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“Asking Questions, Looking at Both Sides, and Making Your Worth Heard”: Aysha E. Schomburg, J.D. ’91

We were delighted to have Aysha E. Schomburg, J.D. ’91 join us as our featured speaker in November for our 110th Founder’s Day. Each year we invite alumni back to demonstrate the profound impact Harriet Packer had on generations of students and spotlight the alumni they become. 

Aysha Schomburg serves as the Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau in the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this role, she advises the Administration on matters related to child welfare, including child abuse and neglect, child protective services, family preservation, and support, adoption, foster care, and independent living. She previously served as senior administrator for program oversight for New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

In her role at ACS, she has helped expand protection for abused children, expanded support for LGBTQ students, and established programs to assist foster children. In 2019, she was also awarded the ACS Distinguished Service Award for “Assisting Children Separated from their Families at the Border.”

In Aysha’s speech, she explored her time at Packer, what she learned, and the teachers that meant so much to her:

I learned to question at Packer. I learned the value of asking questions. That means, not just taking things at face value, but interrogating with purpose. I remember sitting in Mr. Zyg's anthropology class. Mr. Zygmuntowicz, my favorite teacher at Packer, and reading Howard Zinn's, The People's History of the United States. Reading about the Nacirema (the behavior and society of citizens of the U.S.), and being fascinated about questions that we could and should ask about our own ethnocentricity.

And I learned to debate. Listening and questioning sometimes will naturally lead to debate. There's so much to learn from debating. I remember our history teacher, Kathy Emery…she asked questions of us. I know now that that's called The Socratic Method, but at that time, it felt like she was questioning us, and instigating debate. She wanted us to know how to argue both sides….Looking back on that, that philosophy was a life lesson all on its own. Life is made up of wins and learning experiences. As I've moved through life, I made it a point to understand the counterargument. I may have a position on an issue, but I still want to understand the counter position. The alternate position. I want to know what the debate is all about, and there's always a debate.

Aysha also explored her experience at Packer as a Black student:

In order to be successful, and probably in order to make it to the position that I'm in today, I had to learn to navigate the Packer environment. I'm about to get personal. You know the number one most common question I get when I'm talking to students, usually college, grad students, or law students is, "How do you navigate White spaces? How do you make your worth heard when you're the only one in the room?"....I was learning to navigate White spaces and hurdles, White norms. I'm still navigating White spaces. I'm still hurdling White norms. Packer taught me how to do that. Packer taught me the necessity of knowing how to do that. Packer instilled in me the unwavering courage to do that.

Watch Her Founder's Day Speech

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