The Westfield Voice

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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

S.A.I.L Profiles: Dionn Casanova – A First Generation Student with a Voice 


Dionn Casanova is a young Puerto Rican man who came from Greenfield, Massachusetts, and is the first in his family to come to college and even graduate high school. He had to learn about college on his own, including how to even fill out paperwork. “Being first-generation, some of our parents’ first languages were not English which makes things like FAFSA nearly impossible.” However, one thing he did not have to learn was how to get involved with social justice movements. Greenfield, Massachusetts is a very progressive town that almost constantly has protests regarding current events going on. 

Now, he is a junior at Westfield State University with a double major in Political Science and History. Originally he had been a Criminal Justice major however, when he began to get involved on campus he realized that he was far more passionate about social justice issues. He also knew he had a fascination with history; he wrote, “I believe with learning history, I can play a role in preventing it from repeating itself.” 

Within his first two years on campus Dionn worked hard to make himself known and to make his presence matter. He did everything from joining Lambda Sigma, to joining the campus club LAFE, to being a tour guide, to being an RA. Now, as a junior, he is an Assistant Program Coordinator in Student Activities, Involvement, and Leadership (SAIL). Along with three other assistants they put together 92% of Westfield State campus activities. Coming to campus he took every opportunity to get involved from joining clubs to becoming a part of SAIL. Being a leader was something that Dionn had considered, but it never truly became clear until that meeting in the fall semester of 2021. 

He and his fellow RAs were left alone to discuss some issues while the director was out of the room. The Residential Department meeting had been arranged for the RAs to meet an outside consultant that President Linda Thompson had hired. In the past the RAs would complain to one another; those complaints only reached the director through the notes that were left behind. This meeting was going down the same path of being useless. Being just another complaint session for the RAs that would effectively offer few solutions if any. 

Dionn knew something had to be done. It had to stop. He realized this would just keep happening if no one spoke up. “I felt that the best way to address this problem was just to talk to the director… rather than him being given notes from someone else.” And that is exactly what he did. The director, Joshua Hettrick, rejoined the meeting. Dionn raised his hand.

He began to list off all of the complaints that had been brought up over the previous hour. The biggest was the lack of support that was in place for the RAs. They had nothing in place to relieve them of even a little bit of their stressors. 

It was a never-ending moment that everyone else around him was experiencing.  A moment that should have been huge and terrifying wasn’t. He wasn’t nervous, nor intimidated by confronting these issues. Nothing was going to stop him from standing up for what was important. Nothing was going to stop him from breaking the cycle, after all this meeting was a chance for the RAs to voice their concerns.

Despite just being another student sitting around a table in the Student Government Conference room Dionn felt larger than himself. He was. He had found his purpose for being a Political Science major. He had found his voice. Many RAs came to him after that meeting and thanked him for speaking up. It brought him joy to know that he had such a powerful impact on the world around him. Shortly after this meeting, Dionn received a RA award for Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. It also spurred him on to do more. 

With Westfield State not being very diverse, there was a lack of support for the diversity that did exist. Students of color did not have a community to call their own, and Dionn was determined to change that. What had started with that Residential meeting had turned into something much larger. But he had his work cut out for him. This wasn’t just for himself, it was for the others who felt like they were thrown to the wolves on their own.

Dionn began to work with the Student Government Association (SGA) to include more diverse people and to offer support for those people. The constitution of SGA was already in revision, so it was just a matter of ensuring that it had the language to offer more diversity and the appropriate support for that diversity. He brought up the idea for a Student of Color Council and it took off. Given that only 16% of the WSU alumni population is non-white people and 11% of faculty are non-white it was no question that Dionn had his work cut out for himself. 

However, with the upcoming SCC and a new SGA role – Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – there is a lot of progress being made to support the minorities on campus. But, Dionn still wants to push for more because many students like himself come from families that struggle to speak and/or read English. Many students – minorities and majorities – do not feel that they have the platform to allow their voices to be heard. Every person has their moment. Everyone sees wrong within their world, but not everyone may be able to voice exactly why. Dionn is a first-generation student who found his voice. It wasn’t easy, but it was possible for him to learn how to speak up. In doing so he wants people to realize that they matter; their voice matters.

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