Finding Her Voice

Nichelle Cousin ’20 entered Colby-Sawyer College nervous about making friends and getting involved. She had attended a small charter school in Cambridge, Mass., and was hoping the limited class sizes at Colby-Sawyer would allow her to reach her full academic potential. It did not take long for Cousin to find her people, her passions and her voice.

During her freshman year, Cousin met a couple of upperclassmen who encouraged her to join the African Students Association (ASA). “They invited me to join ASA and allowed me to be involved in events any way that I felt comfortable,” she said. “They would routinely check in on me and I felt comfortable sharing my experiences with them. They may not know it, but that was the support I needed to finish my freshman year.”

Professors Kate Turcotte and Kathleen Farrell also played an important role in Cousin’s growth at Colby-Sawyer. After enrolling in an introductory course in sociology to fulfill a social science credit, she immediately fell in love with the subject. Though she was often the student who sat in the back of the class, with Professor Turcotte’s encouragement, she began to participate, share personal experiences and be confident in what she was saying. Professor Turcotte suggested she continue with a 200-level sociology class. Once in that class, Cousin said she was challenged by Professor Farrell to change her perspective on many topics, which helped expand her learning.

“As my advisor, Professor Farrell really allowed me to find my own career path. She was supportive as I went from wanting to work in family law to becoming a guidance counselor,” Cousin said. “My decisions were never criticized or portrayed as unimportant and I am so happy I was able to have an advisor that believed in me.”

As the years passed, Cousin continued to find her confidence through her many leadership roles at the college. She worked as a peer mentor, student ambassador, and advancement ambassador, and was a member of the Presidential Blue Key Society. Cousin was also president of the Knitting Club.

Cousin said, “All these roles have allowed me to create so many connections and hopefully make positive impacts on the lives of others.”

Making positive changes to the college has been important to Cousin and she has definitely made a lasting impression. She helped initiate the Race Card Project, in which students were asked to write six-word sentences about what race and ethnicity meant to them. The project had great involvement from the student body. Cousin also initiated conversations about classrooms being safe places for students of color. She and others shared personal stories and explained what students of color needed to feel safe in class. Lastly, Cousin addressed the topic of sexual assault and suggested some changes to the training for student leaders.

Cousin is happy with the contributions she has made to the college. She said her proudest accomplishment at Colby-Sawyer is being able to use her story and her journey over the past four years to motivate other students.

She is proud, she said, of “using my failures as a way to normalize being a black female student at a predominately white institution. I was able to use my voice on campus and never let the issues that mean the most to me go unheard. Your voice is one of the most powerful tools you will ever have in your life.”

During the Commencement ceremony in August, Cousin will receive the Colby-Sawyer Award. This award is given to a senior who, in the opinion of the faculty, best exemplifies the ideals of the college in personal dignity, intellectual growth, contribution to campus life and constructive influence on other students.

“I am extremely grateful to be awarded the Colby-Sawyer Award,” Cousin said. The Class of 2020 is full of amazing students and without the support of my peers, I wouldn’t be the person I am now. Being presented with this award shows me that my voice was heard on campus and that I was able to leave an impact, and I hope that my story can be used for any student who needs to hear it.”