Let Us Introduce You: Andre Benson

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Andre Benson, coordinator of support and retention at the Cross Cultural Center, has always gravitated toward serving the community.

Minghao Gao/Senior Staff Photographer

Benson was born the youngest of eight children in a tight-knit southeastern Oklahoma farming town.

“It was truly a community; everyone would share, from a cup of sugar to a tractor,” Benson said.

Growing up, he looked up to the dynamic, strong-willed women and men within his community who worked to keep the strong bond and support alive between all of the members. These vibrant figures inspired him to strive for a career he could express himself in, truly making a difference and evoking change within people.

In high school, he entertained the idea of becoming a writer, an actor and an advertising agent. This changed when he was selected to attend the prestigious Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.

Benson went back to the drawing board and realized he still had a desire to make a difference. While attending Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, he began his journey into social work.

During his undergraduate career, service learning became his favorite form of education. He began working in legal-aid services. There, he was able to experience outreach projects by advocating for Spanish-speaking families and migrant farmers.  Here, Benson discovered his passions: community work and community based learning.

Social work drew Benson not solely because of his desire to make a difference, but also because of his personal experience with inequality. His hometown neighbored an all-white community where he attended grade school. There, Benson was a victim to racial slurs and slander. This empowered him as he became more aware of class inequality and marginalized groups. He decided that his main goal was to help children and make a difference for them.

“It changed everything to watch Dr. Martin Luther King and these people with the sheer nerve and bravery to say, ‘We are going to have a socially just world,’” Benson said.

After finishing his undergraduate studies, Benson moved to St. Louis in 2008 to attend Washington University in St. Louis’ Masters of Social Work program. His concentration was in Social and Economic Development where he got to experience working with advocacy groups such as PROMO, the National Conference of Community and Justice and the Alliance of Building Capacity.

After finishing his master’s degree in 2010, Benson’s eye moved to SLU’s coordinator position. He said he was “impacted most by the passionate students who continuously aim to make socially just changes.”

Now he works with Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars, develops initiative plans for minority student retention and advises student organizations.

Benson said he hopes to “promote honest conversation between students and create more safe spaces for students of international, minority, LGBTQ and any other groups who feel like they deviate from the ‘stereotype.’” He seeks to create an inclusive, aware environment for all students while promoting first-hand knowledge of the St. Louis community by going beyond stats to experience the city we all call home.