As a transfer student Leslie Arreaza, ’19, struggled to find her place at Meredith, but it was through her passion for helping immigrants and refugees that she found her voice and her place among the Meredith community.
“I realized how much I enjoy learning about other people’s experiences and uplifting those around me,” said Leslie. “Meredith was the first place I felt like I could speak up and being here gave me the opportunity to help others speak up.”
Leslie is vice president of Angeles Latinas and former president and co-founder of the Meredith Refugee and Immigrant Club, an organization that means so much to her. She feels it’s important for her to be an ally to others and to know their stories.
A native of Guatemala, Leslie has become an advocate for immigrants and refugees. Through the Refugee and Immigrant Club, she has hosted workshops, conducted panels, and held conversations on policy changes and immigration rights. She also helped organize a fundraiser to help sponsor a grocery store trip for refugee families.
“Sharing my own story at CSA Day helped me realize that my voice is powerful, and seeing the reaction to the events I have helped organize gives me the strength to keep going,” said Leslie.
The support Leslie has received from her colleagues has been immeasurable and she has seen herself transform as a result of attending a women’s college. “I know we all have different values and goals, but here I feel like I can rely on my peers for help, academically and in life,” said Leslie. “I believe the reason I was able to become the person I am and the leader I have become was because I attended a women’s college.”
A psychology major earning a K-6 teaching license, Leslie is the current Newman Civic Fellow and a Golden Door Scholar. As part of her advocacy efforts, she has written articles for the News & Observer, the Huffington Post, and Medium.
Meredith has helped Leslie realize her strengths, given her the drive to take on leadership positions, and has built her confidence. “One of the greatest things I’ve learned at Meredith has been that I am here because I worked to be here, so it’s okay if I am in a leadership position,” said Leslie.
When Leslie had doubts, felt that she couldn’t make a difference, or faced challenges, she found support from her faculty and staff, especially from Professor of Psychology Mark O’Dekirk, who became her mentor. “I have learned so much about resilience and compassion from him,” said Leslie. “He has taught me the importance of supporting others, just by how much he cares about each of his students.”
While student teaching in a dual language school, Leslie has learned a lot about different cultures and how language plays a role in culture and in attitudes towards cultures. That experience has only increased her desire to help others. “The reason I’m teaching is because I see myself in the children,” said Leslie.
Leslie was recently selected to the Newman's Own Foundation Fellowship Program, a 12-month program to help develop the next generation of leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. After graduation, Leslie will be working with a nonprofit aimed at helping refugees or focused on racial equity in classrooms. She eventually will attend graduate school to pursue a career in higher education or in business. She would like to start her own nonprofit working with immigrants or children of immigrants.
“I have learned how much it means to be a leader in my community,” said Leslie. “Meredith has taught me a lot about self-confidence and strength, and I have developed the leadership skills to embrace the leader that I know I can be.”
By Alexandra Lankenau, ’19
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