Advancing Accountability, Climate, and Equity
Lily Pieper '21 (she/her/hers) is a senior psychology major with minors in sociology and neuroscience and a pre-law philosophy certificate. Ms. Pieper is the Texas A&M University Student Government Association (SGA) Diversity Commissioner and Diversity Operations Committee liaison for SGA. We interviewed Ms. Pieper about her role as advisor on diversity issues facing the study body, her inspiration, and how her background informs her service. The Diversity Commission engages in outreach and policy efforts to advocate for and educate TAMU students.
What is the inspiration for your service?
When I arrived at Texas A&M four years ago, I was very aware of the reputation that it had, and I knew that I wanted to do what I could to improve the climate of our campus. I didn't quite know what that would look like. I became involved with several organizations on and off campus that were doing incredible work within our campus community and across our nation. As I progressed through college, I became involved with the Diversity Commission, which is housed within Student Government.
I knew that I wanted to work with the privileged identities that I do have in order to help create change on this campus, and to center the voices and experiences of students who may often feel marginalized on this campus. This is what led me to the Diversity Commission. I had a very unique opportunity to create tangible change within student government and across the campus.
Tell us what you would like to share about your background and how it influences your service?
What do you like to do in your free time?
My work has been influenced by my identities both as a woman and also as a lesbian. My first entry to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) work was through an intersectional feminist lens. One of the most defining experiences of my life occurred a few weeks before my senior year of high school. I was publicly outed, which was a very traumatizing experience, and it ultimately resulted in my leaving high school and graduating from online high school. This is very full circle now, to have an online senior year of college. That was one of the first times I was confronted with and experienced hate for one of the identities that is so foundational to who I am as a person.
I recognize that because of the many privileged identities that I hold, I made it to16 or 17 without directly experiencing that [hate]. This experience solidified who I am as a person and what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, which is to fight against discrimination, hate, and oppression wherever they may occur.
What were the most surprising things you learned in your position and service?
I think one of the most surprising things that I've learned, which, at the same time, is also perhaps completely unsurprising, is just how difficult it is to create institutional and systemic change. There are so many barriers in place to prevent progress, and to keep those who have traditionally held power in power. As you are growing up, you are told the narrative that if you fight for what's right, even when it gets tough that change will inevitably ensue. I do think that is ultimately true, but I do not think it portrays the entirety of the story, which is that you will be told that you are asking for too much and that you are too progressive. All of which, I think, are lies to uphold and maintain those power structures. It is important to be mindful of your convictions and your beliefs and not to lose sight of those along the way.
One of the most important things that I have learned is that each and every person has the capacity to create change right now, wherever they are. I think, as students, we often feel as though we are not able to create change yet. Students may feel they possess a lack of resources, credentials or socio-political capital. While I am not suggesting those things aren't important, I believe the power of your voice, the power of your experience and the power of your presence, cannot be undermined.
One of the things that I am most proud of is that we have been able to host the Maroon Table Talks within the commission this year. These are programs that are open to undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty across the university system. It is not just limited to the College Station campus. Within these programs, we have a time after the lecture portion to reflect and discuss the material that has been presented. These group sessions provide an opportunity to discuss experiences, have conversation, to learn from and grow with one another. It removes the hierarchical power dynamics that can occur in a classroom or a meeting. It has been a wonderful way to build community and learn from one another in a meaningful way. Through this experience, I've learned just how powerful each of our voices, stories, and experiences are in creating change.
I'll be the first to admit that free time is not something that I seem to have a lot of, but when I do, I absolutely love to read. My mom was a librarian, so as you might imagine I spent a lot of my time as a child reading. This is something that has definitely carried over into my adult life. I just started reading Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which so far has been an absolutely phenomenal book. I'd also highly recommend The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
What would you like readers to know that we have not talked about yet?
I would like to share that I am one of many student activists on this campus. The Diversity Commission is one of many organizations doing incredible things to create change. I always strive, especially as a cisgender (CIS) or White woman, to ensure that my voice is not the only one that’s centered. I would like to encourage everyone to look into and support the work of student organizations and fellow student leaders who have been and will continue to fight for a better campus and a better world.
There are so many incredible leaders and organizations who inspire me constantly. Just to name a few, I have to recognize Iman Ahmed, chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee in Student Senate, who I have had the incredible privilege of working so closely with over the last year. The entirety of the Diversity Commission who I so often say are the most incredible people on this planet, and I genuinely mean that. As well as organizations like the Hispanic Presidents’ Council, the Asian Presidents’ Council, and the Latinx Community Advocacy & Association, MSC Carter G. Woodson Black Awareness Committee, the Black Student Alliance Council, Council for Minority Student Affairs, and countless others who continue to do such incredible work on this campus.
Crystal S. Carter