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Diversity spotlight: Jamya Graham

April 8, 2021 • Adrianne Gibilisco • No Comments

Each month, the UNC Office of Diversity & Inclusion is spotlighting one Carolina community member who exemplifies its mission to build and sustain an inclusive campus community. This month’s spotlight is Jamya Graham, chair of the Campus Y committee Carolina Defender.

It was never a question that Jamya Graham would continue her education after graduating from high school. “My family believes that education is fundamental as well as the key to gaining more access within the world,” says the Charlotte, NC, native. Although she grew up in a diverse community that provided different perspectives, she didn’t truly have a clear picture of diversity and inclusion until just before enrolling at UNC. “It wasn’t until I was no longer a part of the system of inequity that I was able to see the impacts of it within my own community,” she noted. “Becoming aware of those issues made me want to take action to eradicate [them] by creating bridges over barriers. [This way,] students [wouldn’t] have the same experiences as I have and others did before me.”

Once she recognized inequitable practices within education and became aware of other issues, she gravitated towards activism, which has continued in her college career. At Carolina, Jamya created Carolina Defender, a student organization that fosters inclusivity and openness through allyship, community engagement and leadership by addressing experiences of marginalized and underrepresented identities at UNC. She also serves as an Undergraduate Business Mentorship Program participant, using her position there to foster diverse and inclusive events that have safe spaces for all. Now a junior, she continues to find new ways to support students – particularly first-years – to navigate higher education successfully and with a sense of belonging. A fellow student noted when nominating Jamya for a 2020 Diversity Award, “If she has a vision fueled by her passion, nothing can stop her.”

What challenges did you face as you considered and then applied to college?

Some challenges I faced included not knowing anything about the application process. Not knowing exactly how to do the NC Residency component correctly, I moved out of state during my junior year, and I moved back to NC my senior year. That year out of state made me receive an out-of-state decision initially when I applied. After about three to six months of consistent appeals, I was able to receive a different decision. So that was a bit of a process for me to get over. My godsisters helped me through the process of applying and pushed me to apply to my “reach” schools, one of which was UNC-Chapel Hill. Once I received my acceptance from some of the schools I applied to, I then moved on to [figuring out] how I was going to pay for my education. By chance, the week after I found out I was accepted into UNC, I also [learned] I had a full ride.

What led you to choose Communication Studies as your major and Urban Studies and Planning as your minor?

I chose communications initially because of a class I took with [Assistant Professor] Renee Craft during my freshman year. As I continued to take more classes, I fell in love with the people in the communications department and found myself becoming passionate about [how] communication can be used in life. I believe that communication is the biggest tool individuals can possess, whether through sign language, literal verbiage, or creating subcultures in protest to dominant ideologies. It’s the tool that allows us to create avenues of change and spaces to allow others to step up and take action towards issues within their communities.

I intend to use my minor in urban planning to manifest those spaces of change within communities through planning and implementation practices in surrounding communities. It allows me to learn about cities and planning processes, enrich or expand upon my communications major, and explore avenues of how I can be involved in improving the prosperity, livability, and equity of cities, towns, and regions.


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