The summer before she came to Brown, Jenell Grier-Spratley read “The New Jim Crow,” a book that exposed her to the social injustice of mass incarceration in the United States.    

“It infuriated me and made me feel powerless,” she says. “But when I arrived at Brown and saw that there were tangible ways to combat the problems of the prison-industrial complex, like volunteering for the Petey Greene Program, I was relieved. I could constructively channel my frustration into positive change.”

Through the Petey Greene Program, Jenell tutors incarcerated people in Rhode Island who are working on their education. But that’s one part of Jenell’s work for social justice. She’s also a volunteer with Connect for Health, a local health equity nonprofit, and Brown Elementary After-School Mentoring, a program that pairs Brown student mentors with kids in local public schools.

Brown has given me the avenues and the tools to work towards change.

– Jenell Grier-Spratley

“Brown continuously exposes me to social injustice,” she says, “but, more than anything, Brown has given me the avenues and the tools to work towards change.”

As a pre-med student concentrating in health and human biology, Jenell’s ultimate goal is to earn a master’s in public health and become a pediatrician. But she’s already learning firsthand what it’s like to work in the medical field with Brown EMS, a corps of student volunteers who are licensed Rhode Island emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

“One important thing I’ve learned from EMS is to be confident in my abilities and understand when and how to ask for help,” she says. “Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but the mistakes you make in medicine affect not just you, but your patient, and your patient's friends and families, so being accurate is important. I've learned to trust my skill set, and whenever I feel unsure of something, I ask my co-EMTs for advice.”

As confident and experienced as she is now, Jenell didn’t feel that way her first year.

“When I first got to Brown, I was amazed by how much knowledge and talent there was in the students and, honestly, I felt like I would never be able to measure up to everyone else.”

It wasn’t long before Jenell felt safe stepping outside her comfort zone because she knew the Brown community would support her. For example, in her first year she was interested in learning more about environmental sustainability, so she joined the Sustainable Food Initiative.

“I remember going to the meeting feeling like I didn’t know enough about environmental science to fit into that space, but then I realized, everyone felt that way too! And that’s how we all bonded. We spoke of our hopes of being able to learn more and about the different understandings and backgrounds that we already brought to the space.”

To this day, Jenell says that experience encouraged her to continue to explore different communities at Brown because she knew she had something to offer and, more importantly, something to learn.

“I wouldn’t say I belong to just one community at Brown because I feel that my interests are multi-faceted,” she says. “Instead, I’ve been able to find my community in a variety of people and places at Brown.”     

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