Doing Justice: Graduating Psychology Major Puts Her Beliefs Into Action

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Wilson, second from right, marches in support of the late Michael Brown in Philadelphia

Looking back on her first days on the Rutgers University–Camden campus, Alexis Wilson recalls that she was “young” – not in an unfocused kind of way, but rather naïve and oblivious to the pressing social issues around her.

“I was just very into myself,” says Wilson, a graduating senior psychology major at Rutgers–Camden with minors in women’s and gender studies, and linguistics.

However, while some students may experience incremental growth over time, the Washington D.C. resident’s trajectory was more like a sharp rise, setting in a motion a potential lifetime of standing up for what she believes.

It was during her sophomore year, she remembers, when she took courses in linguistics and women’s and gender studies that made her more attuned to social dialogues taking place around her, primarily on social media. She soon became active in several cultural organizations on campus, including the Latin American Students Organization, Black Student Union, and African Students Association.

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Wilson, far right, stands with fellow organizers of the Blackout DC march.

Wilson also began participating as a student actor in “The Tunnel of Oppression,” an interactive, immersive, and in-your-face program that brings various forms of abuse to life through a series of skits. She maintains that one of the most rewarding aspects about the program has been her ability to grow as a person.

“It really allows you to be introspective and to have a conversation with yourself,” says Wilson. “Since ‘Tunnel’ first entered my life, I’ve gotten a lot more into social justice and activism. So when I think about how this experience will impact my future, it already has.”

Through all of these enlightening experiences, Wilson enjoyed the opportunity to meet “like-minded” individuals – just as passionate about social issues as she is – who challenged her to be more aware of what she thinks and does.

“A misconception about activism is that you are in it and you are instantly better. Now I know everything about ‘blackness or ‘feminism,’ but it’s never like that,” she says. “You have to go through years of unlearning things. You want friends who aren’t going to call you out, but rather call you in – that’s a better concept. You want someone who says, ‘I love you. Think about what you’re saying.’”

Wilson’s dedication to activism would reach new heights during her junior year. As she recalls, four days before Thanksgiving, she was celebrating a “friendsgiving” feast with friends in her dorm room. When the verdict came out that Darren Wilson – the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown – wouldn’t be indicted, she stepped into her bedroom and “sank to the floor.”

One of her friends then asked her to attend a rally that was taking place in Philadelphia later that evening.

“I don’t think there is really any one moment that changes you, because that is a clichéd, romanticized version of how people change, but I think that moment had a lot to do with it,” she says.

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Blackout DC marchers in front of the U.S. Capitol

In response, three days later, Wilson and one of her classmates organized a die-in on campus.

“That was the first time that I could say ‘A for Activist. A for Alexis,’ she says.

She then organized and participated in a panel discussion on campus, “Race Riots and Policing,” while the riots were taking place in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray.

But Wilson was just getting started. That summer, she helped to organize the Blackout DC march, which was attended by more than 500 people in Washington D.C. In a span of several months, she had gone from organizing a die-in on campus to staging a coffin ceremony on the steps of the United States Capitol.

“That was a pretty big jump,” says Wilson, who says that she is currently helping to write a grant for the group, renamed Blackout DC Generation Liberation, carry out sustained protests in the Washington D.C. area.

On the Rutgers–Camden campus, Wilson has become a recognized voice in the African American community, serving as a panelist and guest speaker at conferences and events, including the recent Beacons of Light conference commemorating the actions of black activists who helped make Rutgers–Camden the more inclusive campus that it is today.

“Participating in that conference was a very full-circle, visceral kind of moment,” she says.

The graduating senior now plans to continue her education while staying as committed as ever to causes close to her heart.

“I tell myself that I want to be the next Bell Hooks, Audrey Lord, or Cornel West, but they are also authors or doctors,” says Wilson. “So I’m learning how to translate my passion for activism into a sustainable future.”

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