Every year we check in with our alums who are either in college or have just graduated. With the pandemic, the economic downturn, and the national demand for social justice, this is a crucial year to find out how our alums are coping.
Emmitt Sklar, A Belk Scholar, at Davidson College in North Carolina (BFS ’17)
What year are you in college?
I’m a rising senior at Davidson College.
Tell me about your work at college.
I just wrapped up my Capstone for Political Science. I studied Arabic in Amman, Jordan and I wanted my research to focus on U.S. involvement in the Middle East and North Africa. I wrote about the U.S. intervention in the 2011 Libyan Civil War and 2013 Syrian Civil War to examine the strength of Responsibility to Protect, an international norm on responding to genocide. A little bit after I finished the Capstone, Susan Rice, who was [President] Obama’s National Security [Advisor] and U.N. Ambassador during this period, came to Davidson and I was able to ask her some questions about the topic, which was a really cool experience.
I also just finished up a year as Student Body President at Davidson. I was elected my sophomore year and served until this March. It was an incredibly meaningful experience that gave me the opportunity to put into practice many of the values that I have as a result of my time at BFS. We started a micro-grant program for sustainability projects in order to help our campus meet our carbon neutral goal. We also were able to reevaluate what justice looks like on a college campus. We eliminated punitive fines which affect students of different background[s] in different ways and replace[d] [them] with a restorative, service-based model.
What has this year looked like for you, before- and during the pandemic?
We started hearing about Corona closings during our spring break. I was in Poland on a school-sponsored trip for Jewish students to see the Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek concentration camps and engage with Jewish life there now. It was obviously a stressful time to learn that school might be closing. We also weren’t sure if there was a chance that we would be stuck in Poland. I came back home in late March to finish up the school year. I’ve been co-chairing a Corona Response Team of administrators, faculty, staff, and students for school, focusing on reopening and campus community. The uncertainty around when and how we’ll reopen has been stressful, and it has been reassuring to know I can have some impact on how that happens in a responsible way, while maintaining the important parts of a small liberal arts experience.
What particular challenges did you have to face as part of your college experience?
Moving from Brooklyn to a small town in North Carolina was difficult. I was used to taking the subway everywhere and suddenly I was unable to get off campus without a friend’s car. I was also used to the density and the noise of the city and it took some time to get accustomed to a different part of the country.
What’s the plan for the summer and fall?
The virus scrambled some of my summer plans. I was supposed to work at Senator Schumer’s Office, but they are not able to go into the office yet, so I’m working as a Fellow for a congressional candidate in Brooklyn. When we go back to school in the fall, I’ll start working on a year-long honors thesis for political science and start thinking about what comes after college.
What age did you enter BFS?
I came in to the Blue Room when I was 3.
What teachers had a profound effect on your experience at BFS?
Erin Mansur — I had Erin as a teacher for three years. She was my advisor in sixth grade and [my] English teacher in seventh and eighth grade. That period of time is when I think students first develop a real consciousness of the world around them, and Erin was so influential to me because she brought real life into the classroom in a way that challenged us to develop an understanding of our surroundings.
Vlad Malukoff — Vlad was my history teacher for two years in high school and the faculty advisor for the Model U.N. team. He helped me learn how to think about the world and was a really important role model for me during my four years of high school.
What advice would you give current students at BFS?
I would say take advantage of the city and all of its resources to the full extent that you can. There’s no other city that offers as much in terms of its museums, performances, food, and neighborhoods. Consequentially, I think students from New York have a degree of life experience that makes it easier to thrive in new environments no matter where you go next. Depending on where you go to school, there may not be many New Yorkers, and it’s also important to have enough stories to prove that the city isn’t just kale salad and Times Square.
How did the Quaker education you received at BFS prepare and guide you for your studies at college, on a micro and macro level? (For example, daily life and challenges, as well as the larger issues of growing up, being away from home, and navigating the world of the university for the first time?”)
I think most schools primarily ask students to look externally and examine their surroundings. I felt that BFS, though, and Quakerism more broadly, add that it’s also important to look internally and ask how who we are should interact with the world that we’re learning about. I think that process helps develop a greater sense of purpose and makes it easier to deal with challenges in college and beyond.
What’s a lesson you’re taking from these last several months that you feel will impact your growth or has made you more resilient?
How much the ability to be resilient is built into the structure of the world around us. It is in so many ways the result of our environment. While this summer was destabilizing for everyone, it became very clear how uneven the infrastructure of resiliency is across the city. I think everyone should be motivated to stay engaged because there is no vaccine for a lot of these problems.