The Busiest Woman on Amherst’s Campus
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2018 - 11:07
Photo courtesy of Kyndall Ashe '18
Ashe took on a variety of leadership roles at Amherst, including vice president of the Association of Amherst Students and student representative on the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion.

In her own words, Kyndall Ashe is “just a busy person and always will be.”

Ashe is the vice president of the Amherst Association of Students (AAS), a student representative on the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, a director of the a capella group The Sabrinas, manager of the varsity volleyball team and founder and coordinator of the intramural volleyball program.

And in case that wasn’t enough, she also runs The Option, the on-campus used book seller, organized the Branches social group initiative, sat on former AAS President Tomi Williams’ cabinet as the campus community coordinator, sang in women’s chorus and double majored in math and sociology.

Since her sophomore year, Ashe has lived by the guiding philosophy of pursuing her passions. “In college, I decided there’s more than [academics], and my legacy will be more than just how many A’s I got here. I prioritized things that brought me happiness and created spaces or experiences for people to enjoy themselves,” she said.

Rooting Communities
Ashe’s deep involvement has grown naturally over her four years at Amherst; she likened it to a domino effect. This increasing engagement led her to run for AAS vice president at the end of her junior year, having never served in AAS before. “At the end of my junior year I realized, I’ve been doing so many things on the institutional level, it makes sense for me to represent the students more officially,” she said.

Her increased involvement in the school initially stemmed from her love for volleyball. With a desire to continue playing her sport beyond high school, Ashe as a first year, along with Katie Ventre ’17, founded the intramural volleyball program and has continued to lead the initiative through all her years at Amherst. Her dedication to her work led her to take on a variety of roles; she arrived early to set up the nets and stayed late to dismantle them, even storing volleyballs in her room when there was no place to keep them.

Her rationale is was simple: “My personality is very much that if something is not getting done, I’m just going to swoop in and get it done,” she said. “If I’m going to do something, I need it to go well.” It is a personality trait that has extended to many of her other extracurricular pursuits.

Throughout much of her time in student government, Ashe’s work has been focused on social relationships. When she became the campus community coordinator in her sophomore year, she joined the social project work group committee.

Ashe assumed that position at a turning point in the college’s social scene; the social dorms were about to come down and students were unsure what would rise to fill that void as a communal social space. Ashe and her group launched a research campaign to gauge interest in the potential creation of social clubs. Their survey brought in an unprecedented number of responses, with 1,200 people voting on the existence of social clubs and 60 percent of respondents in favor of them. From this arose the Branches initiative, which featured five different groups, each with no set theme or dominant culture.

Ashe described the challenge of organizing the groups while still letting them be autonomous, a difficulty which eventually led to what she described as “an inequity in how much fun was had” in each group. This imbalance, in addition to the graduation of several organizers, led Branches to fizzle out. While Ashe does still lament the loss of the social dorms and the chance for natural community-building they provided, she is confident and optimistic that the students will come together to find new avenues for the same sense of social connection.

Synthesizing Passions
Her love for community transcends Amherst; next year Ashe will work in San Francisco on a LinkedIn team. After interning there last summer, she will return “for the company, not for California.”

“Tech is one of those places where you go and are like, ‘This is not work.’ ... People do amazing things but while they’re doing it they are making relationships with great people, having great discussions, analyzing interesting data points,” Ashe said as she enthusiastically described the perks and colorful atmosphere of the office. “It’s a great company. I’m so happy, so lucky, to have the opportunity. Getting to see it last summer was a surreal experience.”

Starting in October, Ashe will be part of the business leadership program at LinkedIn, which is a rotational program that prepares employees for sales positions.

“[Working there is] such an interesting and fulfilling experience. It’s cool to see that people can do important and empowering work changing the world, but do it in a way that doesn’t have to be boring,” she said.

The job will also allow Ashe to apply the skills she’s honed in both her sociology and math majors.

While Ashe clearly has a deep love for math and the math department (“The math department here is amazing. They’re pioneers in diversity, super inclusive and awesome”), she especially values her experience as a sociology major. “Sociology has given me my communications skills, my analytical skills, my ability to synthesize ideas into writing. I will always be so grateful,” she said.

Her skills in these areas are ones she’s honed while at Amherst and applied skillfully throughout all her areas of interest. “One of Kyndall’s greatest strengths is her impeccable ability to articulate a vision and couple the idea with elements that contribute to that end goal,” said Director of Student Activities Paul Gallegos, who has worked closely with Ashe on many community engagement projects. “Her ability to advocate for resources and collaborate with different campus partners has made her an incredible advocate for expanding community traditions.”

The analytical aspects of both her majors perfectly illustrate Ashe’s personality: she is a born problem-solver. Perhaps it’s genetic — she is a third-generation math major, taking after both her mother and grandmother.

Intersecting Identities
Since she was young, Ashe has been engaged in her community. For high school, Ashe attended Sidwell Friends in Washington D.C., the city she has called home for most of her life. Colorful lockers and uplifting sayings dotted the school’s hallways, Ashe remembers, noting that she chose the school for its bright atmosphere and friendly attitude — descriptors that can be, and often are, applied to Ashe herself. At Sidwell, she was the student government co-clerk, a member of the volleyball team, the director of her a capella group and part of the chamber chorus.

Looking at colleges, Ashe eventually settled on Amherst because she felt it echoed the atmosphere of Sidwell. “Amherst is so diverse that I never felt alone,” she said. “I chose it because of that, the open curriculum and [because] my visit was out of this world.”

Throughout her time at Amherst, Ashe’s racial identity has played a unique role. “It’s very rare to be a black woman of means,” she said. She says her identity within these various groups has led her to “break into different communities. I found myself surviving by trying to be in touch with black communities based on my blackness, be in touch with women’s communities, like The Sabrinas, and then I also am able to get along with rich white kids,” Ashe said. “Being a sociology major and being on the diversity task force, I think about this a lot.”

Leaving a Legacy
Being a part of Presidential Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion has also been formative, not only for Ashe but for Amherst itself. In her time on the task force, the members have gone from discussing the very purpose of the group to creating an online bias-reporting system.

“Just Biddy [Martin] making the task force is a big deal. That was a gesture showing, ‘I don’t know exactly what needs to happen, but let’s get a group of people who might know together, and let’s talk about it,’” Ashe said, noting how it marks an upward trend of attention towards issues of diversity.

She feels the same way about the college’s focus on belonging. “I think it’s a matter of acknowledging people’s struggles from the institutional level, making it very explicit that we are here to support you,” Ashe said. “[It’s about] understanding that we are on a path to a very different campus than it was in the 1800s.”

Ashe is optimistic that change will come, but she notes that the college still has to do a lot of work. Thinking forward to her fifth- and 10th- year reunions, she said that upon coming back, “I would like to see more faculty of color, hear about more discussion of bias happening here. I would like to see, hope to see, students have figured out their own way to socialize without the help of the administration ... I do think in five years it will work itself out. I would hopefully like to see students of color, international students, disabled students, people from a number of different backgrounds no longer feel like they aren’t supported by the school overall.”

While she still sees so many problems to be solved, Ashe acknowledged that “I have to be content with the idea that I’ve done all I can, and hopefully Amherst is or will be a better place because of some of the things I’ve tried to do here.”

And for many, she has done just that. “She has remained committed to issues of inclusion and equity but also ensures that the task force continues to focus on the student experience — particularly around the issue of bias,” said Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones, who worked on the task force with Ashe. “Along with her peers, Kyndall helps the task force appreciate the in- and out-of-classroom lived experience for many of our most marginalized students,” he added.

Helping improve communities and the members within them is ultimately what drives Ashe in her intense involvement at the college. In her own words, “If I can provide [assistance] to people that’s great ... In all the things that I’m doing, I have wanted to create opportunities for everyone else to enjoy themselves. I’ve wanted to help them improve their own lives, while also improving my own self.”