By Abby Weingarten
Civil rights protests are gaining steam in the streets of North Philadelphia—outside the doors of Temple University, where New College alum Paul Loriston ’14 is studying law.
“There is a massive, I want to say, awakening right now,” said Loriston, a longtime community leader who co-founded New College’s Black Student Union (BSU) and served as the first black co-president of New College Student Alliance (NCSA). “I’m trying to see if I can use some of the momentum from these protests in Philly…to have conversations about what systemic racism really is.”
Having conversations about—and experiences with—systemic racism is not new for Loriston, a Haitian immigrant who grew up in Orlando. But Loriston sees this movement—brought on by the recent murders of black individuals such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor—as an opportunity to catalyze changes in public policy. It is a chance to examine the flaws in the American law enforcement system that have led to police brutality, and to engage in larger community dialogues about tolerance.
“The reality is, most non-black people just don’t know about black history or aren’t taught about black issues,” Loriston said. “In the same way, as a man, there are certain perspectives—like a woman’s perspective—that I will absolutely never understand. The most I can do is empathize and try to understand as much as I can. That’s the most any of us can do.”
Loriston hopes that people are broadening their perspectives and cultivating more empathy, and he is doing the same as he reflects on negative events from his past. His New College classmate, Miles Iton ’14 (co-president of the NCSA), created the 2018 documentary, Sincerely, The Black Kids to spotlight some of the racially-charged pushback he and Loriston faced during their time in office.
“At New College, we just experienced microaggressions on top of microaggressions—the things that made you turn your head and say, ‘Was that real?,’” Loriston said.
Microaggressions were going unchecked on campus and perpetrators were not being “called out,” Loriston said. It happened at New College just as it is happening on other college campuses—and everywhere else—throughout the country. But now, Black Lives Matter activists are calling out perpetrators loudly, and people all over the world are listening.
“Bias is a very human thing,” Loriston said. “I think people could probably be a lot more understanding of minorities and the struggles they go through, but also of non-minorities witnessing the struggle.”
When Loriston is not engaging in these discussions or protesting in Philadelphia, he is working toward a juris doctor degree at Temple’s Beasley School of Law. He is a Law and Public Policy Scholar, a Weisman Fellow, and a member of the National Black Law Students Association, and he plans to graduate in 2022.
Loriston has also worked in the gun violence prevention sector, and was a business strategy instructor for the Duke University Talent Identification Program (where he developed individualized lesson plans for middle school students).
Mentoring black youth has been a significant cause for Loriston, and he hopes to see New College work harder toward building diversity within its student body—so that more people like him will experience the transformative education he enjoyed.
In fact, he was so interested in this issue that he wrote his undergraduate thesis on Unpacking Black Enrollment at New College of Florida before earning his bachelor’s degree in economics in 2018. His objective with the thesis was to figure out why New College’s black student population was so low (and it turned into a much more complex topic than he expected).
“It’s hard to explain. But I guess my one main takeaway, that I thought was just kind of a paradox, was the fact that, in order to get any number of black students enrolled at a college, you have to already have a critical mass of black students,” Loriston said. “I think, at some point, the onus has to be on the institution to really work to bring in more black students.”
Once the students arrive, keeping them engaged on campus is critical. Loriston stayed at New College because of the groups and activities he and Iton created. They helped develop structures that supported their friends—from the BSU to Black History Month events—and built camaraderie that exists to this day.
“I made my best friends at New College. If I had to do it again, I’d pick New College in a heartbeat. Certain things made me uncomfortable but I really grew into the person I loved being at New College,” Loriston said. “I don’t know if I’d be on this life path without it.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.