What does it take to be a leader? And how do you lead 7,000 people when they are scattered across the country?
Brown University Student Body President and exchange alumnus Jason Carroll joined us on MentorTalks February 23, 2021 to talk about how he ended up running to be the first Black male student body president at Brown, the challenges of being a leader in pandemic times, how he is building a more inclusive campus, and the impact of his exchange experience. Jason also offered advice for making it through pandemic times, adjusting to a new culture, and how he adjusted to a new culture that was the opposite of his natural personality.
Before doing an exchange program, Jason recalls that he was really shy. “I didn’t really put myself out there,” he told us. “As a black student at a predominantly white school and also as a gay student at any school... I didn’t feel free to be myself.”
Then he went to Dakar, Senegal through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad (YES Program). “Once I did YES Abroad, I spent a year in Senegal, that’s really when I feel like I became an adult. And when I got back, and when I got to college, I told myself, ‘I’m going to do everything I can. I spent four years in high school not really doing that much, I want to be as involved as possible, and also give back and help people.’”
That led Jason to get involved in student government and run to be Brown University’s first-ever Black male student body president. Being president has taught Jason a lot about how Brown and other schools, like Harvard, are having an impact on students, as well as policies worldwide, such as creating a need-blind admissions process.
As Brown’s first-ever Black male student body president, Jason is working to build a community that is inclusive of all students. At a time when our country finds itself at a crossroads between the global pandemic and race relations, Jason hopes to ensure every voice of the 7,000 students he represents is heard on campus – addressing issues including housing conditions, racial justice, and general student life.
One way he and his council have done this is by ensuring access to all opportunities the university has to offer. With many students no longer living on campus amidst the pandemic, Jason aims to connect students – who now span across multiple time zones and regions – with the same academic and professional opportunities. By hosting a virtual job fair last semester, for example, and by lowering the barrier for access to mental health resources, Jason has worked to ensure campus resources are adaptive for the moment.
Reflecting on his YES Abroad experience, Jason said that it was there that he “was exposed to ways that were different. “It was through being in a new place that I was able to find myself, and to see, one, just just how beautiful the world is, to be in a Black country, and secondly, to be able to interact with the folks from the Department of State and the embassy who are creating these inter-cultural interactions and shaping the way we interact with the world.”
While his exchange experience helped to shape his academic and professional path, Jason also reflects he couldn’t have done it on his own. “One thing I try to remember is how far it’s taken to get to where I am, but also that I haven’t done this alone – that there’s a community of people who are here and who have supported me.”
Jason Carroll went to Senegal on the YES Abroad program in 2015-2016 and lived in the city of Dakar. Since going abroad, he has remained close with his host family - and has even hosted his Senegalese siblings at his home in Washington, DC. Jason is currently a senior studying international politics at Brown University. He hopes to go into law after graduation.