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An Exemplary Scholar

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Emani Holyfield shares how Tisch College has shaped her time at Tufts and discusses her work on an important campaign during her recent semester at Spelman College.

Tisch Scholar Emani Holyfield

“People ask me what I do for fun,” says Emani Holyfield, “and it’s Tisch College.”

She’s not exaggerating. Since her first days as an undergraduate, Holyfield, A15, has been deeply involved with Tisch, taking advantage of its many programs and educational opportunities and its vibrant community of passionate peers and mentors. It has been an experience, she says, that has opened many doors and had a profound effect on her time at Tufts.

Holyfield first heard about Tisch College from a senior Scholar during her first year, and thought it was a good fit for her interests. “I was looking for a way to get involved with community service,” she says. “And I really liked the idea of social justice and being an active citizen; having it go beyond just a normal volunteer program.”

After being selected as a Tisch Scholar, Holyfield applied for a summer internship through the Active Citizenship Summer: Washington, D.C. program and worked at LIFT, an antipoverty nonprofit.

“I worked as a student advocate. We had one-on-one client service meetings with community members, talked to them as peers, and tried to talk them through opportunities for employment, housing, benefits, etc.,” she recalls.

“I learned so much from the clients; more than I felt like I could give to them,” she adds about the experience at LIFT, which often involved deeply personal conversations about people’s struggles. Those exchanges were, according to Holyfield, emotionally taxing, but also profoundly fulfilling and edifying. “That’s what I really enjoy about Tisch, that the projects are really meaningful.”

After attending the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education that same summer, Holyfield began her sophomore year and her Scholar project at Root Cause, a nonprofit consulting firm that partners with businesses, governments, and charitable organizations in pursuit of social change. Her specific focus was a campaign to improve black male achievement.

“It was basically increasing social capital among the African-American male community and trying to really strengthen the resources that they have in their communities to help other black males,” says Holyfield, an American Studies major and Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies minor. “You really want to bring out the strength of a community when you work there, and that’s what I’ve done with Tisch.”

On campus, she took Tisch College Dean ad interim Nancy Wilson’s “Innovative Social Enterprises” course and helped develop an initiative that complemented her Scholar project: a social enterprise to reduce racism in public schools with a view to improving pathways to success for black males. Holyfield was also part of the committee that selected incoming Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont.

This year, Holyfield has been working to enrich a different community as she wraps up a domestic semester ‘abroad’ at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. That opportunity has allowed her to combine a passion for active citizenship with a personal desire to experience education at a historically black college.

At Spelman, Holyfield became an associate in the school’s Social Justice Fellows program and interned at 9to5, a nonprofit focused on justice for working women. Through that organization, she worked to promote the Family Care Act, which protects women’s wages when they’re caring for sick relatives. Holyfield was also involved in the Ban the Box campaign, which aims to keep employers from asking applicants to check a ‘box’ about their criminal history until there is a conditional job offer.

That initiative has been especially meaningful for Holyfield, who had worked with individuals facing these issues at LIFT and elsewhere. “My most challenging clients were people who were previously incarcerated, and I realized that those processes have so many barriers,” she says. “Even if you’re doing everything completely correctly, there’s just no chance.”

So far, the campaign has succeeded in getting the city of Atlanta to join other jurisdictions around the country in banning the box, with the ultimate goal of persuading the state of Georgia to adopt the same policy. “It’s all about making sure that the individuals are being reviewed on their skills and qualifications first, as opposed to a past mistake.”

Now, after a well-deserved winter break, Holyfield will be off to complete her year abroad in the Brazil: Public Health, Race, and Human Rights program, another stop in what she describes as her “learning journey.” Tisch College has helped her chart a course on that voyage, which has shaped her personal, academic, and professional aspirations.

Beyond specific programs and opportunities, however, Holyfield is most thankful for the support and motivation from the entire Tisch community, especially her fellow Scholars.

“The community is such that you bring up other people that you care about, and I’ve been inspired a lot by my peers and the work that they’re doing,” she says. “They put all of themselves into making sure that whatever issue they’re working on gets taken care of, on or off campus. It becomes something that’s not really separate from yourself — this is my life because it’s something I care about.”