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Auburn Spotlight, Morgan Gaston

AUBURN
SPOTLIGHT
“To the international students who came to the game to see if I would win, my name being called meant that their name was called”
Morgan Gaston
Senior, Exercise Science
AUBURN SPOTLIGHT

Spotlight Interview

Walking on the football field with her father, Morgan Gaston says she was overwhelmed by the love and support pouring out from her friends in the stadium. Over the sounds of her Auburn Family cheering, however, came the shouts and excitement from a crowd of international students. With tears in her eyes, Gaston described the sweetness of realizing what winning Miss Homecoming meant for those on campus from other countries.

"To the international students who came to the game to see if I would win, my name being called meant that their name was called,” said Gaston, Auburn University's Miss Homecoming. "It meant that their voice was heard, their presence was known, that they were finally seen. So for them, my name was victory.”

Gaston's platform, "Going Global with Gaston,” originated from a mission trip to China two summers ago. She was deeply impacted by the acceptance and love from her Chinese friends that bridged the obvious culture gap. Walking into an unfamiliar country with new languages, customs and social norms, yet consistently feeling at home, ignited Gaston's passion for international students at Auburn.

After returning to the U.S., Gaston knew that she had to get involved on campus. She joined the International Buddy Program and gradually realized Auburn's lack of awareness of international students on campus. Gaston's eyes were opened to the need for intercultural community. Story after story exists of foreign students feeling alone or lost.

One such story truly hit home for Gaston. International students often bring gifts from their home country to give to their American friends. A student Gaston knew returned home and had to take all of his gifts back with him — when his mother asked why he still had them, he could only respond that he had no American friends to give them to.

"There are signs on bulletin boards in Haley Center from international students begging for an American friend, or for someone to simply talk to them in English. There are so many things we don't recognize,” Gaston said. "God showed me the verse where Jesus looks at the Pharisees and says ‘do you see this woman?' — I felt him asking me ‘do you see them?'”

As international students joined the effort to go global with Gaston, the platform truly became their own. Throughout Homecoming Week, Gaston's team developed lasting friendships with the students, encouraging them to join campus organizations and spend time together outside of school. After voting ended, a large group went to dinner together, revealing that the week was not simply about campaigning — it was about building relationships.

On her mission trip to China, Gaston's group was forced to leave the country much earlier than planned. Because of the schedule change, Gaston was frustrated that she traveled across the world for only two weeks and struggled to pinpoint a reason for the trip.

"People are always like ‘we don't get why you like the Chinese people so much if they kicked you out,' but that's kind of the point. That's the point of Christ,” Gaston said. "I've finally realized that He sent me there so that I could bring it back here. He has His purposes and a year later, I understand.”

Gaston's future goals for her campaign include implementing a campus liaison program to include international representatives in almost every group at Auburn. She hopes to begin a lasting tradition of inviting students from other countries to join in daily activities, schedules and lives on campus. An Emerge at Auburn group is exploring taking the platform as their philanthropy and one fraternity is already participating in the liaison program.

"We have everything that other schools have as far as accessibility and programs, but there just isn't awareness,” Gaston said. "The rest of the semester will be spent trying to change the game. I would not have been up for this, or been in top 20, or top 5, or won, if God didn't decide that it's time. It's time for His children to be heard on campus.”

The senior in exercise science will be attending physical therapy school at The University of Alabama at Birmingham next semester. Gaston feels that developing relationships with international students is something that she is called to continue in her future. She knows that her platform will not end at Auburn.

"I think we look at the Great Commission and think ‘oh, I've gotta go to Africa or China,' but they're here,” Gaston said. "You don't have to show God's love to the nations by going to the nations, the nations are here.”

GET INVOLVED - Morgan's Tips

  • If you are in a campus organization, try to implement Gaston's international liaison program. You can also get involved in one of the many opportunities Auburn offers such as International Buddy Program or International Justice Mission; both are easy ways to meet students and build intercultural relationships.

  • There are always opportunities on campus to meet international students. International Student Organization has "social hours” every Friday at 4 p.m. that feature a different country's food and music.

    • Upcoming dates:

      Vietnamese Themed Social Hour: Friday, Nov. 10, 4 p.m., Student Center 2222/2223

      Indian Themed Social Hour: Friday, Nov. 17, 4 p.m., Student Center 2222/2223

      Chinese Themed Social Hour: Friday Dec. 1, 4 p.m., Student Center 2222/2221

  • "In a simpler way, just say ‘hello' to one international student this week,” Gaston said. "Take it a step further and strike up a conversation — there are probably international students in your classes, eating lunch next to you or studying at your table in RBD. Make somebody's day, and they just might make yours as well.”

  • Auburn Global Guides, students who work with Auburn Global, are also excellent sources of information and can help you get more involved with Auburn's international community.