By Abby Weingarten
Dajé Austrie was a young black man in his early twenties—an avid runner, living in the south—when he read the news in February that Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while jogging through a Georgia neighborhood.
The story hit Austrie hard. He saw himself, and his friends, in Arbery. He feared for his safety in America. But it wasn’t the first time.
“Seeing a lot of people that look exactly like you get killed in cold blood kind of hurts,” said Austrie, who graduated from New College in May with a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences. “I’m 23 and so are my closest friends, and we all run, so I felt particularly hurt by what happened to Ahmaud Arbery. I used to have more of an emotional response to these things but I guess I’ve kind of become jaded now, almost by necessity.”
Austrie, who is originally from the Virgin Islands and now lives in Sarasota, has been an anti-racism and pro-science advocate his entire adult life. He has been outspoken lately about the pandemic and civil rights protests, hosting radio interviews and podcasts while simultaneously working toward the start of his career. In August, Austrie will begin his new job as a ninth- and tenth-grade science teacher at Southeast High School in Bradenton, and he feels deeply called to be an educator and role model to young students.
“Southeast is a Title I school, so a lot of the students come from similar backgrounds to mine. I’ll probably be one of the few black teachers they’ll ever see,” said Austrie, who spent most of his upbringing in Orlando. “I will also be reaching out to kids who are probably a little disillusioned with science right now. So I’m really looking forward to providing a real-world perspective and helping reaffirm their love of learning.”
Austrie’s own love of learning was nurtured during his years at New College. As a student, he turned an interest in math and science into a specialization in chemistry and biomechanics, ultimately writing a thesis entitled On the Biomechanics of Usain Bolt’s Record-Breaking Performance.
“Professors Zabriskie, Sendova and Walstrom definitely advocated for me while I was at New College, and showed me the value of sticking through adversity. When things got tough, they didn’t waver in their faith in me,” Austrie said. “That’s something that stuck with me, and I carry that with me in every endeavor I’ve gone through. I wouldn’t trade my experience at New College for anything.”
There were experiences at New College that were undesirable though, as “covert racism” and “feigned allyship” from classmates at the overwhelmingly white institution bothered Austrie. But those “growth opportunities” also motivated him to become more vocal about causes he believed in, both on campus and in the local community.
From 2017 to 2019, Austrie served as the executive co-chair/founder of the West Florida Chapter of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, an organization designed to build the next generation of human rights leaders and end systemic violence. He was actively involved in the “Say Yes to Second Chances Campaign,” helping gather more than 600,000 petitions to get Florida’s Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative (Amendment 4) on the 2018 ballot. Austrie was also the national coordinating committee chair for the Million Hoodies collective in New York City, leading an ongoing data collation project.
In the summer of 2017, Austrie completed an internship with the Multicultural Health Institute in Sarasota, where he taught STEAM-H topics to 15 middle schoolers from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.
“The children I taught were all either black or Hispanic, and they got a lot out of it (so did I). The way they were looking at me, I could tell they could see themselves in me,” Austrie said. “Moments like that keep happening and I love it. I have a unique opportunity to possibly create a pipeline and show a different side of what blackness could look like. It almost feels like a responsibility to me.”
Austrie has tutored students in everything from algebra and trigonometry to calculus and economics. And just before the New College campus was evacuated during the pandemic, Austrie was working two jobs—one on campus and one as a tutor at IMG Academy in Bradenton—all while finishing his thesis and studying for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
“I was in a very different place mentally and academically at that time. It was tough. But it was Dwayne Peterson from the CEO [Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity] at New College who really bolstered my spirit and help me make job connections,” Austrie said. “So when I got the teaching job at Southeast, he was the first to know about my success and how I was able to turn things around.”
As Austrie eyes his own professional future, he is also watching the country turn around on multiple levels. He hopes that the activism he engaged in at New College—and continues to promote as an educator—will contribute to a larger shift in cultural awareness.
Listen to “The No Half Steppin’ Podcast” with Austrie and student Steven Keshishian (including the most recent episode from June 28, entitled “A Racialized Political Movement”). And hear Austrie’s June 6 interview with alum Donovan Brown ’13 on WSLR.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.