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A journey with Generation Conscious: breaking barriers and expanding horizons

By Niyah Troup     4/10/24 2:08pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

When I first set foot on the Rice University campus, the contrast with my small hometown of Toomsuba was stark. Moving from a quaint town of 800 people to the big city of Houston, Texas made me realize how large the divide between my experience and that of my peers was.

For students like me — first-generation, low-income, queer students who attended the same elementary and D-rated high school as our parents and grandparents — the opportunities were limited. Rice held promises, but an unexpected impact came from an initiative called Generation Conscious. This coalition of like-minded innovators, dedicated to providing sustainable hygiene products, turned my journey from Toomsuba into something truly transformative.

In the heart of Hanszen commons, an unusual vending machine caught my eye. It wasn't snacks it dispensed, but rather free laundry detergent sheets, embodying a zero-waste, closed-loop system. This system wasn't just environmentally friendly; its job opportunities, too, were regenerative for students like me. Generation Conscious redirected all funds back into student salaries, bridging the opportunity gap that often hindered students of color like me from accessing high-value internships. It wasn't just about financial empowerment; it was about breaking social barriers.

While part of my role involved maintaining the Hanszen station, the real adventure unfolded as I dived into my passion as an engineer. From optimizing humidity levels for hygiene products to collaborating on machine improvements, my technical skills evolved beyond the ordinary internship experience. I wasn't just contributing to a cause; I was dismantling barriers in hygiene equity, creating databases and exploring representation in BIPOC communities.

Yet, the true value of the Generation Conscious experience lies in the connections it fosters. Tailoring my internship with the founder allowed me to connect with remarkable individuals like Lacie Pierre, a fellow Mississippian and Black sustainability advocate. The network expanded further, introducing me to Black women engineers from respected universities and providing a source of inspiration in an industry often unfriendly to women and feminine-presenting people.

My story isn't solitary. Rice alumni like Taylor Gilliam '23 found their own transformative experiences with Generation Conscious. From managing social media to co-authoring a climate apocalypse graphic novel turned television project, the impact ripples far beyond the campus.

As I prepare to leave Rice, I advocate for ongoing support for initiatives like Generation Conscious through filling out surveys, vocalizing your testimonies and backing projects that would benefit not only the community, but the environment as well. My hope is that the next generation of BIPOC and low-income students can experience the same transformative journey that broadened my horizons and shattered barriers. Generation Conscious and projects like it aren’t just initiatives; they’re a narrative of breaking boundaries and creating opportunities for those who follow.

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