Welcome to Women in Politics: College Edition, where promising women leaders in student government on college and university campuses across the country will be featured on msnbc.com over the course of the year. Mercedes MacAlpine has been nominated by Amherst College as a leader making a difference not only through key issues on campus, but in bridging the gender gap in politics.
As part of msnbc’s “Women in Politics” series, these hand-selected women become part of a larger discussion of women candidates and women’s issues on a national level. “Women in Politics” features newsmaker interviews, profiles, photos, and deep dives into the key conversations, including a series on "Women Leaders Bridging Tech and Politics in 2016."
Name: Mercedes MacAlpine
School: Amherst College
Hometown: New York, New York
Concentration: Black Studies
Role in student government, organizations: Oversight Committee Member for Amherst Uprising, Co-Captain of Amherst Cheerleading, Student Athlete Advisory Council Member, Member of Amherst College Students of Color.
Dream job: Fashion Stylist, Event Planner, or Writer.
Class year: 2016
Why did you get involved in student activism?
I would say the two main reasons were my academic interests as well as the relationships I formed here at Amherst and the result of the two colliding. I really fell in love with the things I was learning and found myself increasingly passionate about the people who are here (Amherst has phenomenal people in its community), and one night friends and I got to talking and connected over our feelings of isolation from and discontent with our community. From there I just started critically applying the frameworks I'd been learning in the classroom to different areas of my life on campus, and I realized a lot of what I was learning was not only relevant here, but was also standing in the way of some really incredible experiences that everyone could share. To me, activism is deeply tied to enabling each person to realize their fullest potential, and that's what really started it all for me, trying to make that possible.
Why do you think it's important for women to take on leadership roles on campus and beyond?
It's important because too frequently the interests of women are pushed the margins or assumed to just "fall in line" with larger interests, and if you look at a lot of the issues women are dealing with across the country, you'll find that isn't the case; rather than being spoken to, women are spoken about, and in order to make effective change we need women of different backgrounds bringing their own unique experiences to larger conversations and changing the discourse. I think there are all sorts of ways to be an activist, it's just about giving women the platforms to speak out.
Do you think it's important for college students to vote during elections? Why or why not?
As students, we make informed decisions every day: from what classes we're going to take, to what extracurriculars we're committing to. Registering to vote and casting your ballot are some of the most crucial ways we can make change at a national level, and as a woman of color, I know many people fought tirelessly for me to achieve this right. I voted for the first time in the 2012 election, and it was one of the top most empowering feelings I have ever felt.
Have you ever been in a protest? If so, how was it and how has it affected your leadership work?
I have been in protests before, but the most moving one for me was Amherst Uprising. More a sit-in than a "protest", it was very internal, very community-oriented, and I think that deeply impacted the way that I see both the school and the people in it. Hundreds of people gathered in the library pouring their hearts out for nine hours on end was one of the most prolongedly vulnerable moments I have ever been a part of, and the ensuing four days we all spent brainstorming change and working together are times I will always remember. It just gave me such hope and was a sincerely humanizing moment; I think it drove home, for me, that we're all just people who want to care and be cared about, and that makes all the difference at the end of the day.
What's your favorite go-to for reading/watching the latest news?
I generally wake up each morning and grab my phone which gets the latest headlines directly to it via CNN.com subscriptions, Twitter, and Facebook. I quickly scroll through each one (vetting sources as I go!) and hone in on anything that strikes me; it also helps that you can keep tabs on certain topics to see how they develop throughout the day.
Follow Mercedes on Tumblr at clothcampus.tumblr.com.
To nominate an exceptional undergraduate female leader in student government please email Anna Brand at Anna.Brand@nbcuni.com