Fiona Zahm, a second year student at Elon University, is deeply committed to addressing educational, social, and economic disparities. She is a Community Leader with first-year students residing in the Service Learning Living and Learning Community. Fiona provides mentorship and support to twenty first-year students and she organizes ongoing service projects in the local community to introduce these students to social justice topics through direct volunteer experiences. Fiona and her team members have helped first-year students prepare for a deeper volunteer experience by understanding the mission and broader context of the work of community partners. Grounded in the best practices of service-learning, Fiona and her team members help students understand the root causes of poverty and critically reflect on their experiences. Through her leadership role and her academic work, she has focused on educational disparities and reform. However, her work with the Boys and Girls Club, the Burlington Housing Authority, and Allied Churches, has deepened her understanding of the structural and systemic nature of poverty. Fiona is committed to cultivating the next generation of Elon student leaders and she will bring back what she learns to share with her peers.
My understanding of structural inequality stems from my observations regarding a variety of social ills, ranging from food insecurity to educational disparities. I have worked both within the impoverished community surrounding Elon University as well as within the city of Richmond. These experiences have allowed me to more fully understand the form poverty assumes in both rural and urban settings, and has served to demonstrate the multilayered nature of poverty. In both communities, individuals are faced with challenges that include educational, social, and economic disparities. I have increasingly come to appreciate the multifaceted nature of poverty and injustice. My work has also lead to an increased understanding that such ills are not the result of a "broken" system, but are in fact the results of systemic injustice intended to maintain and exacerbate inequality. While my work has predominantly focused on educational disparities and reform, I have come to understand that reform my be accompanied with a host of additional structural changes if we truly wish to create a more equal and equitable society. I hope that my understanding of the systemic nature of poverty will allow me to strive for more holistic and effective change.