A person wearing a headscarf sitting in a chair.
Shawn Williams has been involved in a variety of service-oriented efforts. "I want to build a better world," they said. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Class of 2022: Helping others is a passion for graduating senior Shawn Williams

Williams’ work focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion, and they have been involved in campus leadership and service.

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Shawn Williams finds beauty in the intersection of English and African American studies. Williams is majoring in both areas in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, while minoring in gender, sexuality and women’s studies and LGBTQ+/queer studies.

“I like being in those majors because they are my strengths. I enjoy doing the assignments and that’s how my majors translate into my grade point average,” said Williams, a senior with a 3.97 GPA who is graduating in December. “Plus, the faculty is amazing.”

It doesn’t hurt that Williams is also really organized.

“I always try to turn assignments in by or before the due date,” they said.

Williams, who is from Sterling, Virginia, came to VCU for a variety of reasons, including its city-centered nature and its diversity.

“I came from a predominantly white high school. Being a Black student, I wanted to be given the tools to navigate the world of social justice. In my studies at VCU, I am actively learning to communicate about social issues regarding Black Americans,” Williams said.

An optimist, Williams is passionate about helping others. At VCU, they have been involved in campus leadership and service. They have served as a consultant in the Writing Center and as an inaugural member of the English Department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.

“Our committee focuses on ways to enact ideas in the English department that are informative and mindful of all students,” Williams said of the DEI committee. “At the Writing Center, I am helping students from all over the university find their own voice. I’m helping them become stronger writers.”

Williams also served on VCU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day planning committee.

“As a member, I helped figure out what we wanted to do for the big event on campus and how to advertise it to students,” they said. “We ended up having a play that consisted of Martin Luther King Jr. speeches. That was great to see.”

Williams is an intern with Black and Pink, a prison abolitionist organization supporting LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive incarcerated people.

“We host a letter writing group,” they said. “I believe it’s important to foster connections between those outside and those inside the correction system.”

The letters are helpful and much appreciated, especially for those who have been incarcerated for a long period of time.

“Working with incarcerated people helps build a path toward empathy and understanding,” Williams said, adding that the group has a special focus on Black and Brown queer individuals who are incarcerated. “We also advocate for changes in the way mass incarceration affects Black and Brown people in Virginia.”

They wanted to work with incarcerated people because of past experiences with family members who were incarcerated.

“I want to help build a better world,” Williams said.

After graduation, Williams hopes to continue working in a field that offers peer-based support.

“It will probably be a field centered around education of African American people in particular,” they said. “It looks like it would possibly be a career working in the school system or even here on campus. I definitely see myself staying here because I want to continue the work that my professors have taught me to help other students like me — Black, queer and so on — to succeed.”