Friday, December 9, 2011

Student Profile: Dylan Anderson (CAS '12)

Dylan Anderson is a junior studying Political Communication and Culture with minors in Social & Public Policy and Russian & Slavic Studies. Coming from a White/Latino background, he found himself advocating for social equality in high school. Now, as a CAS student, Dylan is realizing his passion in meaningful ways and rapidly developing an advanced understanding of social justice.


Earlier this week, we spoke with Dylan about featuring him on the blog. After an enthusiastic response, we sent him the following questions. His answers reveal deep-rooted passion and a mature understanding of social injustices.

Could you talk briefly about how you became interested in politics and social/public policies?

This stems from where I grew up and my family background. I grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, a small city in the central part of the state and also one of the poorest cities in the state. Going to high school in an inner city school, I was surrounded by all the accompanying inner city problems: violence and gangs, drug usage, family issues – an incredible amount of factors that prevented students from being successful in school. However, one element that always bothered me was the school generally did not take these outside factors into account. Rather, students’ failure was seen as something intrinsic in the students, without consideration of these social problems they had to deal with.

A lot of the work I did in high school involved improving the resources for students to help them be more successful academically. On the Student Council, I got the library to extend its hours after school; for many students, this was the only opportunity they had to use a computer and complete school work. My Senior year I founded the AP Test Fund. Students had to pay to take their AP exams. This cost deterred many from trying for fear that they would receive a non-passing grade. However, of the students who did go on to college, most went to state schools where a score of 3 or above is accepted, ultimately saving these students money. The AP Test Fund was designed to subsidize the costs of exams so more students would take them.

In my own personal life, I come from a half Latino, half white background. Race has always been incredibly salient to me. I have fair skin, fair hair, and a fairly Anglo name; my sister (named Maria) has a much darker complexion. We’ve always been very similar – in our appearances, in how we act, in what we’ve achieved – but because of our different physical color, she always received much different treatment in schools than I did. Racial tensions were also extremely present in my high school. The school used a tracking system, and as the classes became more difficult, they also became noticeably whiter – even though minorities made up a majority of the school population. Social circles tended to segregate themselves based on these divisions, causing a lot of conflict between white students and minority students.


I had never really thought about entering politics until I started applying to college. When I sat down and thought about what I wanted to pursue, I realized that I had already been acting as an advocate of sorts. This kind of work and what I had done in Fitchburg was incredibly important to me; entering politics on a larger scale at NYU seemed like a natural progression.

If you could change one thing about the world today, what would it be?

There are so many answers I could give for this question. But I think the one answer that I can give that would solve many problems would be for the equality of opportunity to actually exist. In the United States in particular, there’s a general sentiment that with a little hard work you can make it anywhere – without a lot of recognition of the institutional barriers that prevent most people from doing just that. I’m not saying that I would make every person equal along all lines. Rather, I would like to see a society in which the amount of work you put into your education, career, community, etc. translates into equivalent outcomes, and that people have the opportunity from the start to choose to pursue those education, career, and family paths they desire.

How have scholarships and awards influenced the direction of your studies at NYU?

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars program has influenced my entire career at NYU. Through the coursework and mentor relationships I’ve developed in the program, the scholarship has given me a lens through which I approached all my studies. I learned about the self-designed honors major through a program associate, and they helped me through the application process. With my experiences with the program, my major, Political Communication and Culture, is not about studying how to win campaigns. It’s about looking at political communication systems (campaigns, news outlets, government entities, etc.) and how they operate as societal actors. I’ve looked at things like how campaign advertisements alienate certain racial groups, how the crime coverage is implicitly biased against racial minorities, and how media depictions of minorities can unconsciously imbed racist views. But without the social justice framework and support network of the scholarship, my studies probably would have turned out differently.

Where do you see yourself in fifteen years?

I honestly don’t know where my work will take me. Whenever I’m asked this, I wish I could provide a definite answer. Right now I’m pre-law, hoping to focus on media law and critical race theory. With this I would continue on my current academic trajectory, looking at how things like 1st Amendment case law and statutes regarding media regulation affect minority communities. However, my biggest priority is continuing to fight for racial justice. Wherever I end up in my career that will be ultimate goal of my work.


I have two big “dreams” if you want to call them that. First, I want to be successful enough and to have had enough impact in my field to testify in front of Congress and retire as an adjunct professor. I have these two goals because I feel as though they indicate that you’ve achieved a high level of credibility in your field, have been able to work towards significant change in that field, and you have the ability to transfer a certain passion onto another generation. Second, my dream career is to start a Political Action Committee (PAC) focused solely on ethical campaigning. The PAC would award money to candidates based on factors like which communities are they targeting (or alienating), how they go negative, how they advertise or talk about contentious issues (like immigration), etc. It would take a lot of time and money, but I think it would be a step towards involving more communities in the political process and creating a more civil political process. For now, I guess I’ll see what happens.

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