Fairfield University’s Alumni of Color Network held its first General Body Meeting on Monday, April 18 via Zoom. Alums Kaadiana Barnes-Padilla ‘17, Sarah Gedeon ‘19 and Matthew Waldemar ‘20 are co-founders of the network. The organization currently stands at over 40 members and is continuing to grow.
Conversations in the aftermath of the University’s response to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests between Barnes-Padilla and Gedeon led to the creation of the Alumni of Color Network.
Barnes-Padilla was a part of the Alumni Response Team that created a petition titled “Fairfield University Must Say Black Lives Matter” which also included a list of demands from the response team. The petition has well over 8,000 signatures as of April 26, 2022.
Barnes-Padilla and Gedeon didn’t want the momentum the 2020 protests sparked to die down, and in turn it led them to the development of the Alumni of Color Network as a positive addition for the BIPOC students at Fairfield in the wake of all that happened.
“We all felt like we needed to find a way to bridge the gap between current students and alumni,” Barnes-Padilla said. “We [were] missing that connection between current alums and current students, especially during the pandemic, so I felt like that’s why we created something to bridge that gap.”
Barnes-Padilla mentioned some of the inspiration for the direction they took the network came from research done on other schools who have programs such as St. John’s which has a Black Alumni Association and Colgate, which has a program called Mosaic for alumni.
And though the 2020 protests sparked a conversation that eventually led to the development of the Network, the network itself is not an activist group.
The mission statement is as follows:
“The Fairfield University Alumni of Color Network is an official affiliate group of the Office of Alumni Relations that serves to create a community and gateway to support Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Stags during and after their time at Fairfield. The network will host a variety of educational, professional, and social programs that cultivate personal and professional connections and opportunities to support the University while demonstrating the strength and success that exists within the BIPOC community.”
Waldemar clarified what the Alumni of Color Network is further.
“What happened in 2020 sparked a conversation, and I think that momentum of people gathering online got them talking and connected to Janet Canepa [director of alumni relations],” he said. “[Canepa] had always wanted to start this and she had touched base with some students before, but it just hadn’t hit the ground running.”
Continuing, “Because I feel like when people say that it was out of reaction, then they think that we’re an activist group, and we’re not — we’re connected by arm’s distance.”
The primary focus, as seen from the mission statement, is to connect BIPOC students with BIPOC alumni and Waldemar thinks “it will bring out a sense of relatability.”
“I think it would spark like a different idea […] or at least a different idea of what professionalism is,” Waldemar stated. “The University obviously pushes one idea of it, but […] I work at a gallery now and it’s a very corporate setting and you wear business attire, but when I look at my counterparts on social media and stuff, a lot of these kids are dressing however they want, and it’s cool.”
He continued, “I try to think of that in my own job — like the way I dress, the way I carry myself and just try to introduce the different aspects of professionalism that [aren’t] so one-sided and one-way.”
On top of being able to connect with alumni, this network really “highlights that there are some great alumni out there,” said Waldemar who continued, “I would hope this would be a great tool for alumni themselves to connect and use the platform to help them professionally.”
Echoing the mission statement, Waldemar said, “I think our intention is our mission statement: serving the needs of students during and after their time at Fairfield.”
He wants this to be representative for BIPOC students that, “I was in your shoes four years ago, and you can do this too. You can be as successful as you want to be and that doesn’t have to just be in your career or professionally, it can be anything.”
Barnes-Padilla emphasized how a network like this would have really benefited her while she was a student at Fairfield.
During her junior year, was when the infamous off-campus ghetto party occurred.
“Luckily enough, I had professors that supported us,” she said. “One of my professors canceled their lecture and said, ‘we’re going to talk about this,’ and then I felt comfortable being at the diversity office because we had discussions about what was going on, so I felt like those were great support groups for myself during that time period.”
During Waldemar’s time at Fairfield, he reached a breaking point where he was “completely over being at Fairfield and being at a PWI.” He continued to say, “I didn’t know what I would do after, but I was ready to leave or something had to change.”
He feels like if this network existed while he was a student, “it would have been a good sounding board to reach out to and seek advice, or see examples or highlights, like on social media or through the Fairfield Magazine.”
For him, he says it “would have been inspiring to just be like, ‘okay, I can do this. It’s a struggle right now, but I can do this and I can shoot for the stars and go where I see fit.’”
Beyond this, Waldemar points to how for a long time “the percentage of minority people at the University was 20% or less.”
“You have dozens of classes through the 60s or 70s where you have all these different people come through and I just want to know what they’re doing now,” he said.
“You know, it would be amazing to see, and it would change the perception of how the university is viewed, and how people see the community and the impact a Jesuit education can bring.”
Piggybacking off of some of his earlier statements, Waldemar noted, “The alumni gathering in the summertime on Facebook, in reaction to the University’s response to the police brutality movement, that was very reactive and, again us coming together and forming this group is trying to be proactive, and create proactive responses and create, like you said, a positive term, and creative positive perceptions.”
With this network, the founders feel hope.
“I hope that students realize there are alumni that have their backs if they feel like, ‘hey, I need some advice, they can always reach out to an album or find a way to bring them together whether it’s career advice or about being a student on campus,” Barnes-Padilla said. “We want to show them that they’re not alone in their process and realize, hey we were in those same positions before.”
The Alumni of Color Network has many upcoming events planned, so follow their Instagram @fualumniofcolornetwork.