Sophomores Win Award for Letter to Governor

Reed team wins competition for letter advocating better balance on ethnic studies advisory panel.

By Tara Sonali Miller | May 30, 2018

A team of four Reed sophomores won one of five awards in the National 2018 Letters to an Elected Official competition sponsored by Project Pericles and supported by the Eugene M. Lang Foundation.

The winning team included:

  • Soha Ahmed ’20
  • Maya Arigala ’20
  • Mayaki Kimba ’20
  • Kwani Marcellay ’20

The students wrote to Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) about the implementation of House Bill 2845, which directs the Department of Education to develop ethnic studies requirements for adoption into existing public K-12 education standards. They requested greater geographic and racial diversity on the advisory group responsible for the implementation of ethnic studies in the Oregon public school system. Gresham is the most diverse city in the state, but currently lacks representation on the advisory panel, whose members are drawn from Portland and Salem.

With their $500 prize money, the group is planning to work with local educators to create a Community Ethnic Studies Library for Gresham public school students.

As students of color themselves, the letter writing team has firsthand experience with limited resources for schools seeking to foster racial consciousness in the next generation of Americans, as well as bureaucratic delay in implementing ethnic studies programs. With their award from Project Pericles, the team will build a collection of materials—a Community Ethnic Studies Library housed within existing school libraries —from which students and teachers in Gresham can check out books about race and ethnicity free of charge, at any time. This community initiative will be a direct resource for teachers to integrate discussions of race and ethnicity into their existing classes, as well as for all students to see representations of and learn about communities of color, as well as white supremacy. The team’s desire is that the Community Ethnic Studies Library will additionally incentivize schools to implement an ethnic studies curriculum.

About the Competition

The 2018 Letters to an Elected Official Competition is sponsored by Project Pericles as part of Debating for Democracy (D4D)—a program that engages students around public policy issues, the political process, and with their elected officials. Students from member campuses send letters on critical public policy issues to elected officials throughout the United States. Students also submit project proposals outlining projects that align with the issue they write about. The five winning teams each receive $500 to implement their project during the 2018-19 academic year.

This year’s many submitted letters proposed innovative solutions to a wide variety of issues including climate change and environmental protection, education reform, gun violence, racial equity, immigration and DACA, prison and sentencing reform, sexual assault, and Title IX enforcement.

Since 2008, hundreds of teams from all 31 Periclean colleges and universities have participated in the Letters to an Elected Official Competition. Every year, a panel of judges with significant legislative experience select the winning letters. An elected official who served as one of the external evaluators wrote, “I hope you will tell the students how much I enjoyed reading their letters and how much I appreciated their thoughtfulness as they addressed such pressing policy issues. I sincerely hope they will continue to advocate for greater social justice in our communities and country and think seriously about running for office at some point in their lives.” 

About Reed College

Founded in 1908 in Portland, Oregon, Reed College is a coeducational, independent liberal arts and sciences college. Known for its high standards of scholarly practice, creative thinking, and engaged citizenship, Reed’s offers a challenging curriculum involving wide reading, conference- and laboratory-based teaching in small groups, to a student body motivated by enthusiasm for serious intellectual work.

Reed’s Civic Engagement Committee (CEC) supports Reed community members in active engagement with issues of civic import within the curriculum, campus, and broader community.

About Project Pericles

Founded in 2001 by educational philanthropist Eugene M. Lang, Project Pericles is an organization that encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include social responsibility and participatory citizenship as essential elements of their educational programs. Project Pericles works directly with its 31 member institutions, called Pericleans, as they individually and collaboratively develop model civic engagement programs in their classrooms, on the campuses, and in their communities. Project Pericles encourages higher education to promote a more just, equitable, and compassionate society by reawakening American undergraduate education to its responsibility to prepare students to be effective citizens and leaders of their communities, nations, and world.

Tags: Awards & Achievements, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Service, Students