People Are Awesome: This 21-Year-Old Rutgers Student Is Running For School Board
"So you're a Rutgers student? A student with no real life experience who wants to be on a school board?"
My name is Stephanie Rivera. I am a 21-year-old junior at Rutgers University and that's the reaction I hear from critics of my candidacy for New Brunswick, New Jersey's Board of Education. For over 20 years, our school board was appointed by the mayor rather than elected by community members. Then this past November New Brunswick community members tirelessly campaigned in support of a referendum to change the school board to an elected one. This is the first year where the community has a voice in deciding who controls their schools.
I am a child of an immigrant, so the culture I grew up with was one of obeying authority. I was rarely encouraged to share my opinion, or voice any position that might be controversial. Politics was not talked about in my house. All my life I believed the world of government was reserved for white, wealthy men who'd graduated from Ivy League schools. In no way did I ever see myself, a young, 4'11" Filipino woman, fitting into this mold.
Never did I think former U.S. Assistant of Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, would say, "I would vote for Stephanie if I lived in her town."
Never did I think my voice had the power to change things.
All that changed after my sophomore year of college when I discovered the severity of the inequalities in our education system. I decided to create a blog to bring attention to these issues; Not only did I find my voice, but found what other young voices are capable of doing. This past winter, I received a phone call from a friend who'd heard about me through my blog. He mentioned that there has been talk among him and fellow Rutgers students about how, given my involvement with New Brunswick youth, commitment to education justice, my overall perspective and the ideas I have to offer to the New Brunswick public schools, I should consider running for the school board.
With serious consideration of what this meant—making a three year commitment, balancing finishing my senior year and being a public official, not being able to teach at New Brunswick High School after I earn my teaching degree, and being subject to constant criticism—in February I handed in my petition to officially be a candidate.
I am running because I want to ensure someone on the board is there to be a voice for the community, parents, and New Brunswick's youth. I want to make sure someone on the board is not only fighting for the community, but is an ally working with the community.
I am running because today's youth need to know we cannot underestimate what we are capable of. We must challenge all the lack of faith in us and the odds against us. If you have a vision, and truly believe inside your gut, heart, and mind that you are capable of doing something others can't think you can do—you must do it.
Yes, I am only 21-years-old. Yes, I am still a college student who has a lot left to learn. But does this mean my volunteer work with students inside the New Brunswick schools—working with the actual students affected by the board’s decisions—doesn't matter? And why does being a student—who is going to school to become a teacher—automatically equal not being knowledgeable about education policy?
There is no set age at where we can begin making solid, positive changes in our communities, and in this world. We must dismantle society's established norms, or they will dismantle us. I would not be running for this position if I did not believe I was qualified for the job—there are already enough politicians with no real understanding of what schools need doing that already.
I have a restless drive for justice, especially for education at the K-12 level because this is a civil right, not something that should only be guaranteed to a lucky few. I want to leave this world knowing that I did everything in my power to create a more just education system. That starts with doing the work to help my own community.
Stephanie Rivera is a cofounder of Students United for Public Education and is the president and founder of Rutgers' Future Teachers Association.
Click here to add attending a school board meeting in your community to your GOOD "to-do" list.
Image courtesy of Stephanie Rivera
Chelsea Handler Tries Making Fun Of Andy’s Weight. It Backfires Immediately. An embarrassingly bad attempt to make fun of Andy’s weight
Another Kind of Street Meat Searching for abundant, organic, all-natural, free meat? Consider roadkill.
“I Know It's Not P.C. But...” Sam Harris, #Gamergate, and the explosion of white, male, illiberal rage
The Best (or Worst) Outbreak Movies to Watch While in Self-Imposed Quarantine If you’re going to be scared, be really scared A panicky film primer for the Ebola zombie pandemic sure to … oh my god, look out behind you!
Why Cutting Michael Sam Was a Mistake for the Dallas Cowboys The subversive NFL moment that never happened
7 Unlikely Male Feminists Lately feminism has been all about … men. Here are seven dudes who prove that gender equality really is for everyone.
The NFL’s Most Violent Man on How to Curb Football Injuries Jack Tatum’s modest proposal
Understanding Africa’s Ebola-Denying Communities While Americans panic over a tiny risk, some Africans in Ebola-stricken counties think the entire virus is make-believe.
Why Your American Wiener is Unimpressive We should all be envious of Iceland’s tasty, high-quality hot dogs
Stepping Inside a World of Private Violence A new documentary probes domestic violence in America via the gut-wrenching story of one survivor seeking justice.