Alum Spotlight: Mayura Iyer (MPP '16)

My first year in Batten was marked by tension and turbulence on campus amidst a growing social justice consciousness in the University. In November 2014, during my first semester, Rolling Stone published the infamous article, “A Rape on Campus,” sparking a campus-wide discussion on rape culture and sexual assault. In March 2015, UVA student Martese Johnson was assaulted and arrested - another sobering example of police brutality against black bodies.

In response, Batten held a “Town Hall” between faculty, administrators, and students to discuss the future of Batten and ways to incorporate issues of social justice in our policy work. We discussed diversity in the faculty of Batten, diversity amongst the student body, and more opportunities in our coursework to incorporate an understanding of the social issues underpinning our policy decisions. These conversations evolved into a student-led action plan, built alongside community members and the UVA Black Student Alliance, which outlined steps to improve the minority experience on Grounds. A line from this action plan read - “The University cannot purport to produce global citizens ready to face the challenges of the world at large when it does not even prepare its students to understand the complexity of race, economics, and the justice system in Charlottesville.”

While this action plan was not the panacea to the problems afflicting the Charlottesville community, it showed the power, passion, and resiliency of the Batten community, and our commitment to growth, change, and self-reflection. Moreover, it was an embodiment of the most important lesson I learned from the Batten School - policy change requires community and context. In order to create change, we must understand the global context of the communities we serve, and work with those communities to develop policies.

I took these lessons to heart as I entered my second year of Batten, hoping to pursue a career in education policy immediately after graduation. However, through opportunities to take Education Policy courses in both the Batten and Curry School, and through the hands-on experience of my Applied Policy Project with D.C. Public Schools, I realized that many of the policymakers making decisions for our students have little experience in the classroom themselves. Moreover, those who do have classroom experience often come from vastly different backgrounds than the students in our most vulnerable school districts. Because of this, I decided to join Teach for America after graduation in 2016 to get hands-on experience in the communities I hoped to serve.

I’m currently in my second year of teaching as an 11th grade U.S. History Teacher in Dallas, TX. My school has a 93 percent Latinx population and a 63 percent English Language Learner (ELL) population. The majority of my students are of Mexican origin, and more than half of them are immigrants. Over the past two years of teaching, I realized that we, as educators, often treat immigrant students as “empty vessels,” seeing their status as an immigrant, their native language, and their cultural differences as a deficit rather than an asset. However, when local elections threatened to cut funding for school buses, students at my school spent hours giving flyers to teachers, parents, and community members, encouraging them to vote. In recent weeks following a series of house explosions due to gas leaks in their neighborhoods, they raised thousands of dollars to support affected families.

When I see my students, I think back to the Batten School’s lessons on context and community. I think of words in the action plan written three years ago, and how the context of the Charlottesville community’s experience was, and continues to be, ignored. Similarly, my students are leaders, and change-makers in their own right, but the curriculum and mode of instruction presented to them in schools rarely represents their strength and the context of their experiences.

In order to expand my understanding and context of the communities of my students, I will be moving to Mexico in August as a Fulbright U.S. Student Award recipient, working as an English Teaching Assistant. I want to gain experience on the ground in Mexican classrooms so that, later on, as a policy advocate and analyst, I can design culturally competent policies that support, uplift, and empower ELL and immigrant students.

The sobering experiences of my first year in Batten showed me that policy leaders are never done learning, and that the context of our communities is diverse and global in scale. Taking this next step as a Fulbrighter feels like the perfect continuation of my journey as a policy advocate, and a perfect embodiment of the core tenets of the Batten School. I hope to continue to take the lessons of community and context I’ve learned from Batten with me through my time in Mexico, and, later on, as an education policy advocate in the U.S.

Mayura Iyer is an education policy advocate, teacher, writer, and proud Batten alum. She graduated from the Accelerated Master of Public Policy program in 2016 and received her B.A. in Foreign Affairs from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2015. In May 2018 she will receive her Master of Education degree from Southern Methodist University. Currently, she is a 2nd year corps member with Teach for America, and teaches 11th grade U.S. History in Dallas, Texas. As a policy advocate, she has worked with several organizations, including D.C. Public Schools and the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership. Her articles have been featured in several online publications, including The Huffington Post and Mic.com