Connecticut College News
Activist of the Week: Khana Riley -- By Samantha Herndon ´1004/27/2009
This week´s profiled activist is a senior from St. Petersburg, Fl., with a passion for changing the world through education. Khana Riley ´09 is a human relations major in the education certificate program and will graduate from Conn this May certified to teach in Connecticut and most other states. Through serving as the SGA senator of Branford House, Riley influences the day-to-day functioning of Connecticut College as well as the decisions the SGA makes, which impacts the school for years to come. In her interview with The College Voice, Riley said she was an activist for many reasons, but cited history as a major influence. "Because I am an African-American female, I wouldn´t have the opportunities I have been afforded if not for the trailblazers who went before me. I realized that if they can be part of the struggle, and deal with so many obstacles in everyday life, then so can I." History inspires her to be proactive, she said. Since her freshman year, Khana has been an S.I.S.T.E.R. mentor to at-risk young women in local schools. Establishing a close connection with the students and providing a positive role model has a great impact. "I feel that the effort I put into getting to know them and really trying to connect with them is paying off," she said of her experience with the Big Sister program. As an ALANA Coordinator, she also eases the transition of freshmen students of color into successful college life. Though busy student teaching this year at the Integrated Day Charter School in Norwich, Riley still makes time to be the co-chair of Conn´s Gospel Choir and Dance Coordinator of the Camelbacks step team, which she and other students founded in August of 2007. These artistic expressions inspire her activism off-campus as well. In her sophomore year, Riley was highlighted as an exceptional student worker by the Office of Volunteers for Community Service (OVCS) for her commitment to community work. With other Conn students and OVCS staff, she implemented a dance program in New London´s public schools. As the Vice President of Eclipse, Khana Riley also worked to organize the spring multicultural celebration. This year´s Eclipse Weekend was April 17-18 and featured clowns, belly dancing, hip-hop and a wide variety of other performances. Riley is also a member of Umoja, the African and African American students´ organization on campus. In the spring of her sophomore year, Riley traveled to Durban, South Africa, with the New London Collegiate Ministries. Traveling with Liz Durante ´10 and other Conn students, Riley said the trip helped her "develop compassion for children, and wanting to advocate for them. We saw so much poverty and people who were victims of their circumstances. It motivated me to do something on a larger scale, that could be done long-term." This desire influenced Khana´s interest in being an educator. Riley´s academic experience within the education program has shaped her perspective on social justice, and she taught her students at the charter school about stereotypes and differences in power, and empowering their communities. "It was very clear," Riley recounted proudly, "on my last day, that my students took away the main objective of my lessons." During recent conflicts and discussions of race and class at Conn, Riley´s students asked her, "Ms. K, do you want us to come talk to the people at your school?" Through assessment and conversations, Riley says it is clear the kids will take away a positive message about proactively changing stereotypes. Working with the elementary schoolers was for Riley a small part of something larger. She said, "a seed has been planted." Upon graduating, Riley will enter the Graduate School of the University of New Hampshire to pursue a Master´s Degree in Elementary Education. Eventually, she says, she would like to teach in a school "wherever I am of need," including in Japan and South Africa. "My advice would be," she said, speaking to aspiring activists, "don´t let other people censor your feelings or your thoughts. If you don´t do it, who will? Know in your heart that what you are doing has a purpose, and persevere."