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Shelby Williams ’19


Hometown: New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana

How Reed changed me: Reed gave me the option to do more academically and creatively. The fact that I actually understand higher level concepts, wrote a thesis, improved my classical singing—as well as sang before Doja Cat—is quite amazing! I have been able to create my own path as well as understand that to lead is to listen to others. I am a much better person because of my Reed education.

Awards, fellowships, grants: Winter International Fellowship, Multnomah Bar Association LSAT Scholarship.

Thesis adviser: Prof. Nicholas Wilson [economics]

Thesis: The Hair I Swear By: An Economic Analysis of How Los Angeles Black Beauty Firms Affect the Communities They Inhabit

What it’s about: I looked at the social and economic impact of Black beauty firms on communities by gauging the firms' contributions. I analyzed crime, housing, and population data in order to understand how these businesses affect different communities as well as create lasting impact on the economic structures. Through, census data, and interviews, I pieced together what is happening in Los Angeles.

What it’s really about: Making sure that Blackness is recognized and researched in economics. I want to make sure Blackness is a part of the institutional memory at Reed. And also, I love my Blackness.

In high school: I was voted “Most Likely to Be Famous” because I was always interested in the arts.

Influential Reed professor: I had a lot of anxiety and depression starting sophomore year, but from day one, Prof. Jon Rork [economics] has believed in my potential. He gave me the space to do my work and I tried my hardest because I knew he had faith that I could do it. It made me feel like I was an important and special being in the academic world of Reed even if I wasn’t as blessed with the same prior econ knowledge as my counterparts. I also really enjoyed his jokes in class! Because of his unwavering understanding and commitment, I can say that Jon Rork is the most influential Reed professor that I have had.

Influential books: The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, all by Malcolm Gladwell.

Concept that blew my mind: The mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell.

Cool stuff: Multicultural Resource Center, Gray Fund, Pre-Law Club, Model UN, Peer Mentor Program, orientation, and much more.

Challenges I faced: Not coming from the same affluence or rigorous education as my Reedie counterparts, I was always behind on understanding simple concepts in class. But Reed taught me that it was okay to ask for help, whether that be through official tutors or from friends. Impostor syndrome is rampant at Reed, and I encourage students, especially low-SES and POC students, to recognize that you are worthy of this education! 

What’s next: Chilling with my doggo, Cuddles, and living out my next adventure: one day at a time!