Asha Marie Larson-Baldwin ’22 was a leader in social justice and diversity issues even before she arrived at Furman University.
Now she is among the 2021 students awarded a Newman Civic Fellowship by Campus Compact, a non-profit based in Boston that works to advance the public purposes of higher education.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “I’ve been nominated every single year I’ve been at Furman. This year in particular, I have felt very supported.”
Named for the late Frank Newman, a founder of Campus Compact and advocate for civic engagement in higher education, the year-long fellowship offers a variety of learning and networking opportunities designed to help equip fellows with the skills and connections they need to forge large-scale positive change in the community. One student per university is eligible for the national award.
In her personal statement to the Campus Compact, Larson-Baldwin said: “I believe strongly in the power of community and empowerment. My work seeks to push boundaries, rid of oppressive systems and structures, and give platforms to those who have been denied a voice. Above all, I do it with a deep love and hope for my community.”
Larson-Baldwin was nominated by Furman philosophy Professor David Gandolfo, who said he’s been impressed by her leadership skills which he first noticed when she led a high-profile movement to rename Wade Hampton High School when she was just 16.
“When she sees there’s something that needs to be done, she doesn’t think twice – do I have time in my schedule or am I the right person – she just goes and does it,” he said.
For example, he said, she’s been part of a student-led effort to include diversity in Furman’s Cultural Life Program graduation requirement. She also has leadership roles in campus organizations, including the Furman Justice Forum, and was just elected president of the student government for her senior year.
It was the experience of trying to get the name of her high school changed that launched Larson-Baldwin into social justice advocacy.
“It’s how I ended up at Furman, got involved in advocacy, and it fuels my passion for research,” she said. “Everything connects back to that.”
Since then, she’s been involved in teaching leadership and advocacy skills to middle- and high school students, and in programs helping students to address racial trauma through art.
The 20-year-old junior said she created her own major in advocacy and justice studies, with double minors in poverty and African American studies.
As part of the fellowship, she’ll work with a larger community of fellows interested in social justice issues.
“It really matters to me to do community work and to bring social justice into everything we do as academics,” she said.
Long-range plans call for graduate school with an eye on becoming a college professor. Maybe someplace close by?
“If Furman will give me a job,” she quips, “I’ll come back.”