BLACKSBURG — When she came to Blacksburg more than five years ago, Morgan Esters of Westchester County, New York, a senior double majoring in building construction and real estate in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, never expected she’d step into the role of leading this campus toward social justice.

As president of the NAACP chapter at Virginia Tech and former president of the Black Organizations Council, Esters has witnessed national turmoil regarding race relations during her time on campus and has tenaciously brought her fervor for the cause to Blacksburg.

“We define racism as prejudice plus power,” said Esters. “Thinking critically about our position here as minorities helps us start to see the changes needed in the future. Diversity is talked about a lot, but our university is missing key programs that need to be in place to make that diversity sustainable. So, we think about how we are going to advocate for change nationally and how that pertains to our situation as black students at Virginia Tech.”

After the death of Michael Brown in 2014, Esters and three friends spontaneously drove the ten hours to Ferguson, Missouri, to see firsthand the protests against police brutality. They spoke with organizers about their plans, and Esters and her friends brought a host of information back to campus.

Following the not guilty verdict in Brown’s case, the NAACP chapter at Virginia Tech rallied students for a weeklong demonstration and protest on campus. It included opportunities for students to share their personal stories of discrimination and police brutality as well as call attention to the national issue.

Then they saw appalling racist remarks on an anonymous social media app, chiding the NAACP’s efforts and minimizing the discrimination felt by minorities on campus. “I wasn’t completely shocked by what I saw,” said Esters. “We all began to realize there’s a lot of work to be done on our campus.”

The NAACP made those posts known to the community, and President Timothy D. Sands utilized social media to publicly denounce racist ideologies. Esters credits Sands for his quick and vocal support of inclusion.

“He’s moving quickly to make these changes, and he seems committed to diversity and inclusion,” said Esters.

This fall, the NAACP collaborated with others on campus to organize Racism: The Power of Illusion, an opportunity to facilitate discussion about racism and privilege.  It was followed by Racism: A Call to Action, an event that took ideas for change and offered community members space to create proposals to implement on campus. Sands was present at the event and has already begun to discuss these changes with university stakeholders.

“A critique that is often heard when it comes to demonstrations is that it leads nowhere,” said Esters. “What we want people to see is that protests are only step one and a tactic that has proven to be able to bring issues to the attention of those in power. Such has been our experience. It is one tactic of many that can affect change.

“Our generation wants to see change happen sooner rather than later, so we also focus on putting pressure where there needs to be pressure and seeing it through.”

A first generation college student, Esters faced many challenges as she discovered life as a college student. But that made her even more determined to get involved at Virginia Tech.

“I have gotten to a place that I never thought I could be,” said Esters. “I had dreams of going to college growing up, and, since I did well in school, I was willing to take on that challenge. It was still scary and a big adjustment, and I had to figure out a lot of things along the way, but I looked at it as I only get this one chance.

“I just think about the ‘what ifs.’ I may fail, but what if I succeed?”

Esters credits her leadership skills to her time on the executive council of BOC and the influence of older students who took the time to mentor her.

Along with her work with the NAACP and Black Organizations Council, Esters is finishing two degree programs and a minor in Africana Studies. Esters participated in internships in the summers of 2013, 2014, and 2015 with construction companies in Rockville, Maryland and New York City. Following graduation, she plans to return to New York City for a job in construction management.

“My main goal is to be an agent of social change through my career,” said Esters. She hopes to help underserved communities by building an environment respectful of their needs.

Written by Holly Paulette.