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DeAndre Johnson awarded Newman Civic Fellowship

DeAndre Johnson has been selected as a 2023-24 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact for his work to improve the lives of those impacted by economic and educational disparities

DeAndre Johnson, ’24, is committed to improving the lives of those impacted by economic and educational disparities. Johnson, who uses he/they pronouns, is being recognized by Campus Compact as a 2023-24 Newman Civic Fellow for his work in the High School Support Initiative (HSSI) program at the Haas Center for Public Service and as a researcher exploring the intersection between public policy, poverty, and economic mobility.

DeAndre Johnson portrait

DeAndre Johnson (Image credit: Corban Swain Photography)

Campus Compact is a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. President Marc Tessier-Lavigne recommended Johnson for the award, which honors student leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to finding solutions for complex social and environmental challenges.

Johnson is part of a cohort of Education Partnerships fellows who collaborate to provide academic and socioemotional support for high school students from East Palo Alto, a historically marginalized community near Stanford. He recruits tutor-mentors from the Stanford student body, creates learning sessions to prepare tutor-mentors, teaches curriculum for high schoolers, and arranges logistics to bring high school students to the Stanford campus. But the most rewarding aspect of his work in the HSSI program, he says, is not necessarily outlined in the job description.

When interacting with Stanford tutor-mentors, Johnson challenges them to think about their position in the world and creates space for them to reflect on their service work. For the high school students Johnson works with, his goal is to help the students see the joy in learning and to recognize their ability to understand and achieve, both in and out of the classroom.

Johnson continues his work in challenging and supporting his peers as a resident assistant at Otero, the Public Service and Civic Engagement theme dorm on campus. Resident assistants at Otero are tasked with providing opportunities for dorm residents to integrate service work into their life as a Stanford student.

One example is a dorm service event Johnson recently organized for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. The group responded to inquiries from people who are currently incarcerated with information about the pandemic, release advocacy, and other relevant issues. Residents had the opportunity to grapple with the material realities leading individuals to be incarcerated and the obstacles they will face after being released.

Johnson was aware from the onset of his Stanford experience that he wanted to be involved in service for the public good. But his focus on disparities in education equity was largely shaped during his frosh year in 2020 amid protests against police violence in communities of color that sparked a nationwide racial reckoning.

“I grew up Black in the South with an incarcerated parent, so my life has consistently been impacted by systemic racism. But I didn’t always have the language to talk about it,” said Johnson. “I also didn’t know that race and economic opportunity would play such a role in shaping my educational experience before and during my time at Stanford. This realization is what first drew me to HSSI. I wanted to support students who have a similar background to mine, and who are fully capable of achieving their goals but have to fight every day against a system that isn’t optimized for their success.”

In Johnson’s own life and work with students, he noticed several factors influencing student outcomes, ranging from disproportionate disciplinary action taken against minority students to limited information in the college application process for low-income students, which inspired his interest in research. Johnson is majoring in public policy and wants to pursue research questions that directly relate to public issues and how institutions and communities might address them.

As a participant in the MIT Summer Research Program, Johnson studied the wage disparities that exist for low-income workers between the United States and Europe. He also conducted research on employment barriers for low-income individuals at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. At the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, he works to understand how racial animus and solidarity have historically influenced the success of labor movements in the United States.

By investigating these issues, Johnson is building an understanding of the real-world implications that public attitudes, institutions, and policy have had on the most vulnerable communities, with an eye toward understanding how to create economic opportunity for all.

“The material circumstances of lower-income communities in the United States and across the world are determined in part by education,” Johnson said. “The fact that there is unequal access to quality education is, first of all, deeply unjust. But it is also sabotaging the outcomes of so many people, especially people of color and lower income folks.”

Beyond his time at Stanford, Johnson hopes to pursue a PhD in economics, where he can have an impact in academic and policy spaces. He has learned that creating economic opportunity and removing systemic barriers is a multi-pronged issue that needs to be approached from diverse angles.

“When several people are working to their own strengths on an issue across different sectors, that’s ultimately what we need for bigger and lasting change,” Johnson said. “My strength is combining a strong commitment to justice and public service with my lived experience of racism and educational inequities to look at issues through a structural lens, allowing us to expand access and opportunity to all.”