Milena Berestko

Majors: Psychology, Theater

Minor: Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Thesis Title: I Go, Therefore I Belong?: Examining the Role of Social Identity on Campus Space Use, Student Belonging and Perceptions of Iconic Campus Spaces

Personal Statement

Four thousand three hundred seventy-three miles traveled, a few liters of tears shed and a yearning for home. I didn’t speak a word of Polish living at Lafayette, but my heritage informed every decision I made. Raised in a family of bibliophiles and travelers, the road was the most convenient of homes. At 16, I found myself surrounded by a cacophony of sounds of the NY metro, and with a burning desire to gain exemplary education. I worked to make the American dream a reality convinced that the land of the free welcomes everyone, no matter their background. Learning that inequality undergirds our society, I set on a path to finding solutions. Let me guide you on a journey of my discoveries, the social geography of Lafayette College as seen through my eyes.

I spent four years examining how prejudice sneaks into classrooms and determines access to resources, the right to be heard, and one’s starting point. Some don’t have the bootstraps, I quickly learned. I dived into community organizing, creating spaces that are inclusive and welcoming rather than threatening, and when silence was the default, I chose to speak.

I actively worked to get to know the Lafayette community, pave a path for myself and others after me, and worked to dismantle structures of inequality that harm our community. I achieved that through establishing AAPI Awareness Month, Migration Summit, UndocuFund, organizing with Dear Lafayette Coalition and Kaleidoscope, etc. I dedicated half of my college career to studying belonging. As an immigrant, first-generation college student, a disabled person, I know this space better than it knows itself because that knowledge ensured my survival. I am graduating with a degree in Psychology, Theatre, and WGSS, but it’s Lafayette that I know more than any other field, and that makes me the Lafayette ideal.

While growing as a scientist executing research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, I was also dedicated to my creative development. My contributions to the arts span across playwriting, acting and performance art. I am honored to share that one of my plays was selected for production off-Broadway in New York City, and my poetry was showcased at the DeColores Collective exhibit in Austin, Texas, the Marquis Literary Magazine, RISE Zines, etc. I staged my “Transfer of Power” performance in October of 2021 at Connexions Gallery in Easton, inviting participants to cut strands of my hair as a symbolic transfer of power. Currently, I am working on an experimental documentary piece about eating disorders, writing a play about issues incarcerated persons in the women’s prison grapple with, and writing a dystopian novel speculating on the racial ramifications of gene-editing. Both the play and the documentary will be showcased in the first week of May of 2022 and I am anticipating completing the first draft of the book manuscript this summer.

For a complete database of my work and projects, please visit this website

Academic Activity |years involved|

Posse Foundation Full Tuition Scholarship |4| The Posse Foundation Scholarship is a four-year full tuition scholarship for students of diverse backgrounds. The Posse model aims to develop these individuals to become change-makers in their local and global communities.

Honor Thesis in Psychology |1.5| In 2021-2022, mentored by Dr. Angela Bell in Bias Lab, I examine whether students’ social identities predict use of campus spaces, perceptions of such spaces and belonging on campus. I collected data for Study 1 of my thesis research in my junior year to pursue Study 2 in Spring of 2022. I found that using campus spaces influenced space- specific belonging and using a student center positively correlated with overall belonging on campus. My hypotheses were not supported: socioeconomic status or racial/ethnic identity did not influence campus belonging at the time of data collection. These findings may indicate that studying remotely, in a more supportive home setting and with inclusive technology, might serve as a “great equalizer” in academia. If that were to be true, I expect to see differences in perceptions of spaces and belonging on campus by social identity factors in Study 2 after students returned to campus. Study 2 expands on Study 1 by incorporating more campus spaces and analyzing the impact of students’ intersectional identities. I am presented the findings of Study 1 at Society for Personality and Social Psychology Convention and combined findings of Study 1 and 2 at National Conference for Undergraduate Research in the spring of 2022.

Advanced Research, Dyslexia Lab |1| In 2019 and 2020, I was gaining technical skill mentored by Dr. Lisa Gabel in the Dyslexia Lab. I have learned to use the Woodcock-Johnson assessment and the Hebb-William Maze translated into a computer program for children to determine early reading strugglers to administer treatment in the early stages of Dyslexia. I have also tested mice performance on physical Hebb-William Maze, the Elevated Plus as well as the Three Chamber Mazes to examine CNTNAP2 mice anxiety responses. I was responsible for mice-breeding, administering Woodcock-Johnson screenings to kindergarteners, and data organization.

Advanced Research, Bias Lab |1| I conducted a literature review and designed a research proposal on the intersection of masculinity and confronting sexism. The primary focus of the study was to examine whether Black males’ sense of masculinity might be strengthened as a result of confronting sexism on behalf of socially distant women (i.e., women not affiliated with the participant). I prepared IRB forms and designed study surveys but unfortunately, I did not collect data as the study was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference Presenter |1| I received a SPSP Diversity Travel Award to attend the SPSP 2022 Annual Convention in San Francisco, CA where I presented the findings of Study 1 of my thesis research. SPSP is the largest conference for professionals in the field of social psychology, both in the academy and the industry.

National Conference for Undergraduate Research Presenter |1| I was selected to give an oral presentation at NCUR based on the findings of my thesis research (combined findings of Study 1 and 2).

Frances Ocansey-Ahene Spirit of Multiculturalism Award |1| Frances Ocansey-Ahene Spirit of Multiculturalism Award recognizes an upper-level student whose commitment to academic excellence and inclusive leadership within the community transcends all barriers and exemplifies the ethos of multiculturalism at Lafayette College.

Academic Research Committee Student Research and Travel Grants |2 |I was awarded funding from the ARC to execute my thesis research titled “I Go, Therefore I Belong?: Examining the Role of Social Identity on Campus Space Use, Student Belonging and Perceptions of Iconic Spaces” and to attend the SPSP Conference in San Franciso, CA. These grants allowed me to expand my professional network in researchers and prospective PhD mentors, and fairly compensate participants in my study.

Psychology Lab Assistant |0.5| In the role of a PLA, I assist in the execution of the introductory laboratory class, hold weekly office hours and grade written assignments. PLAs are considered for the position upon nominations from faculty ensuring that they can share their knowledge of statistical analyses and scientific method with the students in class..

Humanity in Action Fellowship Finalist |2| Humanity in Action is a year-long Fellowship focused on implementing an action project. There are multiple cities one can apply to such as Berlin, Sarajevo, Warsaw, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen. Over the summer, there is a 3-week-long seminar and action project planning portion, when fellows meet with some of the most impactful/influential activists from the country. This year, the Copenhagen program is focused on the union between Denmark, Faroe Islands and Greenland, the history of Denmark and current political movements. In 2021 I was a finalist to Poland and currently, I am a finalist to Denmark (awaiting the final decision).

Campus Service |years involved|

Kaleidoscope Social Justice Peer Educator |3| As a Scope, I work to create an inclusive and diverse environment to uplift student voices from underrepresented backgrounds through workshops that address injustices tied to the eight main facets of identity. In this role, I collaborate with a variety of school clubs and organizations, departments, and faculty. One of the staple programming KScope develops annually is Social Justice 101 workshops designed for incoming freshman class. During the fall of 2020, I had an honor to narrate the workshop for a digital version of the presentation.

Mentor Writing Associate |1; WA: 2| In 2021, after two years of working as a writing associate, I transitioned to the role of a Mentor Writing Associate. I lead staff meeting with writing associates and serve as a liaison between the College Writing Program and faculty (partner professors). Additionally, I design diversity and inclusion curriculum, facilitate discussion and mediate conflicts that arise between student-staff writers and student-clients.

Resident Advisor |3| I received numerous awards for my work with the Residence Life Office, among them, the Staff of the Month Award for November of 2020 and 3 Awards for “Having a Conversation on ICE”, “Workshop on Anti-Black Racism and Whiteness” and “Nigel Poor Meditative Photography” community programs. As an RA, I design and execute educational and social programs geared toward professional development and well-being of my residents. Fostering a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for 25 residents by providing emotional, academic and social support is a definition of community-building. I have an ability to shape the way students experience campus life. At Grossman House, I created a strong familial atmosphere and sense of belonging for students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Office of Intercultural Development Student Program Coordinator |2| Implementing multicultural training and designing workshops of that nature were my main responsibilities. I designed and led a 4-part multicultural training for the Athletics Department in addition to helping execute Black Heritage and Hispanic Heritage Months.

Psi Chi Honor Society President |1| My growing passion for psychology led me to becoming a Psi Chi officer. I’ve organized numerous research presentations, panels about securing summer internships/jobs and pursuing research at Lafayette and provided resources to the chapter for their continued intellectual and professional development. I worked a on a 2-year plan outlining programming, goals, and vision of Lafayette’s Psi Chi chapter. I also created a new officer position: a Psi Chi and Psych Club Liaison to strengthen collaboration between the 2 organizations and broaden our impact.

Digital Humanities Teaching Fellow |1| Served as a teaching fellow/mentor for a 2020 cohort of DH scholars guiding them throughout the process of planning, executing and presenting their projects, and learning new digital humanities tools.

AAPI Awareness Month Lead Organizer |2| Organized the first Asian American Pacific Islander Awareness Month at Lafayette College. In that role, I led weekly meetings, fundraising and marketing efforts, working with speakers and sponsors on individual events. Events included: ‘Anti-Asian Racism Professorial Panel’ with Dr. Seo-Huyn Park, Dr. Viet Trinh and Dr. Neha Vora; ‘A Racialized Pandemic: A Conversation with Helen Zia’, FAMS/Asian Studies Minari Screening and Discussion; ‘Esther Chae: Lights, Camera, Asian American Action!’. With a cohort of other student leaders and supported by Dr. Park, we are currently working out details of the 2022 AAPI Awareness Month programme.

Migration Summit Organizer |2| Organized an Annual Migration Summit bringing together the Lehigh Valley institutions to learn more about refugees and migration movements globally, ways to support immigrants and DACA recipients locally and nationally. Workshops included ‘Home is Here: DACA edition’; ‘Scholarship, Mentorship, and Advocacy’ led by Lisette Arias; ‘Every Campus a Refuge’ led by Professor Diya Abdo; ‘The Forgotten 86% Refugees Living in the Global South’ by Victoria Puglia; ‘Undocu-businesses Panel with Adelitas Apparel, Debby Doll Cosmetics, and Illegal Drip’; ‘Free Migration Project’ with Adrianna Torres-Garcia; Panels with Refugee Action, UndocuFund and Lehigh Immigration Coalition and Networking Sessions.

UndocuFund co-founder |2.5| Co-founded the UndocuFund with Basit Balogun’21 and Flor de Maria Caceres Godoy’22 with the goal of financially supporting undocumented students and DACA recipients who are not eligible for federal aid. To fulfill the mission of UndocuFund, we organize fundraisers, workshops, forums and participate in the Migration Summit. To ensure the sustainability of this initiative, we are working to create an endowed fund to support students long after our graduation. Through a 2-week fundraiser in the summer of 2020, we raised $9,000 to distribute among undocumented students and DACA recipients at Lafayette College and in the Lehigh Valley.


Community Service |years involved|

Dear Lafayette College Coalition |2.5| I helped create and develop a non-hierarchical Black student-led coalition dedicated to abolishing institutional oppression and systemic racism. We advocated for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to gain more financial, emotional and mental support from Lafayette College. We created a list of demands and presented it to decision-makers at the College. Our 5-year plan of fulfilling the demands was met with success. Dear Lafayette Coalition continues to be an important group that speaks about transformative justice, systemic racism, disability rights, solidarity and community building through workshops, seminars, infographics and Instagram lives. We also formed a PA student power coalition with groups from Lehigh University, Moravian College, Moore’s College, Kutztown, etc.

Mutual Aid |2.5| I helped create a mutual aid effort to help BIPOC community in the Lehigh Valley. We have raised over $15,000 up to date and redistributed over $10,000 to folx for rent, medical bills, groceries and transportation, etc. Furthermore, we provided educational resources on our social media platforms centered on racial capitalism, mutual aid and community building.

Women’s Leadership and Advocacy Intern at the Leadership Center Zambrano, Honduras |2| I interned at the Leadership Center in Zambrano, Honduras where I provided 1-on-1 mentorship for young Honduran women, taught introductory psychology, leadership and non-violent communication classes, and assisted in their community projects. In the summer of 2021,I spent 6 weeks in Honduras living in the community with the organization and the year prior, I provided workshops via online platform due to the travel restrictions imposed due to the global pandemic.

LiveWell Advisor for Spiritual and Emotional Health |2| I designed programming centered on emotional and spiritual health, and partnered with various campus organizations to broaden our reach and impact.

Criminal Justice Reform Week Speaker |1| For the second time, I gave a presentation and helped with the fundraiser during the 2022 CJRW.

Sustainability Committee’s Endowment Coalition |1| Serve as a member of the Endowment Coalition ensuring that Lafayette’s funds are distributed in a way to enables for sustainable growth, and taking into account needs of diverse groups that are part of College’s ecosystem.

Athletic Activity |years involved|

Boxing Club |2| Took active part in the boxing club where I learned the basic boxing technique. There were 2 training sessions each week.

Special Interest Activity |years involved|

Burton H. Cohen Memorial Prize Winner |1| The prize is awarded to “… a graduating senior Psychology major who, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, has demonstrated the necessary inclination, intellectual curiosity, determination, and potential to become a dedicated, creative, selfless teacher.  The term “teacher” is to be interpreted in the broadest sense of the word.”

Herbert W. Rogers Psychology Prize Nominee |1| The prize is “awarded to the graduating senior who is deemed outstanding by a vote of the Psychology Faculty.”

Young Writers Workshop Winner |1| My winning play Kintsugi was scheduled for production at Theatre Row in NYC in March of 2020. The global health crisis put this opportunity to a halt. I am anticipating its production in 2022.

Beinecke Scholarship Finalist |1| I was selected as Lafayette’s nominee for the Beinecke Scholarship. “The program seeks to encourage and enable highly motivated students to pursue opportunities available to them and to be courageous in the selection of a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities and social sciences.”

Barry Goldwater Scholarship Campus Finalist |1|”By providing scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, the Goldwater Foundation is helping ensure that the U.S. is producing the number of highly-qualified professionals the Nation needs in these critical fields.”

Digital Humanities Summer Scholar |0.5| Through the DHSS program, I learned how to use digital humanities tools such as ArcGIS, Voyant, close and distant reading and executed research on Roma people in Poland. The project can be found at this link:

Writing Wrongs Journalist |1| In September of 2021, I interviewed residents of Allentown and Bethlehem on their experiences with racism. The information I gained was a basis of 2 articles I wrote for the Writing Wrongs Magazine (publication date: April 2022).

IMPACT Conference Speaker |1|I co-led a workshop on immigrant rights, turmoils faced by DACA program and allyship.

College Theatre |3|I was an active member of college theatre. My credits include: Katherina in Taming of the Shrew, Laura in Half of Me, Elsa in Heddatron, Wife in Winter Comedy Shorts, Err-Lang in Monkey and other roles as a productions support.

Dean’s List |4| I was named on the Dean’s List every semester of my academic journey at Lafayette College.