Roaming the Halls Student Profile

Reimagining higher education

GSE doctoral student Allen Williams aspires to improve institutional equity


Allen Williams.
Allen Williams.

One week before Allen Williams began his undergraduate career, Michael Brown—an unarmed, Black teenager—was fatally shot by a police officer in Williams’ hometown of Ferguson. The riots and protests that ensued after Brown’s death shaped Williams’ experiences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He became involved with the African American Student Union and focused on social justice issues.

During that time, Williams, a first-generation college student, realized he wanted to pursue a career in higher education to better understand the impact of equitable leadership and mentorship on college students. He wondered: “How do we commit to creating equity-minded leadership at all levels of higher education?”

He completed his master’s degree in higher education management at the University of Pittsburgh. Shortly thereafter, he found the perfect position as a program coordinator and coach in UB’s Intercultural and Diversity Center (IDC), where he contributes to its mission of celebrating cultures and identities, providing cross-cultural educational opportunities and advocating for social justice.

Williams considered this role to be a period of exploration, allowing him to focus on the areas most important to him: developing programs and events that foster equity and inclusion for students on college campuses. “We embrace culture and traditions through food, music, arts and crafts … It’s an explosion of culture, connections and community,” he said.

Working in the IDC reaffirmed his interest in confronting the social justice issues facing college students. “I think about the progress we’ve made in some areas but also about the queer folks, trans folks of color and undocumented students—and the big issues and challenges that they still face,” he explained. “How do we continue to push forward to think about folks in the margins?”

Grappling with these questions gave him the momentum to enroll in GSE’s higher education PhD program.

A standout moment: his doctoral seminar course with Margaret Sallee, associate professor of educational leadership and policy. “It was an opportunity to reckon with what higher education currently is, but also to reimagine what it can be,” said Williams.

After his first year in the program, Williams remains committed to his goals. He hopes to establish more equitable infrastructures in higher education to increase the achievement outcomes of all students.

While he may not realize it, Williams is already achieving this objective through his work in the IDC. He recently helped expand the center’s hours to better serve students unable to visit during regular business hours. As a result, attendance has significantly increased.

What’s next for Williams? He will continue working to achieve equity and inclusion on college campuses, but the exact plan is not yet determined.

“I’m like Natasha Bedingfield,” he said. “The rest is still unwritten.”