MONMOUTH, ILL. (April 21, 2023) — At the heart of the Newman Civic Fellowship is honoring and empowering students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing their communities.
Monmouth College's Anita Gandara ('24) of Chicago is one of 154 students from the United States and Mexico to be named a Newman Civic Fellow for the upcoming 2023-24 academic year. Campus Contact, a national coalition of colleges and universities working to advance the public purposes of higher education, sponsors the fellowship, which is named in honor of Frank Newman, one of its founders.
Gandara is uniquely positioned to find those solutions, in part because of her academic focus on political science and communication studies.
"I met [political science] Professor (Andre) Audette on my visit to campus, and I fell in love with the program," said Gandara, who attended Chicago's George Westinghouse College Preparatory High School. "It's a very interactive environment, and I knew that I needed that and wanted that."
Political science meets communication
During her freshman year, Gandara "got involved as I became aware of different issues on campus — things that the study body wasn't happy with. Through that, I stumbled across the comm studies department, because they were the ones covering that student engagement and response. The more I talked to them, the more I realized that many of them were also poli sci majors. I thought, 'That is so freaking cool. I want to do that.'"
The combination has paid many dividends for Gandara.
"The majors complement each other really well," she said. "I'm always noticing overlaps in the departments, like 'I already know about this theory, because I had it in one of my classes in the other major.'"
Speaking of overlaps, Gandara is also like engineering students, who are taught, as visiting speaker Erika Bergman says, "to not be afraid to take something apart, see how it works, and try and put it back together."
"There is so much that is happening in our country," said Gandara. "We often understand the 'what,' but we don't understand the 'why.' To bring about real change, we need more people who understand the system and how we got to where we are. There's just so much that goes into it. A statement I heard that really resonated with me is 'Policy is power frozen,'" which means policy-making is a method to freeze and perpetuate a particular flow of power.
In other words, said Gandara, "You have to understand the system to be able to dismantle it."
'Passionate' about equity, social justice
"Anita is passionate about the issues of equity and social justice in her own communities, our nation, and around the world," wrote Monmouth President Clarence Wyatt in his nomination of Gandara. "She has worked using her formal leadership roles in Pi Beta Phi (serving as chapter president) and Greek life, and informally, to organize her peers to perform this work of social justice in our own campus community."
That work includes her participation in a women's-empowerment program, mentorship of incoming students, and participation in organizing meetings to address important campus issues.
"She is also working on developing an allyship program to support efforts of equity and inclusion," wrote Wyatt. "In her time here at Monmouth, Anita has emerged as one of the most significant leaders of her generation, directing all of our attention to the needs of underrepresented students on campus, and in particular to the specific needs of those with intersectional identity."
"I'm very interested in the dynamics of intersectional identities and their influence on the way people engage in social issues," said Gandara.
In particular, she said it's her goal "to create a transparent and safe space for students. . . I also hope to work with the College community to create a more transparent relationship between students and administration in providing sufficient support and resources for students of marginalized groups. My experience as a bisexual woman of color gives me insight into several issues that marginalized groups face."Gandara admitted, "It can sometimes be nerve-racking to be the person that people look up to make change, but I didn't do this by myself. There are other leaders I've looked up to and good mentors that I've had."She said a recent trip to this year's White Privilege Conference inspired her "to keep pushing for change."
"I learned about critical race topics and how they intersect with gender identity," said Gandara of the conference, which was held in Mesa, Arizona. "We also presented on methods of inclusive leadership. I met so many intelligent and amazing individuals, and I'm so excited to bring back and apply the knowledge I've acquired. I'm very, very grateful for the opportunity and ready to keep pushing for change."
Gandara's Newman Civic Fellowship will further enable her development and problem-solving skills. Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides students with a year of learning and networking opportunities that emphasize personal, professional and civic growth. Fellows participate in virtual training and networking opportunities to provide them with the skills and connections needed to create large-scale positive change.
The cornerstone of the fellowship is the Annual Convening of Fellows, which offers intensive, in-person skill-building and networking over the course of two days. The fellowship also provides its participants with pathways to apply for exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.
And Gandara has a very specific post-graduate opportunity in mind.
"I really want to go law school," she said. "That's another beast I have to tame — another institutional system I have to learn and navigate."