Fayetteville State University Student Government Association President Continues Family Legacy with Generational Visionby Afi G. Osakwe, GDN Contributing Writer - A GDN Exclusive July 2, 2021
Ask Sydney Harris about her vision as Student Government Association (SGA) President at Fayetteville State University (FSU) and she will tell you about her passion for the school and student civic engagement to improve the school, the Fayetteville community, and all Historically Black Colleges and Universities throughout the nation.
“My love for FSU was from a very early age by my family and interaction with the community. I attended E.E. Smith High School, my grandparents lived right down the street from FSU and my granduncle, my grandfather’s brother, was one of Fayetteville’s first Black businessmen located on Bragg Boulevard. That is why he donated to the Business College. One of the buildings on campus is named after him and my grandaunt, named the Marion “Rex” and Aronul E. Harris School of Business and Economics. They definitely have a lot of legacy here.” Sydney’s ties to the family legacy were the catalyst for her passion about FSU. “I felt that I had to impact the legacy that I have here.”
Sydney’s vision is part of her decision to major and minor in Communications and Africana Studies respectively while also incorporating what she is learning and crafting as the top student leader at the university. Pursuing the doctorate in Educational Leadership is the goal. “I think my passion lies within education and being able to impact others within the educational field. Especially when it comes to institutional administration.”
Harris’ political experience at FSU began as soon as she enrolled and has continued. During the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, according to her platform of the anagram and a strategic plan: UNITE. An initiative that promotes unity, networking, inclusion, transparency, and encouragement to create an atmosphere for FSU students to unlock their potential and make use of the countless opportunities made available to them and the community moving forward together. “It is a platform for Black society in general on how to unite with a strategic plan.” Being virtual and not having as many people on campus, all of the Covid cases that were rising on campus and in Fayetteville, not having events like we usually have, I think we’ve made a lot of stuff happen.”
Oftentimes, progress does not happen without challenges. “There were definitely ups and downs. Part of the difficulty of my role as SGA president was also pledging Delta Sigma Theta sorority. It was really stressful trying to be online and fulfilling my presidency. But I had a lot of good people in my corner because that is what FSU is all about. It is definitely about being family.” Her decision to join the Deltas is one of the best decisions she has made. “It has connected me with a lot of great women and a lot of opportunities. The sisterhood is really what sets it apart.”
Her current internship with the Public Works Commission of Fayetteville in their Communications and Community Relations Department will end July 2021. “I took the position because I wanted some corporate experience, the business realm. People think with the power companies it is just utilities, climbing ladders and digging holes, and fixing pipes. But there is the business side, and the corporate side. So, I wanted that experience before I leave.
Harris’ future includes furthering her education. “I’m exploring ‘leaving the nest’. I have lived in Fayetteville all my life. Yet, I am not canceling FSU out at all.
Speaking of the 2020 elections in context to the current establishment of the New Black Student Movement model well before the 2022 midterm elections, Sydney said, “Last year was really involved especially in getting students registered to vote especially during the pandemic. It was definitely different.” She further notes that every year the SGA is really involved in getting students registered to vote and out to the polls. “We have a polling place right across the street at Smith Recreation Center. So, that is what we wanted to do: mobilize students. It looked different because we had social distancing, wearing masks and we could not gather like we wanted to. We usually do a ‘March to the Polls’ where we take up the entire street with everybody, but we could not do that this year. So, we went in spurts. We went to the dorms to get students registered. We had certain days where we were at the student center to get students registered. If students verified that they were registered, we had different incentives such as food, snacks, etc.
Those approaches to voter registration, education, mobilization/get out the vote proved to be incredibly positive. Over 93% of the students registered to vote made it to the polls. “That was a pretty good accomplishment.”
Harris is interested in the New Black Student Movement (NBSM) and says that if she cannot attend all the meetings, there are people on her SGA cabinet whose job is community involvement and she has other campus organizations that can be pulled into the model, too. This further strengthens the NBSM in accordance with its student model of civic engagement.
The NBSM student model advises that the SGA at all HBCUs that replicate the model, elect the vice president for a two-year term becoming president automatically the second year. In Sydney’s case that was now how it happened although she served as vice president before being elected president the second year. The point to be made is that she gained critical experience as vice president that is instructive for her current SGA role. “In my case, it depended upon several factors such as how you campaign, positions you may hold in the student body. It depends on many things.”
Summing up her year thus far as SGA President, “The biggest thing this year has been advocating for students as much as I can. It is a lot involved with how I grew into the position, learning how everything works, how political everything is. Especially for HBCU students. HBCU students are already underfunded. We are already operating at a deficit. So, advocating for students and what they want, getting our needs out there and letting it be known. We are underfunded and we do have needs.”
Ms. Harris cites how the UNC System and Board of Governors operate. Much of what she has gleaned is unfair toward HBCUs. As for working with FSU administration, “If we keep working in a positive direction, whatever structural problems we have can be resolved. It is about who we have in several positions here. It depends on where their focus is. If the focus is student-centered and they keep the original mission of the founders of the HBCU in mind, I think we can go places. But everybody that works for HBCUs do not have our best interest in mind. As long as we have people in high positions that are HBCU-focused and student-focused we will progress.”
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