Rachel Sumption, AB Islamic Studies ’16, has connected WU tutors with St. Louis charter schools as our Each One Teach One Coordinator, and explored a lifetime of advocacy as a Civic Scholar. Here, she reflects on her experience with the Gephardt Institute weeks before traveling to Rabat, Morocco as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.
By the time I leave for Morocco in 3 weeks, I will have spent well over 1,000 hours inside of the Gephardt Institute. I have trained 110 Each One Teach One tutors, and spent 110 hours soaking up knowledge from my mentors and peers in Civic Scholars. Minute by minute, the staff and students who flow through our office have made me more compassionate, joyful, and understanding. Throughout college, no other force has been more powerful in shaping my identity as a future citizen and human being.
For four years, I spent the mornings conjugating Arabic verbs or researching Egyptian history, but in the afternoons, I left campus to mentor elementary, middle, and high school students from around St. Louis through Each One Teach One. At first, my pursuits off campus seemed disconnected from my academic studies, but over time the lines between my student life and my community work began to blur. As I became an upperclassman, the staff at the Gephardt Institute guided me through my development as a civic agent and encouraged me to expand my engagement beyond service to education, nonprofit work, organizing, and political speech. My academic background in Islamic studies and my civic engagement experiences are equally important to my future work as an immigration lawyer.
The Institute broadened my definition of knowledge and trained me to listen to communities to determine community needs. I value the indigenous knowledge that is expressed by communities through stories, dialogue, or even art – by being a “student” of a city or community first, you can best know how to serve and advocate. The Institute also helped me to navigate across identities and discover new outlets – as a senior, I explored an interest in gardening and farmer’s markets as a civic issue. I think about my community impact whether I am tutoring, taking the bus, or buying tomatoes – civic engagement is a lifestyle!
Whenever I trained a new set of tutors before they began teaching in St. Louis elementary schools, I said to them, “This is one of the best ways that you can settle yourself in a community.” I will be teaching English in Morocco so that I can become an empathetic member of the community, and I am committing myself to be a student of the city when I am not in the classroom. I will use my time there to promote reconciliation and break down perceived barriers between faiths, ethnicities, and cultures through the lens of language. The Gephardt Institute has informed the steps of my journey so far, and will continue to do so long after I am done here. I am thankful for the staff, student interns, cohort members, and community partners who made my 1,000 hours unforgettable.