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Meet the Student Advisory Council Co-Chairs Focused on Inclusive Excellence

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Group of students on the quad.
Members of the Student Advisory Council for the President's Council on Diversity and Inclusion.

The Student Advisory Council (SAC) is making invaluable contributions to the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI). Among SAC’s 14 student members are two co-chairs: Rafael Cestero and Eric Brock. If you want to know more about American University’s focus on inclusive excellence, Cestero and Brock have important insights to share. University Communications and Marketing spoke with them about their life experiences, academic work, and goals for AU.

 

Rafael Cestero, Class of 2021

When he toured AU as a high school junior, Rafael Cestero was immediately taken with the vibe and energy of the campus. Now, as a second-year student, Cestero says AU has lived up to its promise. That’s why he’s so committed to inclusion: He wants every student to feel the same way he did while walking across the Quad.

“I felt at home. And I decided that I wanted to do this work to make it feel like home for other people,” he says. “It’s become my mission here at AU to work toward making this a comfortable place for everyone to receive an education.”

He was born in upstate New York and eventually relocated to Westfield, New Jersey. In high school, he played varsity volleyball and was active in theater and choir. Politics and international affairs also competed for his attention, which led him to apply to AU early decision.

Cestero is double majoring in international studies and music. He’s been taking voice lessons since 5th grade, and he’s now utilizing that classical and opera training in the AU Chamber Singers. Through his School of International Service interests, he joined the staff for the Model G20 Initiative. In fact, his focus on cultural diplomacy demonstrates that his twin passions, music and international affairs, aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Ethnomusicology is the study of culture through music,” he says, “and I’m very interested in how we can use music to bring people together.”

Off campus, he recently started a plum internship working in the Personal Office of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Cestero has also been heavily involved with the AU Latinx community, and this semester he’s chairing the Latinx Graduation Banquet committee for the second time. While chairing the committee last year, he got to know Yami Payano, who became a friend and mentor. After Payano was elected Student Government president, she named him director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for AUSG.

Later, a decision was made to more directly incorporate student input to PCDI. Cestero was one of nearly 200 applicants to apply for SAC, and he was thrilled to be named a co-chair. He’s constantly gathering ideas from fellow students about improving AU’s racial climate.

“When we do inclusive excellence work, we have to make sure we’re listening to all kinds of groups. So whether that be racial, whether that be religious, whether that be political, we have to really be inclusive and hear all of those different groups.”

Cestero says progress is needed not only on large campus issues, but in daily social and classroom interactions. He thinks these efforts will take time, but he believes that’s the best way to enact lasting change.

“The work we’re doing is a long-term game,” he says. “We’re trying to create an inclusive mindset that everyone has here. So when people think about things, they think about things in an inclusive and equitable way.”

 

Eric Brock, Class of 2022

Eric Brock first learned about the Student Advisory Council positions on Twitter. Brock has been dedicated to high-impact work for many years, and he offered a thoughtful, fresh viewpoint for the nascent committee.

“As a first-year student, I didn’t expect to get accepted on the committee or become co-chair. That was a unique situation because President [Sylvia] Burwell wanted perspectives of each student class,” he says.

Brock spent his formative years in a struggling part of Las Vegas, Nevada. He was bused to a predominately white high school, and during his sophomore year, he started a Black Student Union there that’s still operating. Soon, his mother began thinking he should attend a new school. So, as he jokes, he “pulled a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and moved in with his grandparents in Phoenix, Arizona.

During that time, he wrote an article for his high school paper questioning the school’s “Chief” mascot. “I wasn’t saying it was racist. I was just saying we need to have a conversation,” he explains. But he says the principal quashed the story, and he took up the issue with a state senator. A bill protecting student journalist rights was passed by the legislature before getting vetoed by the governor. Brock was also honored with an Outstanding Young Man of the Year award for positive youth contributions.

Around the time of his AU acceptance, he wrote about a memorable childhood experience in Nevada. His mom kept him home from school to watch Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. “My mom said, ‘You need to stay home.’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ And she said, ‘Because he’s just like you,’” he recalls, pointing out that they’re both biracial. “She said to me, ‘If he can do it, you can do it.’ So, I’ve always wanted to get into politics.”

Yet Brock actually leans right—partly from watching Bill O’Reilly with his grandparents—and he’s now interning with Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz.

As SAC co-chair, Brock wants to be a strong student voice and help forge consensus. Personally, he believes that by tackling college affordability, AU can attract a more diverse student body.

Brock is a political science major in the School of Public Affairs, and he’s considering law school after graduation. He says his favorite course last semester—college writing 100 with literature instructor Maya Brown—captured the spirit of AU. “She brought very thought-provoking conversations and actually challenged what I believe,” he says. “It’s what I love about this university. It’s the most politically active campus, but we can still have those discussions. And we need to have more of those discussions.”