Student & Alumni Voices

Student and Alumni Voices, a platform for UNCG students and alumni, highlights contributions to dismantling racial inequality and racism within the United States and globally. Featured students and alumni affirm UNCG’s values of equity, diversity, and inclusion through organizing, advocacy, art, journalism, community-engaged action, scholarship, and more. They are forging paths to racial equity and represent the next generation of leaders for a more equitable, just, and humane world.

H’Yua (Liana) Adrong

Liana Adrong was 13-years-old when she and her family left Vietnam as refugees. Liana’s family identify as Montagnards, a French term for “mountain people.” Montagnards include a number of Indigenous tribes from the Highlands of Vietnam. She learned much of this history, not in school, but from elders in her community. 

While working on her bachelor’s degree at UNCG she helped establish the Montagnard American Organization with other Montagnard students. Through that organization, they worked to encourage Montagnard youth to go to school and preserve the culture through music and dance. Recently, Liana became MDA’s Executive Director. She wants to secure funding to continue helping refugees. Liana also proudly serves as Chairwoman of the Greensboro International Advisory Committee. She hopes to inspire the next generation of Montagnard leaders.

“I hope that a lot of younger people will get out of their comfort zone and take on leadership roles. I want to inspire our young people, so they can give back to the vulnerable population in their community. There are many ways they can give back to their own community (volunteer their time, monetary donations, network with others/promote the organization, and more),” she says.

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Marisa Gonzalez

Marisa Gonzalez is a Greensboro native with raíces Mexicanas. She was raised by her mother, who was undocumented and grew up in the immigrant multicultural ‘poor’ side of town. These experiences from a young age influenced her advocacy work in her community, in particular pertaining to higher education. 

Marisa is an educator and activista in her community. Her primary interest and research focus is on first-generation Latinx students’ access to higher education, retention and community cultural wealth. She works actively year-long with UNCG CHANCE Summer Camp and the UNCG Latinx Affairs Office on diverse college access and retention initiatives. Marisa is also a co-advisor for UNCG Association of Latinx Professionals of America (ALPFA) and serves on the UNCG ALIANZA Board. 

A double alumna of UNC Greensboro, in 2016, she received a Bachelor’s in Spanish Education (K-12) and in 2019 a Master’s in Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Marisa continues at UNCG as a University Program Associate at the University Teaching and Learning Commons, adjunct lecturer, and doctoral student in Educational Leadership & Cultural Foundations.

Jurne Smith

Jurne Smith is a Dance/Choreography and Performance Paradigm Executive Director. She uses her passion for Dance as a tool and platform to express and open up meaningful conversations around the history and necessity of Black women in society, and the overwhelming effect of activism on youth. She often works in collaboration with other local artists and scholars, and has partnered with Guilford County Schools to develop and promote curriculums around the untold stories of Black Americans. Smith takes her storytelling even further by using her voice to write and publish essays on current socio political topics. The summation of Jurne Smith’s projects is to uplift and educate others and her own community of the holistic reality of the presence of Black people in history and present day society.

Azaria Gadson

Azaria G. is a curious and interdisciplinary performance artist and researcher who is currently studying dance performance and choreography at University of North Carolina Greensboro. With focus in both dance and visual art, she has curated original works Sexual Revolution and Find Your Wings involving her interest in intersectional experiences and the embodiment of personal history and expression.

Though born and raised in Charlotte, NC she is heavily influenced by her close proximity to her Jamaican heritage, and explores through lines between black and Caribbean culture, the concept of magic, and the act of agency. Thus far she has collaborated with Theatre of Movement founder Duane Cyrus and UNCG alumna Faith Brown for dance research and media-based works.

Noor Ghazi

Noor Ghazi, Peace Activist, this is how she likes to be known. She holds a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from UNCG with concentration in International Peace development. She is currently a Lecturer of Arabic language at UNCG, an instructor of Arabic and Humanities at Durham Technical Community College and she also teaches a special topic on Iraq in the department of Peace, War, and Defense at UNC Chapel Hill. “Our world is crying for peace. I come from a background that is full of conflict; whereas my first childhood memory was in war, and about war, and this is not what I want others to experience.”

Noor’s connection to Iraq can be seen throughout the work she is engaged with overseas. She recently translated the book “Preparing for Peace” into Arabic for the eminent peace scholar John Paul Lederach. Educators are utilizing this book at major universities in Iraq to teach peace studies in the Middle East. Noor continues work of activism through higher education in Iraq. She envisions that more peace studies programs will be created in major universities at Baghdad, Mosul and Alanbar. Noor has teamed up with Mosul University in Iraq to conduct more work for higher education. She is also on the advisory board for the Conflict Management Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Josette Ferguson

Josette Ferguson is a second-year doctoral student at UNCG, where they are earning their PhD in Educational Studies with a concentration in Cultural Foundations. While earning their PhD, Josette also works full-time as the Special Projects and Research Associate for Advance Carolina, which is a non-profit that builds black political power in North Carolina. For the organization, they do what they can to galvanize black community members to be more engaged in local elections and build curriculum for the organization centered around citizenship education, staff cohesiveness, and decolonizing the minds of their fellow staff members.

As a Queer, non-binary, Guyanese African American womxn, Josette uses their identities to connect with the Black community members in North Carolina to expand the potential of the Black political capital in the state. Powered by their love of education and community, Josette believes that the most powerful tool in making change is being a bridge builder and a convener of stories. They believe that through storytelling, trust is cultivated, and communal power is built.

Josette grounds themselves in the teachings of Bettina Love (2019) who states, “we cannot pursue educational freedom or any type of justice without a model of democracy that empowers all”. As they work with Black community members, Josette also centers themselves in the mantra “we have to be the change we want to see in this world”. They use this mantra and Love’s quote to push Black community members to actively participate in the United States democratic system to create change.

Erica Wrencher

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. -audre lorde 

Erica is a public educator, speaker, vocalist, and activist working with young folx, churches, and neighborhoods to build beloved communities. Her teaching and faith-rooted community leadership spans urban and rural contexts in North Carolina and Chicago.

Erica is the founding director of Journey to Joy (J2J) a co-created *reframe space for young folks of color to journey towards human connection through exploring joy. Journey to Joy comes out of a larger mission to empower people of all ages and settings to journey together towards wholeness through authentic transformative human connection. A critical piece to realizing a more whole and just society (from the neighborhood, to the corporate boardroom, to the school classroom) lies in the authentic connections that people make with themselves (their histories, the effects of those histories and the responsibilities that result from those histories) and with each other (understanding and living into the connectedness of each human to every other human).

Hector Hernandez Arroyo

Hector Hernandez-Arroyo and is a Senior majoring in Business Administration with a Concentration in Management.

During a pandemic in 2020, Hector felt there was a need to motivate his peers to keep going despite the circumstances. He Co-Founded the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) here at UNCG. This organization focuses on empowering Latino/a students by providing members with networking opportunities, information about scholarships, and internships. 

ALPFA members have volunteered in the MLK Day of Service, BackPack Beginnings, and have accumulated over 75 hours of volunteer work. Members of this organization have also served as mentors for the summer camp UNCG CHANCE, Campamento Hispano Abriendo Nuestro Camino a la Educación, where they had an opportunity to guide high school campers about college life. 

Through ALPHA, Latino/a students have found their voices and they want to be heard within the UNCG community. They want to break generational barriers and build generational wealth. “We must all have the resources necessary to succeed in our desired field/industry.”

Kesia Cedeno- Ballard

I am a dancer, choreographer, educator and activist. I have been working as Professor Duane Cyrus’ research assistant for The Resistance Project. I am also working on my proficiency in the Theater of Movement choreographic process. I am exploring and analyzing intersectionality along with black feminist theories, to critically understand the historical context for resistance by Black women in 1960’s America. The Resistance Project is focused on bringing awareness to women of the African and African-American diaspora through multi-disciplinary facets and engaging with the community.

As a research assistant for the Resistance Project I have been solely focused on Black liberation activist Ana Julia Cooper’s history, ideology and theories. I originally started investigating and researching Cooper as a way to raise awareness of black activists prior to the 1960’s Civil Rights era. My research includes investigating texts, experimenting with movement ideas and using other disciplines to express my research. My work in progress, As a Black Woman, analyzes Ana Julia Cooper’s “A Voice from the South By a Black Woman of the South”. I used a number of Theatre of Movement methods derived by Duane Cyrus to generate movement. Last fall I submitted my research to the Thomas Undergraduate Research and Creativity Expo at UNCG where my fellow research assistant and I received second place in the School of Dance.

Add Your Voice

Share your contributions to dismantling racial inequality and racism locally or globally. We’d love to add more voices to this page to show the world how UNCG students and alumni are fighting for racial equity and working to become the next generation of leaders.

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