Champions of Change- Amaryst Parks ’18 Discovers Connections Between Social Justice and Equitable Community

Posted at 3:42 PM, Jun 18, 2018

BY Centre College News

This article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2018 John C. Young Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 28th year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.

As a self-designed social justice major, John C. Young Scholar Amaryst Parks ’18 (Florence, Alabama) has spent the year researching the topic of equitable community.

In her project titled “Engaging the Community: The Marriage Between Social Justice and Community Engagement,” she’s investigated how to foster inclusive community and equitable relationships through systems and everyday interactions.

Centre College was her laboratory.

“I wanted to pursue this topic to make sure that the statement ‘It’s a great day to be a Colonel’ is true for everyone on Centre’s campus, or at least figure out some step toward that goal,” Parks said.

When friends discovered her research topic, they wanted to help, and she ended up with an overwhelming amount of data with which to work.

Faculty advisor Andrea Abrams, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the gender studies program, was instrumental in directing her to the right people, literature and questions to make this a more challenging, yet supportive and enjoyable process.

“Her project is exciting and important not only because it analyzes the politics of social justice and inclusion on our campus, but more importantly, because Amaryst identifies several concrete ways in which Centre can become a more nurturing and inclusive space,” Abrams said.

“I have been impressed, not only by her dedication to the hard work this project required,” Abrams added, “but also by her brilliant insights into how ideas of empowerment can become powerful action steps.”

Parks described the topic as very personal, since she found her time at Centre to be paradoxical.

“I love the people, and I’ve been able to access opportunities that weren’t in my wildest dreams when I was in high school,” she said. “I’ve been abroad three separate times to eight countries, completed four internships, two research projects and met some of the brightest, kindest, most generous people in my time at Centre.”

At the same time, Parks noted, “there is an underbelly of inequity at Centre” that she characterized as having to do with “identity struggles from racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, to other prejudices.”

While Centre has made strides toward creating a more diverse campus, Parks observed, diversity and inclusion, though inextricably intertwined, are two different things. Her research was focused on examining how “power imbalances disallow inclusion.”

To do so, she investigated “feelings of marginalization, lack of comfort and safety issues” to see how they affect participation and involvement at Centre—again, in part from her personal experience and those of her close friends.

As she looks to the future, Parks is optimistic.

“I am hoping to take much of the principles of inclusive community with me, and complicate and add to my research and to the community I will be joining,” she said.

In addition to her John C. Young project, Parks addressed many of these issues at Centre’s annual Honors Convocation in her keynote address titled “A Community Ethic” (available here).

Parks was honored to receive a Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship, and after Centre, she will be working in Hartford, Connecticut, with a non-profit organization called The Discovery Center, which works to build equity in education and create a world without prejudice.

Now in its fourth year, the fellowship program is designed “to help develop the next generation of leaders in the nonprofit sector and create a more diverse pipeline of talent for this sector.”