Andrene Wright ’17 Showcases Passion for Learning at Abby Stein Memorial Lecture

Andrene Wright ’17 Showcases Passion for Learning at Abby Stein Memorial Lecture

Andrene Wright ’17 Showcases Passion for Learning at Abby Stein Memorial Lecture

Abby Stein, a beloved John Jay Interdisciplinary Studies Professor who passed away in 2014, continues to be a beacon of inspiration for all who are part of the John Jay-Vera Fellows Program. As founding director of the program, Stein’s passion for her students was palpable, and her desire to see John Jay students succeed is felt to this day. On February 7, the fifth annual Abby Stein Memorial Lecture honored Stein’s legacy and celebrated the success of John Jay-Vera Fellows alumni. “This lecture is a tradition that began five years ago in honor of our dear Abby,” said Anthropology Professor Alisse Waterston, Ph.D. The lecture presents an opportunity for program alumni or “Verons”, as they’re called within the program, to speak of their time at John Jay, their Vera Fellowship experience, how it helped create opportunities for the future, and the current work they are doing.

Professor Alisse Waterston
Professor Alisse Waterston

Established 11 years ago, the John Jay-Vera Fellows Program is a pioneer program at the College. “The program provides a select group of 10 students per year, a paid internship at the Vera Institute of Justice, or one of its spin-off agencies, where they get real life work experience and meet with an inter-disciplinary faculty once a week to discuss rich literature, and a rigorous curriculum,” said Waterston. “We have over 100 Vera Fellows who have graduated from the program. That’s the thing about starting with a big vision, when you make it happen, it can affect so many.”  

Andrene Wright and President Karol V. Mason are all smiles at the Abby Stein Lecture
Andrene Wright and President Karol V. Mason are all smiles at the Abby Stein Lecture

“When you go through a program like the Vera Fellowship, you learn about the power of voice.” – Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College

Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College, told the audience how important programs like the Vera Fellows are, and how powerful their impact can be on communities. “When you go through a program, like the Vera Fellowship, you learn about the power of voice. Through this program, you have the opportunity to learn how to use your voice. You also learn to hear the voices of the people that you work with. That’s so necessary to the work we do,” said Mason.

Andrene Wright during her presentation
Andrene Wright during her presentation

Opportunities at John Jay
Professor Nina Rose Fischer introduced the evening’s main speaker, Andrene Wright ’17, a first-generation college student and graduate of John Jay. “The world of social justice is fortunate to have Andrene Wright as an advocate for policy that actually reflects the experience of people in the systems that are most effected,” said Fischer. During her time at John Jay, Wright was a McNair Scholar, Vera Fellow and winner of several other fellowship programs that helped pave the way for her current position as a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University studying Political Behavior at the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Class. Looking back at her time at John Jay, Wright went over the pivotal moments that changed the course of her life, and connected the dots, showing how each experience led to the next great opportunity.

“I am a proud child of immigrants, and like most immigrant families, the most important pillars of value are education and religion.” – Andrene Wright

The first thing she spoke about was her family and the value they placed on education. “I am a proud child of immigrants, and like most immigrant families, the most important pillars of value are education and religion. Those are things we do not mess with,” said Wright. She initially began her college career at Michigan State University but following her mother’s diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Wright returned to New York and enrolled in John Jay, where she was introduced to the McNair Program. “McNair was so valuable to me. Dr. Samantha Majic was my mentor in the program and she pulled me aside one day and asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said I wanted to be a lawyer, but when she asked me ‘Why?’ I was lost for words. To be honest I enjoyed learning about the law but I didn’t see myself actually practicing law,” said Wright. A course in Women in Politics taught by Majic would help provide Wright with some clarity and opened her eyes to the world of social justice.

Andrene Wright provides undergrads with words of encouragement
Andrene Wright provides undergrads with words of encouragement

It was during her time in McNair that Wright applied to the Vera Fellows Program. “Vera provided a dialectic approach to education around working in non-profits and theory that we could relate to our jobs and future careers,” said Wright. “It was probably the closest to a graduate seminar I came in contact with at John Jay.” During her time with Vera, Wright worked for the Status Offenses Reform Resource Center at the Vera Institute, giving her a hands-on opportunity to affect change. Providing the audience with a brief overview of the Center’s mission, Wright said, “Status offenses are offenses that are criminalized based on your age. Truancy is one of them, so is running away. A lot of the times, students who end up being disproportionately impacted from these status offenses are students of color. What we did at the Center was create tool-kits and city guidelines about how to navigate status offenses in an alternative way in order to decriminalize young people,” said Wright. “Instead of just throwing them in jail, we offered other methods to rehabilitate and mediate the issues these children are facing.”

Nina Rose Fischer, Alisse Waterston, Andrene Wright and Caroline Reitze
Nina Rose Fischer, Alisse Waterston, Andrene Wright and Caroline Reitze

Her time in the Vera Fellows Program led to her applying for and winning the Rising Star Fellowship, which enables students like Wright to receive financial support for opportunities that would lead to personal, social, and professional development. The win led to a study-abroad experience that provided Wright with the opportunity to help build eco-villages in three cities in Senegal. After that experience, Wright took on a Summer Research Opportunities Program. “It’s a program where you go to the graduate school you are applying to and do research under an advisor at that institution. So when I applied, I listed that I was in McNair and that I was in Vera and got accepted.” The chance provided a valuable experience that enabled her to acclimate to the Northwestern University academic environment and helped with the transition process, even earning her early admission acceptance. “Now I’m at Northwestern and I have hit the ground running.”

“Knowing what’s actually happening in the communities I’m producing academic work on is important to me. And I’m doing it because a lot of people don’t.” – Andrene Wright

Engaging With Communities
Currently, Wright is working on getting a paper published called Race, Power and Policy: The Making of the Mulford Act, where she and her cohort examined racialized attitudes toward gun control and compared how blacks with guns were perceived and described in the media versus whites with guns, highlighting the discrepancies. She’s also engaging with several communities in Chicago, where she’s working with black women who live in the West Inglewood, Beverly and Hyde Park neighborhoods. “I’ll be conducting focus groups to learn about the different interactions that they have with the state and how those interactions can affect their trust in government,” said Wright. “Knowing what’s actually happening in the communities I’m producing academic work on is important to me. And I’m doing it because a lot of people don’t. It’s my biggest pet peeve with political science. We’re quantitatively heavy, very much into the numbers, but as far as doing interviews, focus groups or actually interacting in ways that the numbers can’t account for, that doesn’t happen,” continued Wright. “I need to learn their stories, to capture these narratives. I want to be a part of something that’s helping the community.”