There are many reasons junior Kelly Woodson chose Catholic University. She had attended Catholic high school and primary school. Her high school counselor recommended CatholicU, which offered all of the majors she was considering. “I knew it was a school that would challenge me academically,” she says. Her dad is originally from Baltimore so there was a connection to the region. And then there was the financial assistance package offered by the University that made her choice possible.
When she came to campus to attend Cardinal Preview Day for accepted students, she found the icing on the cake. “At the student organization fair, there was a table for the Black Student Alliance (BSA),” she says. “I knew I wanted to go to a school that had a BSA. My high school was predominantly White. As I was coming into my own, I was becoming more proud of my Black skin and I wanted to explore that pride with students who look like me.”
"Honoring our mission at Catholic University requires fighting for inclusion and racial justice."
When Woodson committed to CatholicU, she had interests in anthropology, pre-med, psychology, and criminal justice. She wanted to pursue a social justice-oriented career that allowed her to help underserved populations. She decided to pursue that goal by choosing to major in psychological and brain science, with a politics pre-law minor.
At the start of her first year, she joined BSA and Redline a Capella. She set her sights on a Capitol Hill internship and by her second semester was interning for U.S. Representative Donna Shalala of Florida, Woodson’s home state. “I loved that internship,” says Woodson. “We got plenty of time with the representative. She came through the office frequently. She is humble and kind. I was able to work on projects related to health care policy, which has become a passion of mine.”
During the summer following her first year, Woodson secured another internship, this one with the human trafficking division within the state attorney’s office in Miami-Dade County, Fla. “The internship was very fulfilling, yet there were days that were very difficult. I went to hearings, and had opportunities to meet with victims. I found that I was applying what I was learning as a psychology major.”
When she returned to D.C. for her sophomore year, Woodson continued in the same Capitol Hill internship and increased her involvement with BSA, serving as public relations chair and helping to organize the Black-and-White-Tie Gala — a Black History Month event — with the theme of “Black Hollywood.” “It was so much fun. We decorated Heritage Hall. We dressed up and had a red carpet. It was a true celebration of Black excellence,” says Woodson.
Just one month later in March 2020, COVID took hold in the United States, requiring massive shutdowns, including the closing of Catholic University’s campus. Woodson returned to her home in Florida, and like students across the country, she was attending her classes online.
Then, last summer, as protests erupted across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Woodson joined the national outcry for racial justice.
“I joined a protest with a group of close friends and my mom,” she says. “It was strange to think about protesting in the middle of a pandemic. We wore masks and maintained social distance. We just couldn’t sit this out.”
She knew then that the mission of CatholicU’s BSA would also now have to encompass a renewed demand for racial justice in an urgent way. “We stood that organization up to answer the call for dialogue and solutions,” says Woodson, who entered her junior year as BSA vice president and co-chair of the D.C. College Democrats Black Caucus. “I give so much credit to our BSA president, Myciah Brown. She’s become my good friend and sister, and I have so much admiration for how she has taken on her role with increased importance and grace during such a volatile time.”
With the added challenge of not being able to return to campus in fall 2020 due to the pandemic, Woodson and Brown, along with fellow members of the BSA, joined forces with the University’s Center for Cultural Engagement to sponsor “Civility Dialogues.” The virtual events allowed students the opportunity to explore issues related to race and justice. The student leaders also provided input to the University’s new Sister Thea Bowman Committee, which seeks to address issues of racial justice and increasing diversity on campus and beyond.
Now, back on campus for the spring 2021 semester, they have continued their advocacy efforts, sponsoring more programming, and engaging with faculty members about the prospect of developing an African studies minor through the School of Arts and Sciences.
“There is definitely work to be done at Catholic University in the way of increasing diversity but also addressing social justice issues among the student population and faculty,” says Woodson. “But being at this University gives me hope that all students will continue to fight for change not only at Catholic but across D.C. As Catholics, we are committed to love and respect and social justice. So it is clear that honoring our mission at Catholic University requires fighting for inclusion and racial justice.”
Ellen N. Woods is the director of creative services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.