positive and negative effect on how Black American women are able to access and utilize mental health treatment.
I want to use my research and my activist pursuits to promote a change in the Black community. I hope that this work can create a more equitable and sustainable future for future generations of Black girls and women–a world where societal pressures regarding mental health and where student loan debt are no longer barriers to their progress.
Elzie Williams III
MFA, Sculpture, School of the Arts
I am an interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, collage, and installation. My work deals with racial and social issues and allows the viewer to see just how few minorities are represented in printed media, and how much labor it takes to accumulate them in my collages. Being the only Black student in my cohort, I engage others in conversations about the necessity for fair representation in institutions, and how we can all be vocal to resolve these issues. In the future, I would like to create my own fellowship/scholarship for emerging Black artists.
The dichotomy of observing magazines as a dying medium while they still remain a perfect representation of contemporary culture is why I center my work to expose racial biases in print. Growing up in one of the most segregated cities in America, it was apparent that consumerism wasn't a colorless concept in advertising. I am not only categorizing faces by color on each backside, but also by the race that is represented on each swatch. By archiving and categorizing thousands of faces, I am able to examine and highlight just how much minority representation matters visually.
M.Arch and M.S.CCCP, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
My thesis project is about courtroom evidence and the history of forensic documentation. This is important to me because it offers insight into the role of the justice system as a component of social justice issues. I also helped form the GSAPP Solidarity Coalition for the Palestinian People, and organized a series of film screenings, discussions, and teach-ins to claim both a physical space and conceptual space in GSAPP, where difficult conversations can be had among students in this time of great uncertainty, an effort that grew out of student support for the Black Lives Matter Movement.
My work in the architecture studios includes the 2021 project, The Net-Worked Territories, a design for an urban system that serves the daily needs of disenfranchised workers, and empowers underserved communities in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
I would not consider myself an activist, especially since I know many students who are committed to social justice. I also cannot take credit for something that is a collective effort. I guess in some ways, my experience shows that an international student could and should learn to care, to learn about, and to take part in the cause of social justice.
BS, applied mathematics, minor in computer science, School of Engineering and Applied Science
I'm a big proponent of supporting women in STEM and providing opportunities for international students on campus. I’ve mentored international students as part of Columbia’s Turkish Student Association. I was also SEAS’ international representative during the 2020-2021 academic year, and hope to continue this work in the future. I’ve previously worked with various nonprofits on field studies on child marriages and family planning in Turkey.
Growing up, I didn’t have many female role models in STEM. Though I am extremely grateful for my privileged upbringing, my path to engineering school and through my degree program, was still an uphill journey. Students with my background have limited resources. Now that I'm graduating, I feel a responsibility to help the next generation of Turkish female students, especially those interested in studying abroad.