Since her first year at UMass Dartmouth, biology major Charlemya Erasme '18 has demonstrated a strong sense of civic engagement—from her involvement in student government to her commitment to social justice and community equity.
As an Endeavor Scholar, Charlemya has provided hundreds of hours of service to several local organizations and has dedicated herself to social justice advocacy and activism. The Endeavor Scholarship is the university’s most prestigious scholarship; students are selected based on academic achievement, leadership experience, and dedication to community service.
Of her experience as an Endeavor Scholar, Charlemya said, "It has not been easy: some days were definitely difficult, but with great faith and support from family, mentors, and friends, I made it through. Endeavor propelled me into another mindset."
She added, "From the onset of my college career, I knew that my college experience would not be a traditional one. Endeavor instills a sense of self-discipline, ten-fold. Endeavor provided me with opportunities and support both financially and personally, and I will be forever grateful."
One of 29 Who Shine
Charlemya was recently recognized as one of 29 Who Shine, an elite group of students representing the Commonwealth's 29 public colleges and universities, who were honored by Governor Charlie Baker and UMass President Marty Meehan for their academic achievements and civic contributions.
Part of the 29 Who Shine recognition is the opportunity to acknowledge a mentor, and Charlemya thanked Nicole Williams, Director of UMassD’s Frederick Douglass Unity House.
"Nicole has been instrumental in my success and development," Charlemya said. "I cannot imagine my experience at UMass Dartmouth without her support and guidance. Nicole's dedication to social justice continues to inspire me. I am beyond grateful to have crossed paths with a woman of such intellect and warmth. I feel blessed knowing that I can always count on her."
Leadership on campus
Charlemya is the 2018 recipient of the Jonathan Blake Waxler Memorial Prize for Social Justice, in recognition of her work to affect change on campus and beyond. She was also elected a Student Government Association (SGA) senator for the past three years, served as an SGA Executive Board member, and served as chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee in her senior year.
Seeing the need for students to understand societal challenges connected to inequities, Charlemya co-founded a new social justice dialogue series, S.P.E.A.K. (Stimulating Practical Engaging Audiences Knowledgably), that brings 60-100 students together on a monthly basis to engage in challenging social justice topics.
"S.P.E.A.K. is focused on providing the campus community with an interactive way to discuss social justice," she said. "We bring in speakers, create engaging activities, and so much more. We have discussed: privilege, prison reform, environmental justice, black feminism, and more."
She added, "It was the combination of my work with the Unity House and S.P.E.A.K. that set me on a course to ensure that my future work involved social justice. I love the work I am able to do, educating and creating true change in our community through social justice. While educating the community, I am able to educate myself. S.P.E.A.K. provided me with so many skills: time management, troubleshooting, delegating, and coordinating. The biggest lesson was to be patient and to always work as part of a team."
Social justice in the curriculum
Charlemya served as a student member on the University Diversity and Inclusion Council and the university’s Black History 4 Seasons Council. Additionally, she coordinated and led an initiative that explores ways to incorporate social justice into the curriculum for all students.
"It became evident to me that students were longing for, and in deep need of, social justice education," she said. "Also, in my biology courses, I found that there were rarely, if any, connections made to social justice—and I found this to be true for many STEM students, in particular. The connections between my real-life experiences and my role as a soon-to-be scientist were not being made."
She added, "The need for social justice education was heightened, for me, through many discussions and by events that have occurred on campus. My goal was to create a requirement within UMassD's core curriculum to ensure that every student takes a social justice course prior to graduating. I created a proposal, met with more than a dozen faculty and staff members, worked closely with the Diversity Council, and ultimately met with the university’s general education committee."
"It is not easy to change a system. I found myself having to navigate discussions within the world of academia; I was learning a whole new language," Charlemya said. "Working with faculty, staff, and administrators provided me with insight and skills that I can apply in my future."
Skills to flourish in the world
Of her leadership experiences, Charlemya said, "I truly feel that I have been mentored to succeed. My leadership experiences have provided me with the skills to navigate and flourish in the world that awaits me.
"My understanding of social justice has given me a perspective that allows me to think critically in a way that is unique and comprehensive. I have the courage and knowledge to continue to speak truth to power and to combat systemic oppression wherever I go."
Reflecting on her major, Charlemya said, "For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a physician. Biology was a great fit because I could fulfill the courses I needed for medical school, while continuing to fulfill my interests in STEM.
She has had the opportunity to do research with Professor Vanni Bucci of the Biology Department, through the NSF-funded LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation) grant.
"It has been amazing," she said. "The research staff and Prof. Bucci are extremely patient and knowledgeable. My research experience has opened my eyes to a world of biology that I had little exposure to."
Next step: graduate school
Charlemya’s next step will be to attend graduate school. "I am still weighing a number of avenues, but one thing I know for sure is that, as long as my future involves social justice work, I am on the right path."
As she contemplates new endeavors, Charlemya extended thanks to the Frederick Douglass Unity House Staff, including LaSella Hall and Donna Moore, as well the S.P.E.A.K. Team and her family and friends.