Student leader focused on making all voices heard

by Nora Turner

Sarah Duval is the co-director of Breaking Ground Monologues and a member of the Student Advisory Council. Photo from Sarah Duval

Incidents of hate and bias at American University in the recent years have made campus climate inclusion efforts a top priority. Sarah Duval is one student committed to fostering spaces of inclusion through her membership in the Student Advisory Council and as co-director of the Breaking Ground Monologues. This student-directed and written performance focuses on the relationships between body and identity and is open to any interested student.

Duval is a sophomore from Pembroke Pines, Florida pursuing a double major in Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government (CLEG) and Spanish Studies. She is leading the Breaking Ground Monologues to open up a safe space for students to be vulnerable. As someone who understands the challenge of finding friends and community at AU, BGM has been an important part of building her identity at AU.

Duval learned of BGM from her STEP program mentor, Maureen Smith, the current director of the AUSG Women’s Initiative. The cast members in BGM last year and her peers in WI were warm, kind, and identified with Duval. This was a welcome change from other campus environments that hadn’t been as receptive.

“It was empowering being able to share my story [and] perform in front of other people and bring my lived experiences to [the audience],” Duval said. “The community aspect made a world of difference.”

As a part of her commitment to expanding inclusion on-campus, Duval is also a member of the new Student Advisory Council. The group is collaborating with peers and faculty to ensure the implementation of President Burwell’s plan for Inclusive Excellence. The council strategizes with a faculty advisor from the Council of Diversity and Inclusion to make American a better environment of learning for all students.

“I would just like to see more cultural competence from faculty members,” Duval said. “Like avoiding the use of microaggressions in the classroom and being more cognizant about how conversations of race and class might affect students.”

Out of the President’s plan, Duval said that her main goal is to increase inclusion in the classroom environment. She’s dissatisfied with the current climate that is unwelcoming to students of color. The Student Advisory Council is currently working with student organizations like NAACP to change the incident-bias reporting system and to have professors provide the cost of their classes before registration. This could help students make more informed choices about the cost of their courses.

Economic inequality is the most important issue facing the nation today, according to Duval.

“Economic justice affects people of all backgrounds; racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds,” Duval said. “The biggest obstacle that we face is that wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few and more and more people in this country are a health care bill away from being in poverty, besides all of the people that are already living in poverty.”

Duval’s activism began in her freshman year of high school after the death of Trayvon Martin in neighboring Dade County. Along with advocating for racial justice, she also protested a circus for animal rights. Her inspiration comes from her dad, who is an activist and community organizer.

Duval is looking forward to her semester as a time of action in the Advisory Council and the performance of BGM which will run from February 15, 16 and 17 in MGC 2.