MSU junior Jessica Brito is one of 212 students across 39 states to be named a 2021 Newman Civic Fellow. The national honor, given to campus leaders who exhibit a commitment to discovering solutions for challenges facing local, national and international communities, and who are attending one of many Campus Compact member institutions, was awarded to Brito in early March.
Brito, the vice president and program director of the MSU Black Student Union, earned this award for her work addressing inequality and social justice for marginalized populations. She worked with the Montana Racial Equity Project and Bozeman United for Racial Justice to help organize Black Lives Matter events in Bozeman last summer. Brito also serves on the university’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) committee, which strives to improve diversity and inclusion at MSU. She worked to create the introductory course Africana Studies, offered for the first time during the Fall 2020 semester, and is working on developing the course into a degree program alongside administrators, faculty and other students. See Phoebe Zea’s article, “Introducing Africana Studies,” from the Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020 edition for more information on the course.
“As a Black, queer woman growing up in a low-income environment, I have a unique lived experience that has led me to believe getting involved in community service and social justice work is important,” Brito said. “I greatly value diversity and strive to seek out opportunities to help those in need hence extracurriculars like nonprofits and other organizations are great avenues for this.”
Brito’s resume goes on further. She is also a co-founder and president of Crescent Montana, a nonprofit focused on providing free menstrual products and reproductive health education to rural and tribal Montana schools in an effort to reduce health disparities and stigma surrounding feminine hygiene. In 2020, Brito was named a 2020 Cameron Presidential Scholar and received a generous tuition stipend from the Honors college. Additionally, she has worked with Monica Skewes, Ph.D, to research health disparities and substance disorders in Native American populations and is a teaching assistant in the department of psychology.
The fellowship is named after Campus Compact founder Frank Newman, who was a passionate advocate for expanding opportunities for diverse and economically-challenged students to have access to a college education. Newman once said, “The most important thing an institution does is not to prepare a student for a career, but for life as a citizen.”
This yearlong program provides students with the training and resources needed to fulfill their passions and expand their strategies for social change. Along with this, the Newman Civic Fellowship aims to build a national network of engaged student leaders who can support one another in building transformational partnerships between campuses and communities.
For any students interested in joining clubs, Brito advised, “Never limit yourself. If you really want to get involved and make important changes, you can and will regardless of your expectations! Coming into college I didn't even know if I could be a part of a non-profit or club, much less create one, and I certainly didn't think I would be organizing rallies and improving my community, but I have done just that. Take the chance to join any club you want at university and make the best of it!”