Senior Speaker: Shalini Hanstad BA ’22
by Hanna Merzbach BA ’20
Shalini Hanstad BA ’22 will be the student speaker at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement on May 7—the first in-person ceremony in two years. We spoke with Hanstad, a sociology/anthropology (SOAN) major with an ethnic studies minor, about her time at Lewis & Clark, her experience with the Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies, and her beliefs about the transformative power of community.
What made you want to come to L&C?
I wanted a fairly intimate liberal arts education. I knew I didn’t want to go to a big state school because I wanted to have relationships with my professors and be able to have discussion-based classes. I’m from Seattle, and I wanted something that was close to home but still out of state. Ultimately, I chose L&C because it’s very generous with financial aid.
What was your favorite class? How did it expand your knowledge?
Race and Ethnicity in the United States (History 240) with Reiko Hillyer. I took that class my first year at L&C, and it remains one of my favorites because it challenged my previous education the most, and it really opened my eyes to the way that I was falsely educated about our country’s history. It was also one of the first courses that introduced me to concepts of critical race theory. Looking back, that was probably the course that altered my worldviews the most.
Why did you choose to major in SOAN and minor in ethnic studies?
I came into L&C undecided. I took some sociology courses, and I realized how much I loved engaging with social issues and looking at social dynamics. The thing I love most about the SOAN major is grappling with topics of race and ethnicity, and my ethnic studies minor allowed me to make that my focus in my major since I have a lot of overlapping classes.
I also like doing ethnographic research. Many of my SOAN projects allowed me to get to know a lot more people on campus through interview-based research and ethnographic fieldwork. My senior thesis is centered around the learning experiences of darker-skinned students at L&C within predominantly white classroom settings. My research highlights the ways in which experiences of students of color, especially darker students of color, are often dismissed or overlooked in relation to the larger student population. I really wanted to give a focus to a marginalized group on campus that I thought wasn’t getting enough attention.
What was your favorite activity at L&C outside of class?
I think the biggest thing that influenced me on campus was Race Monologues (part of the Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies). During my first year, I joined Race Monologues as a club, not knowing what it was. I viewed it as an opportunity to connect with other students of color through poetry and just to have a bigger sense of community on campus. I was a little apprehensive to present a monologue as a first-year student, but the club encouraged me to do it, and it was probably the most transformative experience I’ve had on campus. I did it all four years. Then, during my senior year, I was able to serve as the coordinator for the event. So that was really fun to have a leadership role in a club that was really transformative to me while I was a first-year student.
How has L&C changed you?
I think the community I found through L&C has changed me and will continue to change me throughout my life. I think it was the friends that I made here, the professors who got to know me on a very personal level, the staff and faculty, and all the people who poured into me and nurtured me. It was definitely the community-based work that had an impact on me and was the reason that I stayed here and the reason that I was able to work through a lot of hard times in college.
What message do you hope to convey to fellow grads at commencement?
My speech is centered around the transformative powers of community. I really want to convey to students that you can be successful in life in many ways, but really the most meaningful aspects of moving through life are gonna be through the community you keep around you and the community that you cultivate in your life and what you give back to that. So I definitely want to highlight—especially for students who have felt really isolated during the pandemic—that what matters most is the community you keep and the work you put into that because it is an ongoing process. You have to be intentional about the way you interact with people.
I don’t think I ever would have chosen to give the commencement speech on my own volition, but my professor and thesis advisor, Jennifer Hubbert, nominated me. She has always been one to push me and see my strengths, even when I couldn’t. When she nominated me, it made me see something in myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It gave me a confidence boost knowing that one of my professors thought that I could do this. It’s also just a really cool experience to represent the student body. For my speech, I took a lot of input from my fellow students because I wanted to include them and not have it be just about me.
Do you have any post-graduation plans?
I’m very passionate about education. I definitely want to work at either a nonprofit or an alternative education program. I know that I want to work in some way, whether it be with students or through education policy, to give more opportunities to students who are often ignored, like low-income students of color or marginalized students who face additional burdens with our current education system. I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go, but I know for a fact that I’ll be following the passions that I picked up at Lewis & Clark.