“Being a woman of color, you’re at the bottom of every spectrum,” Rebecca Hill observes, her eyes pivoting intensely. “I can speak all day and no one will hear me because I’m a person of color and I’m a woman.”
Rebecca Hill is a senior sociology major and president of Black Student Union. She is also a member of the Coalition of Multicultural Engagement and works on campus planning events and weddings for EC alumni.
But despite her vast involvement, Hill does not identify herself as being extroverted.
“I’m a quiet person,” says Hill, drawing her black knitted cardigan closer around her shoulders, melting into the oversized armchair.
“That’s why I thought going to Elmhurst would be nice—because it’s a small campus,” she explains. Hill is a legacy student. Her father graduated from EC in the 1970s, and her younger brother is a freshman.
When Hill is not knee-deep in term papers and textbooks, she is curled up on her twin-sized bed, reading a worn self-help book or journaling about her distinctive experiences as a black woman. She used to knit and crochet too, but now her long, ringless fingers prefer an ink-fountain pen to crochet hooks.
“I don’t know what I want to do when I graduate, but I definitely want to be an advocate for other people,” she says determinedly.
The inclination to help runs deep for Hill.
“I’ve been homeless before,” she reveals, her eyes searching for understanding. “Honestly, I don’t even think I would be in school if I didn’t live on campus.”
For most of her life, Hill moved from place to place while her parents struggled to find a stable home. She was relieved when she finally landed at EC and moved into a dorm. Hill jokes that she has to live on campus because she does not have transportation.
“It’s a practical issue,” she laughs. “It’s hard to get around without a car!”
But being on campus is more than convenient—it is transformative. It has allowed her to be engaged in her many activities and form bonds with fellow students.
Classmate Emily Marquez admires Hill for her selflessness and advocacy.
“I'm very lucky to know Becca,” she gushes. Hill's gentle voice juxtaposes her firecracker personality, capturing and inspiring diverse student populations on campus. Marquez brands her spirit as “infectious.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m a spokesperson for students of color,” she says cautiously, clearly measuring her words. “But I guess I am a representative.”
Although Hill enjoys being a leader on campus, she often feels like her voice is silenced because of her uniquely racial and gendered experiences.
“It’s a lot of pressure being here,” she admits, gesturing around the lofty Founder’s Lounge common area. Her unmanicured hand lands heavily on her jean-clad lap.
“EC is a predominantly wealthy, white school, so sometimes it’s hard to figure out when I should speak and when I shouldn’t,” she admits. “Being the only person of color in a white space makes you wonder if you should share your experiences or just stay quiet.”
Hill’s philosophy for change is rooted in intersectionality. She tries to create a more inclusive community at EC where students recognize and appreciate their differences.
“You are not just one thing,” she stresses.
Now that she has a seat at the table, Hill makes sure to talk about more than just race. She believes that a college campus is much more inclusive if professors and students can talk openly about privilege, and she makes it a point to discuss sexuality, gender, economic class and social status at every meeting.
“I think a lot of organizations are doing really good work on campus. People are going to each other’s events; they’re talking about LGBTQ issues and race issues,” she says excitedly. She shifts her frame excitedly in the seat. “It’s not perfect, but we are improving.”
Hill still wants to see changes. For her, little things like professors asking their students about preferred pronouns and students attending different campus events completely changes the EC experience.
“We all need to be a little more woke,” she laughs. Her body relaxes and a wide smile overtakes her makeup-free face.
“The things I need [from Elmhurst] may be different from what my friends need. There are some things we all want to talk about, and there are things no one wants to talk about. We can’t assume that we are all interested in the same issues.” Hill disagrees with pushing her beliefs on other people. Pressure is counterintuitive to change.
Classmate Taylor Lutz appreciates Hill’s level-headedness and progressive attitude.
“I think Rebecca has a big heart, and she’s a strong leader,” Lutz says. “She brings a positive energy to everything she does.”
Hill does not want to be a savior for students of color or an idol for every marginalized minority. She shies away from the camera and does not appreciate excessive attention, admitting that she does not like the idea of being the poster child for multiculturalism at EC.
Every time she is reminded of the banners hanging around campus embezzled with her name and photo, she cringes imperceptibly. Instead of basking in the glory of recognition and advertising herself, Hill pays it forward by being conscious of her own intersectionalities and acting kindly towards others on campus, even if she does not fully understand their experiences.
Despite her constant push for a more inclusive and progressive campus, she often feels like she could do something more to leave a mark on EC.
“You know, I’m not even sure that I’m making an impact,” she muses. “But I guess that’s something I’ll find out once I’m gone.”