Student’s Legacy Promotes Equality and Diversity
Kierstyn Worthem, a Communication alumna at Grace College, never imagined that she would run the Council of Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) when she applied to Grace. She never fathomed that she would have a groundbreaking internship with Cokiesha Bailey Robinson. And she certainly never dreamed of launching a thriving business from home. But each part of her college experience contributed to her long-lasting equality and inclusion legacy at Grace.
As a first-year student, Worthem walked into college equipped to make a difference. Early on in her college journey, Worthem and a few other students were asked to revamp the Black Student Association (BSA) and start actively giving a voice to college minorities. A few months later, Worthem was asked to be the assistant coordinator of CDI to promote equality and diversity on campus. They started organizing additional groups for minorities on campus, using CDI as a central hub for the new structure.
“I had seen the potential in BSA and I thought, ‘how cool would it be for each minority community to have their own BSA?’ I wanted to play my part in creating that space for minorities,” Worthem said.
After launching this meaningful work as a first-year student, she was promoted to president of CDI to serve as an overseer of the various groups that had formed. Worthem faithfully led up until she graduated, providing insight, motivation, and direction for the leaders and members of these groups.
“It was life-giving to see the potential in the new programs for incoming students,” Worthem enthused. “I love seeing students of diversity hang out with each other!”
This was not the end of Worthem’s advocacy for inclusion and diversity on Grace College’s campus. As she finished her junior year, she began to think about what she wanted to do when she graduated. Because of her role in CDI, social justice had become a loud voice in her head.
So in May of 2020, she started a summer internship with Cokiesha Bailey Robinson, the new Associate Dean of Student Diversity and Inclusion. As the partnership took off, Worthem and Robinson read books, had impactful conversations about diversity, and interviewed prominent advocates of equality and diversity.
“It was a time for us to both be transparent,” Worthem said. “It was transformative for me to learn from someone who has done equality and diversity work for a long time now. She taught me to embrace my position and not be timid out of fear of being labeled.”
Worthem and Robinson dreamed together of open conversations on campus and spaces to learn and grow in areas of equality and inclusion.
“It helped us to see beyond our own experiences and into the lives of others,” Robinson said. “It encouraged us, it challenged us, it convicted us. There are so many people that have a voice that needs to be heard. Here at Grace, we desire that.”
As her internship began, Worthem poured equal levels of passion into her new hobby making handmade soaps. She started researching and experimenting, and it was only a matter of time before a beautiful business idea emerged and Sweet Mango, an online homemade soap shop, was born.
“I love homemade soap,” Worthem gushed. “I’ve always thought ‘how cool would it be if I could make this?’ You never think you can until you do. So I started!”
Worthem’s Sweet Mango business soon expanded to include lip gloss and men’s soap collections as well. Her one-of-a-kind creations with new scents and seasonal collections can be purchased at shopsweetmango.com. Worthem’s soap can be found in homes near and far – yet another testament to the far-reaching nature of her impact.
Kearstin Criswell, Director of Student Involvement at Grace, saw Kierstyn’s promise of leadership from the beginning “Because we do not have many mentors of color on campus, I believe that Kierstyn played this role for many of our black female students. I saw her carry that with confidence and advocate well for them on campus,” Criswell said.
CDI now oversees a number of affinity groups, including the Black Student Association, Esperanza Latina, and Asian Student Heritage.
“My first year at Grace, there were barely twenty black students,” said Worthem. “My senior year, we had thirty incoming students alone. That blew my mind. Really, I could shout about it! I’m excited that all these groups are here to stay, and that CDI has continued to grow beyond my time at Grace.”
Worthem is now working to complete her Master’s in Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education at the University of Michigan, where she recently had the chance to give a TED talk-style presentation on bias.
“I’m learning a lot about race, racism, and student development,” says Worthem. “It’s been fun to find aspects of my own college experience in the research I’m doing. There’s an explanation or opinion about every experience I’ve had, and it’s interesting to dig deep into new theories and definitions.”
After she graduates this December, she hopes to continue doing work with equality and diversity like she did at Grace.
Wherever it is she lands, we have no doubts Worthem will leave a strong legacy.
You too can leave a legacy. Come to Grace, and find your path to generate impact in the world around you.
Are you wondering, “What is equality, diversity, and inclusion like on Grace’s campus?”