Benji de la Piedra (2014)

Benji de la Piedra grew up in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. In May 2014, he graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with a B.A. in American Studies. He has spent the past three years working for Columbia’s Freedom & Citizenship Program, helping coordinate and teach a civic engagement course modeled on the College’s Core Curriculum for first-generation, college-bound high school seniors. Benji wrote his undergraduate thesis on Ralph Ellison's unfinished second novel, Three Days Before the Shooting, for which he received departmental honors. Ellison’s writings have provided Benji a useful and evocative language for investigating the civic, educational, and artistic implications of American racial identities. For his OHMA thesis, Benji returned to Three Days, introducing the text and its author to the discourse of oral history ethics and intellectual history by way of the Federal Writers’ Project of the late 1930s. In September, Benji and Mario Alvarez (OHMA '15) will begin gathering the life histories of current Columbia graduate students from all backgrounds. With these interviews, they hope to initiate a restorative campus-wide conversation about the ideals and nuanced realities of diversity, belonging, and inclusion at the university.