Nic Quero is the Head Intern for EJP. In this role, they work closely with Jamie Hines to organize EJP’s internship program, connect interns to program directors, and manage applications and deadlines. Nic has plans to pursue further studies in postcolonial literature/theory and feminist literature/theory after they graduate from U of I.
When Nic Quero returned to the University of Illinois campus in fall of 2021 after a year away, they hit the ground running. Within a few short months, Nic had connected to classes and programs that began to transform their entire worldview.
Wanting to get involved in campus activities related to education, Nic came across an ad for EJP. They quickly got involved as an intern, and the work they were doing with the Reentry Guide Initiative resonated with their coursework at the time. Nic was enrolled in a class called Postcolonial Literature in English with Professor Manisha Basu. Nic says, “The course made me piece together a new understanding of colonialism, capitalism, American society, Western society – everything.”
Nic had been a music major at U of I in the fall of 2019. They had invested seven years and a significant amount of money in their musical career, but something about it wasn’t quite right. They decided to stop studying music and took a year of classes online at Northern Illinois University. The physical and mental demands of music were extremely taxing, but there was something else as well, something that Nic was only able to articulate after their introduction to postcolonial theory: “Classical music is an aesthetic predicated on the dominance and submission of colonialism.”
Learning to see how colonialism has shaped the world we live in is a process. Nic talks about how easy it is for privileged demographics to be completely unaware of the structures they benefit from, structures that include the carceral system. EJP understands mass incarceration as intertwined with structural racism in that it disproportionately impacts people of color. In turn, this creates ongoing privileges and benefits for white people.
Nic points out how the educational system can have blind spots and can itself serve to further reinforce dominant cultural narratives. They think classes like Professor Basu’s are different in the way they engage students in critical thinking, giving them tools to evaluate the world around them in a completely new way. When Nic reflects on how their perspective has changed over these last years, they remark that these new viewpoints seem obvious once one has achieved them: “Every time you have a new realization you wonder, ‘How did I not know that?’”
What Nic likes about EJP’s internship program is the contextualized educational component, that the work is a vehicle by which many of the people involved learn to see the injustices of the carceral system. More than this, though, Nic also appreciates the fact that EJP provides a tangible way of addressing the issues they’re learning about in classes and working toward solutions. “EJP is a really special project in that it bridges that gap…It’s working with an academic institution but also in the field.”
As a final note, Nic adds these statements: “I want to clarify that my narrative is very much a white person’s narrative…It’s very upsetting: I’m actively working against a system that has kept me ignorant this whole time. And I continue to benefit from a system that is acting in a neo-imperial power economy…It’s difficult to acknowledge because it puts me in a position of wondering, ‘What do I do?’ I guess EJP is trying to answer that question.”