Walk a Campus in My Shoes (WACIMS)

Fostering inclusive environments for immigrant students through awareness

Photo of Matthew Tikhonovsky

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  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth


Help us stay in touch!

Phoe number: 678-808-9986 Email: mattmay1220@gmail.com

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

URL: https://walkacampus.wixsite.com/wacims. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wacims/. Instagram: walkacampus

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

“You do not belong here." “You are an illegal." Anti-immigrant rhetoric like this has reached an all-time high in America, sending a clear signal to those who have made America their home that they are not welcomed. This rhetoric has even seeped into the hallways of America’s schools, where students are being bullied for their or their parents’ immigration status, creating educational environments that are hostile for immigrant students.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Research has consistently proved that anti-immigrant rhetoric stems from misinformation and a lack of education about America’s immigration process. The WACIMS awareness campaign is an educational toolkit that informs students about the realities of America’s immigration process and, in turn, opens their hearts to their immigrant classmates. The poster series, composed of 7 posters, shines light on the immigration vetting process and the steps immigrants must take to come to America. Displayed on the walls of high schools and on college campuses, the series takes students through the immigrant journey and along the way informs them about the immigration process. The series can be loaned for $25 (shipping costs) by schools and student organizations and is paired with an immigration discussion pamphlet. Both were designed with the help of an immigration researcher and students who are immigrants, and the pamphlet works to foster inclusivity by providing examples of how students can better support their immigrant classmates. We have found that this method is effective at educating students, ending anti-immigrant rhetoric, and thus fostering more inclusive schools.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

As a child, I was taught to embrace my differences--my foreign roots and lengthy last name--and celebrate the fact that my parents, refugees from Ukraine, had made American their new home. Unfortunately, the inclusivity I experienced at home was nowhere to be found at my school, where immigrant and first-generation students, like me, were picked on for our hard to pronounce last names, poor English, subtle accents, and overall foreignness. As I grew older, I encountered even more anti-immigrant rhetoric, less directed toward me but rather toward my immigrant classmates and my refugee parents. One day, it hit me that I was doing nothing to stop the anti-immigrant rhetoric at school; I knew firsthand what it felt like to be bullied for being foreign, and so I resolved once for and all to foster a more inclusive environment at my school--a mission that has since spread across the country.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

1 in 5 Americans can call themselves immigrants. Chances are, you know an immigrant, you work with an immigrant, or you are an immigrant. Despite their large presence in America, however, immigrants continue to face hateful rhetoric. In 2017, I decided to step up to make a change because I was tired of seeing immigrants like my parents and classmates being subjected to hate. I created the Walk a Campus in my Shoes poster series, an awareness campaign that has opened the minds of thousands.

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Josie, an 11th grader who was born in Mexico, is the only immigrant student at her predominantly white school and thus stands out. She is taunted by her classmates for her foreign roots and branded as an “illegal,” although her family came to America legally. Determined to educate her classmates about the immigration process and eradicate the anti-immigrant rhetoric, Josie, who had heard about the WACIMS posters series from a teacher, brings it to her school, displaying the posters on the walls of the most trafficked hallway and reaching hundreds of her classmates. After two weeks, Josie begins to notice that she is treated differently. She is no longer called an “illegal;” her classmates now recognize that her family was vetted for over five years before they were granted citizenship. WACIMS empowered Josie to educate her classmates and end anti-immigrant rhetoric.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

There are many political organizations championing the rights of immigrants and advocating for policies that are pro-immigrant. However, none of them are focused on fostering school environments that are welcoming to immigrant students. WACIMS is the only national student-led initiative to educate students about America’s immigration process and to nurture safe school environments for immigrant students. Unlike many other pro-immigrant groups, WACIMS is not focused on political advocacy; we are an apolitical group focused on education to break down stereotypes and end anti-immigrant rhetoric.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

The WACIMS poster series has been displayed on the walls of over 30 high schools across Georgia and on the campuses of over 25 national universities, including Princeton, Yale, UChicago, and Vanderbilt. In total, over 10,000 students both in Georgia and nationwide have viewed our poster series. Although we have reached thousands of students, it is the personal stories that truly motivate us. We are always humbled when we hear stories of immigrant students who see a change in their school’s culture after WACIMS is featured. WACIMS has also been recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a #WithRefugees international campaign. For the 2019 school year, we are currently in contact with high schools across the Southeast and in California to feature WACIMS.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In addition to continuing to bring WACIMS to high schools and colleges across America, our next goal is to design a digital version of WACIMS. Because we recognize that not all schools have the resources or funding to feature WACIMS, we hope that the digital version will reach more schools than before. We could benefit greatly from design expertise and marketing advice. Furthermore, to take WACIMS to the next level, we also need to expand our digital footprint. Up until this point, we have reached students solely through word of mouth and direct contact, which is frankly extremely time-consuming. By expanding our social media pages, we hope to come to a point where interested students can find us on their own and contact us.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Communications

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Sales
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Low-income community
  • LGBTQ community
  • Other

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Shannon Stephens

This is an issue that has persisted for a long time and I've witnessed my own friends face. Thank you for bringing this program into the grade school system!

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