by Kayla Blau
In honor of Women’s History Month, we will present essays throughout the month by local authors documenting, honoring and celebrating powerful women who inspire us in South Seattle and beyond.
A proud South Seattle native, Adriana Jackson is a growing force for change in the higher education system. She grew up in Columbia City for the first six years of her life, before her growing family moved to Skyway in afford to afford a bigger house. She is born to a black father and a white mother who met through friends in Seattle in 1988. A product of Seattle Public Schools, Adriana graduated from Franklin High School and is a first-generation college graduate.
When I first met Adriana at Seattle University in 2012, I was perplexed by how she did it all – she was involved in every opportunity imaginable on campus, but had this chill, unbothered persona that was refreshing and welcoming on our competitive private university campus. She was always impeccably dressed and approachable. I had seen photos of her all over campus – the school’s registration paperwork, website, and campus signs were all stamped with her face.
“It’s just because I’m racially ambiguous, but it’s getting out of hand – they keep using my photo even on brochures for programs I didn’t even attend!”
I joke she should be getting royalty checks for being a poster child to sell diversity on a campus that has close to none.
“Right, they’ve got to have more stock photos of brown people they can use,” she laughs. She’s still waiting on those royalty checks though.
Nevertheless, Adriana actively supported local communities through Seattle University’s Youth Initiative, was a Jumpstart Team Leader at Bailey-Gatzert Elementary, and a member of the Residence Hall Association, to name a few. She is most proud about co-advocating for gender-neutral bathrooms throughout campus in the Residence Hall Association.
“My dad always told me, “turn nothing down but your collar,” and that’s probably why I got involved in so much in college.”
“The Youth Initiative was a natural fit for me because my mom ran her own pre-school while I was growing up, so I’ve always loved kids and seen the value in education. Plus, most of the classrooms we were going into were filled with kids that looked like me. In a way, I felt I could build community with black and brown kids quicker than my white counterparts,” she shares.
When asked about being one of the few students of color on Seattle University’s campus, Adriana shared she “mediated that tension by not being in white spaces as much as possible,” which is part of the reason she valued being in classrooms with black and brown students so much. She followed her passion for education and earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Humanities for Teaching.
“My focus was on education, but I knew I couldn’t be a classroom teacher forever. Besides, most of my best learning happens outside of the classroom through experiences. That’s what I wanted to focus on.”
Some of her most impactful college experiences came from her heavy involvement in Campus Ministry, through which she joined multiple immersion trips to Mexico and Belize. While she doesn’t identify as Catholic, Adriana appreciates the Jesuit focus on social justice and how Jesuits “take nuggets of Catholicism and live them out in a non-abrasive way. Jesuits focus more on education and equality so I could work with that.”
After college, Adriana joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and made a cross-country move to New York City. She was placed in an internship at Advocates for Children, an agency that supports “a high-quality education for New York students who face barriers to academic success, focusing on students from low-income backgrounds.” She was quickly hired on after her internship ended, and worked diligently to support the rights of the most disadvantaged youth in New York City.
And then she got the phone call. Her mother had unexpectedly passed away. Without missing a beat, she packed up her bags and moved back home to support her father raise her two younger siblings, ages 12 and 18 at the time.
“My mom is an inspiration to me – she was always working towards learning more, getting more certificates: growing,” she reflects.
Adriana returned to Seattle University for graduate school last fall, and will graduate this June with a Master’s in Student Development Administration(SDA). The focus of the SDA Program is to develop emerging student affairs professionals and create a strong understanding of student diversity, ethics, and values, while developing an ability to adapt to specific educational environments. Adriana is excited and hopeful for the future of higher education.
“My faculty members and my classmates give me hope for the future of higher education and the work that is happening within student affairs; each of them critiques and call into question education in a way that helps me grow as an emerging professional, something that I believe is necessary for the advancement of our field and higher education as a whole.”
“I will walk away from this program with an understanding of the history of higher education and the implications placed upon our current systems, and stories from my peers and students that remind me why I’m going into student affairs. I hope to go into college access work or leadership and student activities and support first-generation students. I know how hard it can be, so I want to help people navigate through the system. I want to support students all the way through graduation and let them know they belong on a college campus.”