Student Profile: Advocates for Those in Need

By Lee Prater Yost

Kenneth Hutchinson and LaSandra Houston first understood the power of social activism when they took matters into their own hands to combat their high school's "unjust" attendance policy.

Photo by Mary Hanlon.

The two Lindblom High School seniors from Chicago's Englewood neighborhood realized that the policy that "suspended kids left and right" for being tardy did not take into account the security procedures that created chaos each morning.

Kenneth and LaSandra, fellow National Honor Society officers, formed a "Student Action Committee" of student leaders to rewrite the policy and lobby school administrators for change. "It was radical," says Kenneth, "because this [activism] had never been done before." Students "don't have a voice in setting school policy," says LaSandra. Their actions took teachers by surprise.

This was a life-altering experience for the two best friends who entered Northwestern in fall 2000. Finding their way from WCAS to SESP, the friends grew closer as they discovered that their classes about disadvantaged communities were about neighborhoods like theirs. "We're the inner-city kids," says Kenneth. "These [sociologists] are studying us."

In his classes, Kenneth says he learned the language to articulate what was happening in his community. He realized he was part of the disadvantaged underclass.

As LaSandra debated transferring into SESP, she read a friend's description of the School's curriculum and realized, "This is it! This [social policy] is what I want to do for a living."

The two friends felt that growing up on the South Side gave them an edge over other Northwestern students. "We got the concepts because we lived them," says LaSandra. But academics still proved difficult. "We had to work three times as hard as other students who had better academic backgrounds," says Kenneth. "But from our own backgrounds we had learned coping skills, ways to maneuver." They also realized that their friendship was turning into romance.

Their experiences this past summer underscored the value of their Northwestern education and solidified the direction of their careers.

At Princeton's Junior Summer Institute, LaSandra studied statistics and international policy and learned about possible careers. She decided her future lay in education and domestic policy.
During the San Francisco Field Studies Program, Kenneth worked with the homeless and held an internship with the Rebirth of Englewood Development Corp. as part of a community development class taught by Research Associate Professor Jody Kretzmann. Kenneth realized he could "piece together" a career in public policy through consulting and providing services to improve people's lives. He calls Kretzmann's class a "life changer."

" We want to use our education to be advocates for people who aren't able to speak for themselves—like those from our neighborhood," says LaSandra. "We want to bridge the gap between the grassroots level and the bureaucrats."

They are in Ghana fall quarter studying culture, language and social policy with the School for International Training.

Next comes a June wedding in Northwestern's Alice Millar Chapel. And the future? They want to be advocates for their community—to "take our passions and make our careers out of them."

Student Receives Environment Policy Fellowship
Alana Stamas, who participated in a practicum with the Illinois Sierra Club, received a two-year fellowship from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) to pursue her interest in environmental policy work. She is the field organizer for Environment California based out of Los Angeles.
By Lee Prater Yost