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Student Spotlight: Naomi Wilson

Naomi Wilson

Naomi Wilson, Ph.D. Student, Educational Studies, Vice President, Rackham Student Government

Naomi is a second year graduate student in the Educational Studies-Foundations and Policy program. She came to U-M to work with Camille Wilson and is interested in black youth activism, revolutionary thought, and critical consciousness within secondary schools. She shares, “There is this need to be an activist in secondary schools for youth of color, but it is a place that can be a site of trauma and also of liberation and hope for black students. The lack of school administration response to issues around them can be jarring for students, specifically for the ones that are targeted. I want to focus on how to make educational spaces more inclusive, challenging policy and being critical of it at the same time.”

Naomi admits her first year here was rough. “It was a big culture shock. I grew up in San Diego, went to UC Berkeley then to NYU, now I’m in a town where I walk around with bunnies and deer. It was a transition year, but by the end of it, I was getting in the groove. I received a fellowship from the William Davidson Institute to spend the summer doing education consulting in Ghana. That whole experience helped me settle in – I was able to do the work that I want to do and could appreciate that I was here at U-M where I have access to great resources. Now I’m more comfortable with myself as a scholar activist. It’s been a journey, but I’m getting there.”

Naomi is a former foster youth from a low income neighborhood in Southern California. She shares, “I often felt I was put in the position to serve as a poster child for success, but I know that everyone has that potential for success in them and it’s not just to pinpoint a few people as the only people who can ‘make it’.”

She continues, “I’m partly here because there are few black doctoral students out there, let alone ones doing studies of radical activism in education. At one point, I thought I was here for everyone else but me. I finally asked myself ‘where do you find yourself in this, Naomi, this has to be for you too.’ I’m pursuing a Ph.D. for me to have opportunities beyond my current reach. This is with the understanding that I know you’re not always going to like what you’re doing at the time. Therefore, it’s important that the moments that inspire you, you have to hold onto.”

Naomi has been involved in student government since high school when she was senior class president. She was a school leader in high school and her undergraduate alma mater, UC Berkeley, where she co-founded the Black Student Union, and the Black Graduate Student Association at NYU’s Steinhardt. She says, “I think it’s important to advocate for and represent the student voice. Administration can‘t advocate like students can. Also, I’m all about building community ASAP and I’ve done that three times now, and being part of student government has been a big part of that.”

At Rackham she served last year as a Rackham Student Government representative for the social sciences then was asked to serve as RSG’s Vice President. Her concern for the rigors of her second year of grad school didn’t stop her from assuming this leadership role. “It’s taken me a long time in life to learn to say no, but I didn’t want to say no to this.”

When it comes to the work done by Rackham Student Government, Naomi says, “I want people to know that we’re here. Grad students aren’t really seen. At the university level, there are a lot of things we don’t have access to and don’t represent. I want the graduate student body to know we are advocating for them. We are trying to increase visibility, collaborate with Central Student Government, fundraise for our programs and for students. People don’t realize that the majority of our funds are given back to students.”

When she talks to new graduate students, Naomi can’t emphasize enough the importance of self-care: “I tell them if they feel overwhelmed and stressed and, that’s normal. I was overwhelmed a lot my first year. People take for granted the work involved in moving and becoming a student again and the emotional toll that is. You know you are doing something amazing and magnificent but won’t see the outcomes for a few years. It is important to affirm yourself in self-care; that should be your number one priority.”

When she’s got free time, she’s given in to the small town experience. “Wherever I can be with my friends, I’m hanging out, apple picking, ice skating, hanging out. I also love reading romance novels.” She is very social and, she jokes, “I’m a funny person. If the Ph.D. doesn’t work out, I will take my comedy on the road.”

Naomi is still early on in her graduate student career and is unsure of her next steps but says, “Whatever I do is going to benefit my community. I want to be wherever I can be the most impactful. I want to be on the ground talking to people every day.” Her experience as a GSI in the coming semesters will help shed some light on her interest in pursuing a role in academia. “That would be the most beautiful thing – to work in academia on the side and also do something with community organizations or consulting. I would love to have my own consulting firm for public schools or community schools with students of color working on policy, curriculum and professional development. I’m passionate about leadership and growth. Whatever I do, I want to be happy and a scholar activist.”