Author Biography

By Dominique Walton. November 13th, 2023

Thinking about student activism, I have no choice but to consider students like myself and the people around me. I’ve only been a student my entire life, so it’s all I know, after all. While it is my responsibility to learn and go to school, I’ve always noticed that I’ve been more interested in learning than my peers. I’ve always found myself in the library researching, reading scientific journals, and listening to educational podcasts about history. So before introducing this research project to you, I’d like to introduce myself.

My name is Dominique Walton, and I have been heavily involved in community activism and volunteerism since 2018, when I was fourteen years old. I first got involved in activism when my Freshman English teacher in high school had introduced me to the Sustainable Development Goals, proposed by the United Nations. When I turned fifteen, I got the privilege to attend a technology seminar for minority students in New York City, where I had won a contest with a prototype.

My prototype was a boat, but not for people to ride in. The idea is this boat was hollow on the inside to allow for netting. The back of the boat is open to allow water and big items of pollution to be collected within the boat. Using the ocean’s convection currents, the water will cycle through towards the front of the boat hauling the pollution. The pollution will be captured in a netting system, while the water slips through, cleaner than before. To prevent fish and other animal life from being captured in the netting system, sonar radios that will bellow out the sound of a predator to deter animals.

I had also spent months researching and developing a prototype that uses bricks made out of aloe to build schools in rural Africa. This idea was to create an energy efficient temporary school that doesn’t require air conditioning for cooling, so students can still learn in a school while a more permanent solution is being built. I estimated that after a decade, the school would begin to degrade back into the environment, eventually growing an area of more aloe plants. Creating prototypes like this with big ideas made me feel important and realized how much I appreciated change in society. Something about this experience empowered me to realize that I didn’t need to wait for someone to come up with a solution to my problems - I was that solution.

Later on when I turned sixteen, right before the pandemic at the end of 2019, my school had been constantly protesting against a loss of funds. My school district and the government did not agree with how funds should be spent, so the government decided to take away all funding, which would be projected in my school losing eighty-three million dollars in funding by 2023.

This is the Toms River Regional School District, and it is currently still affecting students to this day. Students were fearing the future of their education. Seniors were worried about local scholarships, juniors were wondering if the district would pay for mandatory tests, sophomores were worried about their sports, clubs, and arts being cut, and freshmen were worried about the high school experience and getting to school. The entire school had this aura of stress and angst. Everyone seemed on edge, and if you looked at someone the wrong way you could never tell if they’d cry or fight you.

While this isn’t how it exactly played out in Toms River Regional School District (we ended up losing only sixty million dollars), students were fearing the future of education. As a result, I ran multiple social media campaigns to spread awareness about the issue and information to the community. Students who were able to were bussed to Trenton to protest in front of the governor’s office. Between one thousand four hundred to one thousand eight hundred students were able to go, which is roughly the size of my high school alone. We would’ve bussed more, but we couldn’t afford to pay for more buses. Our goal was to protest the funding decisions made by the government. We couldn’t understand how we couldn’t receive fair funding for our future, as well as the amount of opportunities that were rumored to be cut from the school. Without sports, athletes wouldn’t have scholarships, without arts, artists couldn’t express themselves. No scholarships, means less students going to college, no free testing, means families struggling to make ends meet for their kids. This sad future is what the students were grappling with throughout the year, which fueled the fire for the protest.

Throughout the pandemic, the landscape of student activism changed. Students had no idea what to do and were more focused on self preservation during their time of need. During this time, infographics of statistical information about social issues flooded social media. While this helped spread awareness, something felt missing without the rally of students.

In response to the changes, students at my school tried to change with the times and start using social media more to promote the topics they care about. To show how my school has been repeatedly lacking funding and needed to change the way it responds to situations, a friend and I created a podcast exposing the dark history of corruption and money laundering that came at the expense of our elementary school education. Seeing how completely ruined our entire education was from the start during our senior year of high school was quite jarring, which led me to focus more on student activism and quality of education.

Sure, I’m only a student, but I’m also an activist who has worked to continue my education in extreme circumstances, building my own moveable classroom. My experiences shaped me into who I am as a person today and what I work towards because of the education I sought out despite the barriers that were facing my classmates and I. Being a student is more than submitting papers and studying for tests. It’s about the hunger for knowledge that plagues your existence. It’s about never being satisfied with the curriculum that fails us, but seeking books, documentaries, academic papers, and more to teach us the topics we are truly passionate about.

Which brings me to activism in today’s activism climate, post-pandemic. Since starting Ramapo College in the Fall 2022 semester, I have worked with the Women’s Center volunteering to share resources and create products for them to sell for fundraisers, worked with other student leaders to create change for the dining experience on campus, and recently spoke in a panel about student activism on campus. While I’m only twenty years old, finishing my third semester as a sophomore undergraduate student, I’m excited to see what more I can do to improve the systems and communities around me with activism.