A Consultant with a Future in Social Justice
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2018 - 11:00
Photo courtesy of Alejandro Niño '18
Niño pursued his love of the outdoors in a variety of ways, including participating in the Amherst spring break trip to Zion National Park.

When I asked Alejandro Niño if there was anything I should know about him, he said that he hoped he was considered a good friend. According to Siena Koh ’18, there is no doubt that this hope has come to fruition.

“Alejandro is just simply one of the best people I know and an important person in my life,” Koh said. “He’s not only one of my best friends but the best friend anyone could ask for.”

Koh described Niño’s diligence, tenacity and drive, but what she emphasized most was his care for those around him.
“[He is always] worrying about everything and everyone and constantly looking out for his friends — sometimes I get peeved at the extent of this, but I would also trust him with my life,” said Koh.

An economics major at Amherst, Niño has demonstrated strong leadership skills and used his voice as a force for good, often taking initiative on projects that were of significance to him. Most clear, however, is his natural tendency to care for those around him and share his light with others.

“Never Been Farther North than Kentucky”

For Niño, Amherst was a far cry from what he had been accustomed to growing up. After immigrating to the United States from Colombia at the age of five, Niño lived in the suburbs of Atlanta before moving to south Florida. Despite the distance, Niño knew ithat Amherst was the place for him after meeting an alumna at an admitted students event.
“[Her] saying that she felt that I would fit in and find a place here really gave me the confidence to make the jump,” Niño said.

Despite this positive experience, Niño’s journey to Amherst was by no means smooth sailing. After applying to nearly 20 colleges and universities, Niño said that he barely knew what he wanted from a school. It wasn’t until the middle of his senior year in high school that he came to realize he enjoyed the close relationships with faculty that a small school allowed, a realization that prompted his choice of Amherst.

Even after his decision, however, Niño still did not know what to expect. He recalled researching the college’s history to get a sense of what his experience would be like, joking that he came to “know way too much about some of these buildings.”

A major reason for his research stemmed from the fact that he had never visited Amherst before attending. “I had never been farther north than Kentucky,” Niño said.

“Most of the time when I say I hadn’t been farther north than Kentucky people ask me why I had ever gone to Kentucky,” he added, jokingly.

The Making of the Mammoth

One of Niño’s main endeavors during his time at Amherst was serving as co-chair of the mascot committee. “It was a cool role because it changed so much from the very beginning to the end,” Niño said.

His position as co-chair involved a considerable amount of deliberation on how the committee would execute its mission.
Throughout the fall semester of his junior year, Niño remembers discussing with the committee the various facets that would make the transition process successful: transparency, fairness and equity were just some of the qualities the committee meditated on.

Although the committee needed to carefully calculate its moves, Niño found the process of gauging community input rewarding. Between the students, administrators and alumni on the committee as well as the outside Amherst community, Niño was impressed by the level of engagement he encountered.

“It’s not something that happens that often, where you get to work that closely with alumni and students,” he said.

One of Niño’s favorite parts of the process was reading the initial list of suggestions submitted from the community. His favorite mascot suggestion? The Amherst Bed Bugs.

“The rationale was just that they are resilient,” Niño remarked.

Now that the Mammoth is officially Amherst’s mascot, the winding down of the decision process revealed to Niño the areas in which this leadership role helped him grow.

“I felt much more comfortable speaking up with alumni. I got to lead a team of students,” he said. “It was cool that it was my first real leadership position where I was actually leading a team.”

Strength in Identity

Even while leading the mascot committee, Niño constantly sought to be open about his immigration status in the hopes of fighting the stigma attached to being undocumented.

“I was very purposeful about coming here and tried to be more open and public about my status. Even from my first year here, I wanted to make this real for people, and actually interact with people as someone who is undocumented,” Niño said.

Fortunately, he was met with unwavering support from his friends and the Amherst community as a whole. Though his journey hasn’t been easy, the ability to reflect on and share his identity with others provided a sense of assurance.

“I think the first thing this place did was give me the confidence that I was part of a community where I could at least name it,” he said. “That in and of itself is hard for me because I previously wouldn’t have imagined [that].”

Throughout his time at Amherst, Niño has been able to explore what it means to be undocumented, both through his classes and his involvement in La Causa, the college’s Latino affinity group. It was over the past year, however, that Niño experienced a period of tremendous growth that culminated in a trip to Washington, D.C. to advocate for the inclusion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Congress’ annual spending bill.

After his trip to Washington D.C., Niño took time to reflect on this moment and time in American history and what role he himself has to play. “I’m still trying to figure out where I fit into this movement or how I can at best be a part of it,” he said.

“That’s something I’m still grappling with. This year has been a lot of grappling.”

Even though such reflection has been hard, Niño found that the freedom that Amherst offers created a productive environment and is thankful.

“I definitely feel fortunate that I found that space to wander this year,” Niño said. “I think I have grown in so many other ways at Amherst, both academically and as a leader, but I think this year was more of a personal journey.”

Zion and Beyond

During his time at Amherst, Niño took every opportunity to explore the outdoors in ways that his south Florida home could not offer. In his first two years, he went on two or three outing club trips each semester, became a leader for the First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips (FOOT) and spent much of his free time outdoors.

“Some of my favorite memories here are going on runs on the Robert Frost trail,” Niño said.

Niño further developed this interest during the Out of Amherst spring break trip to Zion National Park, which he participated in as a first year before becoming a trip leader his sophomore and junior years. Niño considers the relationships he built on these trips some of the most special ones he has.

“You really have to be vulnerable and open with people for a whole week and really get to know everyone well, and you’re doing it in a really incredible place,” he said.

While Niño was forming meaningful relationships on the Zion trips, the rest of the group simultaneously developed a level of respect for him. He recounted being called the “dad” of the group because of his protective nature and genuine care for each person.

Though Niño is unable to leave the United States because of his undocumented status, he said that his experiences on the Zion trips have shaped his hopes and aspirations for the future.

“Amherst has really helped me expand my geographic experience, what spaces I’ve been able to experience,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really meaningful time for me when I can finally get that international experience.”

After Amherst

After graduating from Amherst, Niño will begin work as a consultant at Bain & Company in Boston. He talked about how intelligent and passionate his new co-workers are, and emphasized that he felt he would be supported at his new job. Ultimately, he realized that he was looking for the same support Amherst provided him in his career pursuits.

“That word — [supportive] — is really the one that is most important to me, to be in a place and a company that is more than willing to invest in me,” Niño said.

While Niño showed excitement for his life in Boston after graduation, he did mention that he aspires to take a more unconventional route and pursue a law or public policy graduate degree rather than an MBA after his time at Bain. He hopes to continue exploring issues of social justice, and credits Professor Kristin Bumiller in the political science department for sparking this motivation.

“Teaching Alejandro is like setting off a multiplier effect,” Bumiller wrote about Niño. “I expect he will take every particle of knowledge he has acquired at Amherst and extend it as far as possible to create new possibilities for social justice.”

For the time being, though, Niño is content to both look forward to the experiences he will have in Boston and reflect on what is important to him.

“Now that I have some financial stability, I’m really figuring out what is meaningful to me,” he said.