Center for Community Engagement

Ben Guest: An Amherst Alumnus Tackling Education Inequality

In late April, I sat down for a phone interview with Ben Guest ‘97. Even before the first question, Guest happily greeted me and eagerly described all the Amherst College students who had interned for his summer program.

Guest is the program manager for the Mississippi Teacher Corps, a two-year program that recruits college graduates to teach in areas of critical need in Mississippi. Current seniors and college graduates with a minimum 3.0 grade point average can apply. The program seeks students with experience in community service, at-risk youth, and team sports.
Interestingly, Guest was all but qualified to begin his journey with the Mississippi Teacher Corps. “I wasn’t really involved in any extracurricular activities while I was at Amherst. [It is] funny because as manager of the program, one of the things I look for in applicants is extracurricular activities. All I remember was living in Drew House sophomore year and tutoring somewhere called ABC House. I didn’t even do internships or study abroad. Every summer I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital at public affairs department, but it was really just a job I got through a family friend.”

Ironically, the Mississippi Teacher Corps rejected Guest, its future program manager, when he applied during his senior year. As a result, Guest went to teach English as a Peace Corps member in Namibia. At the end of the Peace Corps, he decided to try again for the Mississippi Teacher Corps—and got in.

Nevertheless, Guest does not attribute his acceptance to an extensive resume. Instead, he cites the Amherst College faculty, notably Professor Austin Sarat and Professor Jan Dizard, as the key resource that offered him crucial support.

Guest’s experience in Namibia precipitated his interest in reducing inequality in the American education system. In describing the Peace Corps as “the lab component of college,” Guest says the program “put my theories to the test…some proved correct and some didn’t.” As for the issue of education inequality, Guest dubs the matter as “the civil rights movement of your generation and mine.” Even though this movement might be “a losing battle” at times, “that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a battle worth fighting.”

Guest hopes that Mississippi Teacher Corps interns walk away with a better understanding how education inequality affects minority and lower-class students. As a witness of the hardships faced by many students in Mississippi, Guest hopes the United States will work to adequately address poverty and discrimination. For now, Guest believes “the game is rigged against poor people. If you are born poor and black and Mississippi, you have to be incredibly lucky and incredibly hard-working to make it.”

Guest ended our interview with advice for current students. He suggested undergraduates take advantage of on-campus resources, study abroad, get to know professors, and participate in an internship through the Amherst Select Internship Program.

Ben also invited me to apply to his summer program. Who knows? By this time next year, I just might be packing for Mississippi.

Lorena Rodriguez '13 is a staff writer for the CCE. She is passionate about human rights and education. She is very much a law nerd and she absolutely loves traveling, learning, reading, and eating shrimp and strawberries.