Julian Rose: Teacher, advocate, champion for change
When asked what made his inner activist come alive, Julian Rose didn’t hesitate: “My activism started as becoming a feminist and branched out significantly from there.”
Julian embraces feminism, which has historically been either misunderstood or frowned upon, depending on who you talk to. Either way, it wasn’t until recent years that widespread simplification of the term ‘feminist’ made it more accessible to people from a range of backgrounds — black men like Julian included.
After learning more about feminism in a gender and sexuality course during his sophomore year at UConn, Julian got involved with The Men’s Project, “where they get together about 15 men once a week and we’d talk about gendered issues and the place that men have to correct the issues that we’ve built over history,” he explained.
Julian spent the rest of the spring 2014 semester working to improve gender relations on campus. In early July of that year, UConn settled a federal lawsuit in which five students and alumnae accused the university of mishandling sexual assault cases. UConn did not admit guilt, but settled for $1.3 million.
Little did anyone know, this would not be the only event to cast a pall on the following school year. On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown, a black, unarmed teenager was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO.
Between the less-than-ideal university settlement and this high-profile, racially-charged shooting, UConn students returned to a tense campus that fall.
“You had feminists who really wanted to take action against UConn,” Julian recalled, “we had tons and tons of black people that realized that the racism that was happening in Ferguson was happening at UConn, too.” The anger and sadness and disappointment all came together at a vigil students organized in remembrance of Mike Brown. When the community seemed to want more action, Julian and other campus activists planned a bigger event.
“We marched around UConn. There were people screaming stuff at us.” he said. “It was called a march for civility, diversity and equity, and I’ll never forget it.”
Over the last two years of his tenure at UConn, Julian helped organize a sit-in on the university seal, a drop-in on a trustee board meeting and other demonstrations to shed light on various inequalities that plagued the campus community. As graduation neared, however, Julian was less confident about how he would mobilize people beyond UConn.
“It was kinda weird graduating because I was so used to doing things specifically at UConn, I didn’t know where my activism was gonna take me afterwards,” he said. “Especially being a professional, I didn’t want to get myself in any situations where I wasn’t able to be employed anymore. So I was kinda worried about that. But I didn’t want to stop being engaged in the work.”
During summer 2016, which was riddled with racially-charged police violence, Julian found himself picking up where he’d left off. While in Philadelphia for job training, he and fellow trainees organized a rally at Temple University. Before he knew it, they were marching.
“We started to march down North Broad Street in Philadelphia and we ended up shutting that street down,” he said. “And we walked four and a half miles from Temple University all the way to Philadelphia city hall. And the police actually escorted us all the way down, which is really, really powerful.”
For anyone who’s hesitant to organized out of fear that their attempts will fall flat, Julian has a few words of advice: “I think that people are really looking for somewhere to go and somewhere to vent and somewhere to take action,” he said. “What I’ve explained to so many people is, just create a flyer and choose a space and a time and people will come. Especially because everyone is so enraged about what’s going on. People will show up and it will be a powerful moment.”
Justice for all, everywhere
When he’s not organizing rallies and sit-ins, Julian has a day job that allows him to continue the fight for justice in another capacity: he teaches sixth- and seventh-grade science at Jumoke Academy in Hartford, CT. He got the job through Teach For America (TFA) — and he gave up a full-ride to graduate school to take it.
“I had grad school lined up,” he said, “ [a] full ride at UConn to continue doing the biomedical engineering research I was doing, but I decided kind of last minute to pivot and take action toward making the world better through education by reaching students — because they’re our future, right?”
Unlike many young adults, Julian scouted out both of his college career passions years before he stepped foot on campus. It was in a biology class at Farmington High School in Connecticut that he first realized the need to combat educational inequity.
“Mr. Forstbauer, who was a bio teacher at Farmington High School, he showed us a video by Sir Ken Robinson. It was a Ted Talk about killing creativity in education,” he said. “That really sparked my attention on students first of all taking responsibility for their own educational paths, also thinking about how education could change for the better.”
Looking back even further, Julian sees that his understanding of educational inequity began with his parents: they moved from Bloomfield, CT to Farmington when Julian was four. They found a house further away from family and friends because they wanted a better education for their kids — and they immediately saw a difference in academic rigor.
“My sister was on honor roll in Bloomfield, and when she first moved to Farmington she got straight D’s,” Julian said. “She almost failed out that first year. So that was the real illustration of the difference between the two schools because she was doing so well in a town almost neighboring [Farmington] and then it was just…culture shock. She was in middle school at the time.”
Recruiting for America
When Julian arrived on campus, he already knew what his academic interests were: after completing a health careers program during the summer before his senior year of high school, he’d begun biomedical engineering research. Since his major was mostly decided, he set his sights on getting fellow students involved in education.
“I wanted to start an education reform club at UConn,” Julian said. “An aspect of that club was going to be getting college students experience inside of classrooms, because unless you’re within the education school it’s very, very hard to get into classrooms for a sustained amount of time.”
His initial plan was to get students together and create partnerships with nearby schools. When he found this to be easier said than done, he reached out to TFA — but he didn’t realize what he was getting into.
“I had no idea how big Teach For America was or anything like that,” he said. “So I went on their website on the ‘contact us’ page, wrote up a little write-up about my club and what I wanted to do, and sent it. And I didn’t get a response for a month.”
Just when he thought he would never hear back, he received an email from the organization and set up a phone call with Alexandra Rollis, who oversees campus campaign coordinators — students who recruit for Teach for America at universities across the country. Inspired by Julian’s enthusiasm about combatting educational inequity, she offered him a brand new position during their first phone conversation.
With very little hesitation, Julian accepted the job as UConn’s first mobilization campus campaign coordinator. He spent most of his college career trying to get his fellow students interested in education — not for the purpose of recruiting for TFA — but in order to raise awareness about educational inequity.
Inadequate or powerful beyond measure?
As Julian continues this fight for equal opportunities in his and all classrooms, he is simultaneously working to shed the prejudices that come with his privileges. His deepest fear is that his students will pick up on his subconsciously privileged behavior.
“I’m so aware of the shortcomings I have and the ways I still perpetuate oppression,” he said. No matter how woke you are, you can’t really absolve yourself of the privileges that you have and the way that you were raised, the people in your lives, things like that.”
Julian acknowledges that while he is a racial and ethnic minority, there are many things about his identity that put him in a place of privilege: he is a cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual male who is college educated and has documentation. At the same time, this doesn’t stop him from being an advocate for those who were not born with the same privileges. In his classroom, he aims to prevent his students from inheriting the privileged behavior of those that have come before them.
“The future changes by younger people being instilled with newer ideas,” he said. “Unfortunately what comes with students learning from older people is they also learn some older customs, some older values, some of them good, some of them bad.”
He attributes this mindset to what he says is one of his best qualities: his willingness to change. It is a characteristic he thinks more people should strive for.
“If [people] were more willing to change, they wouldn’t look like idiots in the historical retrospect,” he said. “So I try not to look foolish to people in the future. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to stay on the right side of history.”