Every month, OVPDEMA highlights a graduating student involved with one of the many culture centers on campus, exploring their work and experience at IU. Johnnie Allen Jr. is a senior graduating in May 2020 with a major in community health from the School of Public Health. Johnnie is also chapter president of the Epsilon Iota Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., a resident assistant in Forest Quadrangle, a member of the Cross-Cultural Programming Board, an undergraduate student programming intern at the School of Public Health in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and is one of the three student programming interns at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center (NMBCC). Recently, he discussed his time in college and what he’s learned working at the NMBCC.
What event have you enjoyed working on programming at the NMBCC?
The Neal-Marshall Freshman Leadership Academy. This year, I’ve been able to co-develop the curriculum for the seminar and different sessions that we have with our graduate assistant, Tislam Swift, and our associate director, Gloria Howell. I worked closely with them on how we wanted the outlook to be for students this year. I’m also an alum of the Freshman Leadership Academy. I was a part of the first class during the fall of 2016, and now it’s grown since then. We’ve been able to get a book to reference for different group sessions and things like that.
Since you’ve been with the program since the beginning, how have you seen the program and your role with it change?
It’s changed for the better. When I first experienced it during my freshman year, a lot of the mentors were graduate students paired with undergrad students. Now, we’ve gone to have more undergraduate mentors who are typically like a junior or a senior and who have been heavily involved in the IU community and different student organizations. It’s evolved and grown even better. My class was even smaller compared to what it is now and my role has definitely changed since coming in after the first year. I was also considered a mentor, as well, so I was able to give back to the group that way. During my junior year and now my senior year, I’ve been honing in on the design of the different sessions that we have and what we want the students to get out of when they come to the different sessions.
How has being a part of the NMBCC shaped your college career?
The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center has really helped shape my growth and development, especially because it was one of the very first things that I got involved with on campus. I was a freshman when I was in the leadership academy, and it was my start to doing things on campus. Being able to see how different programs are run and different ideas come up, after volunteering, it led to me getting a job here. It got me to do a lot of programming that I love to do. It’s really helped shape my passion for what I want to do after graduating.
I want to go into higher education and student affairs, and potentially do some of the work that I’m doing right now, but as a student affairs professional. The NMBCC has definitely impacted my growth greatly, being in the community and just seeing what other students of color can learn from other students who want to be involved with different things. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a lot of the students look up to me and have different ways to get involved.
What kind of skillset or qualities did you develop through your work here that you didn’t expect when you started as a freshman?
Public speaking, for sure. A lot of our events have us speaking to large crowds, so we have different functions like Mid-Day House Party or different events for Black History Month as the emcee or host for those events. It’s developed my skills in public speaking. Also, time management because there are always deadlines for programming, and even how to do flyers and stuff like that. The professionalism that comes with working in student affairs has grown even since then.
What does the NMBCC mean to you?
Home, peace, and equality. By being able to come into this space, it feels like you’re at home. That was one of the main reasons that I was heavily involved in the center. It just felt like when I first met Monica, the director, or Ms. Inger, who works in the office, or Ms. Nancy or Mr. Tim, and it just felt like I was at home. Literally a home away from home. Especially by being here at IU, we’re a PWI, a predominantly white institution, and seeing how you can come into a space and everything that’s going on outside of that space doesn’t seem like it’s affecting you while you’re here. The center is supposed to give you peace. Even when you walk in on a bad day, you’re leaving happier because you’ve been able to come here and be restored and there are people to pour into you that advice and wisdom you need to make it through. With the part on equality, everyone that is here has seen the same. A lot of the times, when you walk on campus, it might not feel like other people value you or other people really care about your needs as a student and as a student of color, but I feel like all of your needs are met here.
What has been most illuminating in your academic career?
My academic track has changed since my freshman year. Coming in, I wanted to go into physical therapy. I’m leaving now wanting to go into higher education and student affairs solely because some of my coursework in the School of Public Health has been learning about different diverse communities and how to help those who might not have access to healthcare and different things like that. I’m still interested in seeing how that plays a role in education, higher education, and trying to tie the two together. This semester, I specifically have an internship in the School of Public Health and the Diversity and Inclusion department. I’ll be able to merge my B.S. in community health and also the field of higher education and student affairs. A lot of what I’ll be doing there is programming, specifically awareness of certain illnesses or health topics, and different things concerning different people like Black, Asian and Pacific Islander people, or LGBTQ+. A lot of those things are tying together now and that’s what’s been shaping what I want to do as a career.
What are your plans after you graduate?
After I graduate, I plan on getting my master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Then, potentially become a director of a program like the Group’s Scholars Program or the director of the Black Culture Center, kind of like it is here. Long-term, I could see myself being a dean of students doing diversity and inclusion work. Anything that has to do with student programming or student engagement, student growth and leadership, those are the things that I’m really passionate about. I also like the administrative side as well.
What have been some of the most challenging, yet rewarding learning experiences from college?
Self-care. Now as a senior, I’ve been practicing it way more than in the past. As a freshman, I was heavily involved with absolutely everything. I’m still very busy now as a senior, but I needed to learn how to implement self-care into the different work that I’m doing. It’s really nice to be involved, but it’s really important to take care of yourself so you can be the best you can be when you’re a part of these different organizations and also academically as a student. That’s been one of the most challenging things, learning what self-care is for me. I’ve learned that self-care for me is like binge-watching my favorite TV shows, like This Is Us, or just talking to family members, or traveling, sleeping, turning my phone on do not disturb. Even the small things, that’s all taught me how to do self-care.
Along those lines, what is an accomplishment or goal you’re the proudest that you’ve achieved in college that?
Joining Phi Beta Sigma Incorporated, a member of one of the Divine Nine (the name for nine historically black fraternities and sororities.) I was initiated in Fall 2017, and one of my biggest goals is to become chapter president eventually. Currently, as a senior, I serve as the chapter president and so I’ve been trying to remember those small wins and think about those goals that I want to achieve for the chapter before I graduate.
Lastly, what are some events you’d like to promote?
We have a lot of different events going on for Black History Month. We have our Kick-Off event on the 31, which is Black the Runway, and it’s essentially a fashion show that’ll kick off Black History Month. One of the programs that I’m in charge of this semester is our Black Knowledge Bowl. It’s an event ingrained in the Black IU community for years. Basically, Black Knowledge Bowl has a lot of different trivia questions and it revolves around movies, music, literature, things like that and IU History, Black history, as well as things that Black people say. We’re trying to make it more fun but also debunk some myths that people might have about African American culture. That event takes place on February 27 at 7 p.m., here at the NMBCC.