"For me, the cornerstone of everything is sustainability," says Avery Broughton. She's referring to her academic interests and chosen path at Notre Dame.
In pursuing this path, Broughton hopes to develop a comprehensive understanding of the social systems at work around issues of environmental racism.
Broughton grew up in Philadelphia, PA, where she says these issues are apparent, with the city's people of color disproportionately affected by pollution related to refinery activity.
Noticing the disparities in justice around her, in high school Broughton became a climate activist.
She organized and attended local rallies and volunteered with a nonprofit that worked to make change at the largest refinery on the East Coast. She started the first environmental awareness club at her high school and as club president, led efforts that resulted in a grant to fund a school garden. The group introduced a TerraCycle program to reduce single-use items in the cafeteria. And they held Earth Day events among other projects on campus.
Broughton's environmental work so affected and inspired her that she decided to explore it as a profession. Her older brother Josiah is a junior at Notre Dame this year and Avery knew, based on her visits to see him on campus, that Notre Dame was a place where she would feel welcome and where she could pursue a values-based education.
"And for me, the thing that really made me fall in love with ND was just the people. As I was visiting other schools, no other school had, just, so many kind-hearted people," she says.
On her visits, she also learned more about Notre Dame's mission to be a force for good in the world. "That [idea that] no matter what you're doing, using [it] in order to help others and to benefit other people—that just really stuck with me," says Broughton.
So far at Notre Dame Broughton has taken a Sociology of Culture course and an environmental sociology course that looks at food structures. In addition to readings by leading sociologists, students in the class attended a weekly film lab, viewing films on relevant issues and discussing them.
As much as possible, Broughton has chosen courses with an environmental focus and she has enjoyed being able to study what she loves from her first semester at Notre Dame.
"It was really cool for me to be able to say, 'here's this issue and this conflict.' And I can use this approach from class and apply it to something I learned in another class," says Broughton.
The residence hall community at Notre Dame is another experience that has made Broughton's first year special. She lives in Walsh Hall, home of the "Wild Women." Prior to arriving on campus, she was concerned that it would be difficult to make friends, especially with necessary social distancing protocols in place. But her hallmates quickly eliminated those worries.
"Because of the dorm community here, I was able to make friends. All of my friends, we all live in the same dorm and it works out great, especially with COVID social distancing because we can still see each other. I am definitely so lucky to be in a position to have that [community]," she says.
Outside of her residence hall, Broughton is involved with the student-run sustainability club GreeND. She helps plan activities like the annual Sustainability Week. She was also recently confirmed as the director of the Department of Sustainability for student government for the 2021-2022 term.
She has also joined KiND Club, a fun student club that promotes random acts of kindness on campus.
In academics and extracurriculars, Broughton aims to grow as a person. She says that even conversations with other students have been a huge part of that growth so far.
"Another benefit of all of the people here that come from different places and backgrounds is that they contribute to your learning experience," she says. "Being able to engage with people who have, super different political attitudes from me and having a respectful conversation around that," has been key for her. "I think especially as a minority student, being in a space like that, and a space where you can open people up to other perspectives, it's super important."
Thanks to the opportunities for connection, Broughton's own development, intellectually and emotionally, has amazed her. Part of college is broadening one's perspective and she is grateful to be able to do that in a safe space, whether she is having an honest conversation about politics or developing her toolkit as a dedicated environmentalist.