For LSA junior Meaghan Wheat, working with high school students was something she has wanted to do since she was in high school herself. So despite being a college student, Wheat spends a lot of time with high school students and teachers. In fact, she has facilitated conversations and leads workshops on social identities with about 430 teachers and many more students.
“High school students are at such a formative period in their lives,” Wheat said. “You can see their light bulb moments.”
Wheat was first exposed to the impact of dialogue when she was 16 years old. By participating in Summer Youth Dialogues through the University of Michigan, Wheat joined high school students from across the Detroit area for a series of conversations about race and ethnicity in the context of the city’s social systems and injustices. These conversations inspired her to create a dialogue-based course in her own school, Novi High School, which encouraged dialogues about gender, race, sexual orientation, class and religion among students.
Five years later, Wheat is now a consultant for Novi High School and will be a facilitator for Summer Youth Dialogues.
“Creating those types of spaces and being passionate about that work has sustained me,” Wheat said. “I’m really interested in the student voice — always have been.”
About a year ago, Novi High School reached out to Wheat because of her interest in these issues. They hired her to facilitate conversations between high school students and teachers through workshops. For the faculty, these workshops serve as part of professional development. For the students, they create a bridge between students and teachers by addressing disconnects between student needs and how teachers accommodate them.
Last summer, Wheat led 16 workshops in the span of two days for K-12 teachers. The workshops focused on lower socioeconomic status and cognitive ability.
“Novi is an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit,” Wheat said. “But not everyone in that community has a high economic status, so for teachers, how do we properly navigate that for students?”
Wheat has also worked with the Martin Luther King Children and Youth Program, helping middle school and high school students enact change in their own hometowns. She was nominated for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award last semester. For Wheat, the most rewarding aspect of the nomination was getting to know other nominees.
“Meeting other people who do similar action-based and dialogue-based work was really fulfilling,” Wheat said.
Additionally, Wheat works with Metropolitan Youth Policy fellows to find out how the needs of young people in Detroit are, or are not, being met. The program serves to evaluate how well the city is supporting young people and whether young people feel they have a voice. Wheat has presented her findings at various conferences.
“We’re told we don’t know things that we know because of our age,” Wheat said. “I think that’s why I believe so much in students having a voice in their education system because we’re often left out of these conservations and these are conversations we deserve to be in.”
On campus, Wheat is also involved with Intergroup Relations, where she leads workshops on identities for student organizations and other groups. She is also a part of the group of students that is working to develop the Class and Inequality Studies minor.
Wheat is majoring in Political Science and Psychology, with a minor in Community Action Social Change. She has been pre-admitted to the School of Social Work, which she will attend after graduating next winter. In the future, Wheat wants to continue supporting student voices and social justice.
“I’m interested in both education and community organizing,” Wheat said. “So, I’m hoping to find a career path that does both, so maybe that’s consulting or maybe that’s teaching.”