Transylvania sophomore and Louisvillian Janiah Noel ’27 was recently named a member of the 2023 cohort of the Unum Academy. The Unum Academy is an initiative of E. Pluribus Unum, a Louisiana-based nonprofit organization with the mission of creating a more equitable and inclusive South.
According to the organization’s website, “the Unum Academy aims to foster the personal and professional development of college students in the South who have an interest in addressing policies, practices and structures that create inequity. Academy members develop a fundamental understanding of core concepts related to equity work, meet other young people with similar passions and learn about ways that they can advance equity in any sector, industry or field of study.”
Noel first heard about the Unum Academy through Transylvania’s Center for Academic and Professional Enrichment (CAPE) Instagram page.
“I’m a person who really likes to do research about diversity and how race plays a factor in your life, and I saw exactly that with the description of Unum Academy,” said Noel, who is considering a self-designed major in biopsychology. “I was happy that this opportunity was provided by CAPE.”
The 2023 cohort has met biweekly on Zoom since October, with plans for an in-person meeting at the end of the 2023-24 academic year.
The cohort’s virtual sessions offer opportunities to learn, network and build the skills essential to effect change. “We learn key communication tactics; we work together as a cohort in order to understand each other’s experiences,” Noel said. “We try to make note of how race is an everyday factor in our life.”
Her favorite component of the academy so far has been the program’s guest speakers. “We’ve talked about different communication styles and how we may have to adapt ours to listen to others,” she said, adding that speakers have placed emphasis on listening to others to promote diversity.
The Unum Academy also requires a paid summer internship based in the member’s community.
“We’re researching programs and organizations that we would like to be a part of that promote diversity,” Noel explained. “Unum will reach out to your top 10 programs and help you find an internship.”
Previous academy members have completed internships with organizations including NAMI Georgia, the LGBTQ Center of Durham and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice.
Noel, who plans to go into psychiatry, draws a direct connection between her experience as part of the Unum Academy 2023 cohort and the work she hopes to do in the future — specifically normalizing mental health care, a topic often considered taboo in the Black community.
“I’d like to break the barrier between the Black community and mental health,” she said, adding that the skills she is learning today as an academy member will help her communicate her message more effectively. She also hopes to continue to collaborate with the Unum Academy through a future leadership position.