Student Profile: Dianna English, A Voice For Community

Dianna English is 21 years old and about to graduate from Northwestern. You could say she has her whole life in front of her — and at the same time, she already has spent a lifetime working for social justice.

Photo by Ben Shapiro.

On a spring afternoon the native of Willmantic, Conn., is sitting on the floor of a basement littered with boxes full of bandages, catheters, medication, soap and tissues. In one of her last days as president of NU's chapter of GlobeMed (Global Medical Relief), the founding chapter of an organization that distributes donated medical supplies to needy areas around the world, English helps track inventory on a laptop, speaking passionately about doing good in the world.

For English, deciding to help others is a no-brainer. "If something's wrong, you fix it," she says. "There are people who don't have medical supplies, we give them medical supplies. It's the practical necessity of it."

Though the senior can't exactly put her finger on when her commitment to community involvement began, she does cite the time she tagged along to the polls with her mother and wanted to vote, too. There was just one problem: Dianna was five years old. Her mother suggested she write to their congressmen and helped her compose a letter about why five-year-olds should be allowed to vote.

While kindergarteners have yet to gain the franchise, young Dianna did receive a "really sweet" response from one of her senators — and learned that taking action could make a difference. "I grew up with that attitude in a very empowered family," she explains.

At the age of 13, English found another outlet for empowerment when she joined Free the Children (FTC), a youth-run organization dedicated to combatting child labor and poverty. As a high school sophomore English toured India for three weeks, and thanks to her strong feelings about child labor, she spent four years as FTC's "point" American speaker, addressing numerous conferences, including some held by the United Nations and American Bar Association.

In September 2000 English entered NU as an international relations major, but felt something was lacking. In fall of her junior year, she discovered what she was missing when she studied abroad in Durban, South Africa. The trip focused on social change and reconciliation, which English found "really moving and very powerful," and included six weeks of research with street children, "listening to their stories, understanding their choices and options— and singing songs in Zulu along the way."

Her time abroad also led her to SESP. Another NU student in her program was a social policy major, and, says English, "I started talking to him about it and thought, 'Hmm, SESP, who knew?'" When she returned to Evanston she transferred, deciding to major in social policy in addition to international relations.

"[It was] the best decision I made at college," she says, "because it provided a community of students and faculty who are also interested in issues of social justice and development."
After graduation, English will join the Peace Corps — her goal since age seven — to perform community development work in Africa. She also hopes to one day attend graduate school and plans on devoting the rest of her life to working for social justice, particularly as it relates to conflict resolution.

Above all she wants to stay true to her desire to engage others and improve the world. "It's about continuing to make those simple choices — simple, loving acts in everyday life, English says. "I think most people are motivated by a desire to help their community and loved ones. It's just a question of scale, who you include in that community."
By Jen Aronoff