Intersections program designed to get first-year students talking about social justice and inclusion

A group of about 40 student educators pose on a staircase.
Peer educators received training to lead the two-day Intersections program. (Photo provided)

By Fiona Hernandez

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 6, 2022) — Incoming freshman began their time at UAlbany with a two-day workshop that focused on the importance of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Welcome Week, a three-day orientation for the Class of 2026, was designed to help incoming students adjust to university life as well as learn about the resources and programs UAlbany has to offer. This year’s Welcome Week included an expanded two-day presentation for freshmen called Intersections, led by about 40 UAlbany students who had been trained as peer educators. The program was facilitated by the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement and instructed by program coordinator Bill Jiacheng Li, Assistant Director of Intercultural Student Engagement Courtney D’Allaird, and Ekow King, the assistant to the vice president of student affairs for diversity, equity and inclusion and director of intercultural engagement.   

This is the third year that Intersections has been a part of orientation for first-year and transfer students, although the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement has been leading a version of it fir about a decade. In 2020, in response to the heightened focus in the United States on racism and its generational impacts, King developed a four-part series on systemic racism, which grew into the expanded Intersection training.

Making the program a part of orientation provided students the opportunity to have discussions about and participated in group activities on the topics.

“We really needed this so students can have important conversations and dialogue to make these topics much more interactive,” Li said.

The presentations were not just lectures and included different activities for students, in groups of about 30, to engage with each other. One of the activities was a diversity and inclusion bingo game where students talked about how they identify themselves and the communities they belong to. Another activity involved students sharing their stories of a time when they encountered or observed oppression, a time when they may have oppressed someone else, and a time when they spoke up against oppression.

“The goal of this program was to provide students a sense of community and belonging and to let them be able to express their identity,” King said. “We hope to find a social support network for students. We are training our scholars to be true to themselves and respecting themselves.”

Some of the students who applied to be intersections peer educators said they were interested in educating the incoming freshmen on UAlbany’s mission to foster a diverse and inclusive community.

“I decided to be an intersections peer educator because I think it’s important to create a more inclusive environment here at UAlbany,” said Valen Headley, a senior at UAlbany majoring in Human Biology. “I was able to share what I know with other scholars. I remember learning about Black history for the first time and how it made me feel. I told the students everything I learned about systemic racism and they internalized it well, and asked for more information and resources. It was a full circle moment.”

Melody Palmer said she decided to become an intersections peer educator because of her interest in educating others about diversity, inclusion, activism, oppression and ways that a person can be an ally. “My favorite part was getting the opportunity to meet so many different people all here because we are passionate about these topics and excited to share that with the students,” she said. “The feelings of support and camaraderie on the day of presentations was not something I expected but it was very cool to experience. I also learned how hard it is to teach and I have a greater respect for educators after this experience,” she said.