In 2020, a year benchmarked with a tumultuous history, students at colleges and universities across the country voiced their concerns about racial discrimination, social justice, the coronavirus pandemic, the presidential election, and several more cultural issues that affected the higher education community. Leading those voices is a new selection of student body presidents of color at Predominantly White institutions.
Armed with motivation to make a change, the new student presidents challenged campus administration and tackled controversial topics while winning historic bids.
The new wave of Black student leaders at prestigious institutions started last year when Khalil Greene was elected as Yale College’s first Black student body president. Greene left his post in September, but told NBC News the importance of diverse student presidents “is the same as having Black leadership anywhere in America.”
“Having young, gifted Black students leading institutions that, in some cases, are older than the United States is extremely inspiring and symbolic of the Black community’s progress,” Greene said.
Since Greene’s appointment, a surge of Black leaders have been elected to serve as student body presidents including the following: Jason Carroll of Brown University, Danielle Geathers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Naomi Riley of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Last month, 20-year-old Mississippi native, Noah Harris was named the first Black man to be elected as Harvard University’s student body president in the school’s 384-year history.
In an interview with CNBC, Harris talked about the struggles of campaigning in a virtual campus environment.
“[I]n a normal year, I’m used to going up and meeting people, knocking on doors, passing out fliers and getting a pulse on the ground for how the campaign is going,” Harris explained. “It was just very hard to read the climate in that way because everything was in such a vacuum — it was taking place on social media, in group chats, in club email lists.”
This month, Sydney Barber, 21, was promoted to midshipman, a top student leadership position at the U.S. Naval Academy where she will represent more than 4,400 future Navy and Marine Corps officers next semester, AP News reports. Barber is the first Black woman to be selected for the role in the academy’s 175-year history.
The newly minted presidents have created a group chat where they can share experiences, NBC reports.
“There’s times when I have no idea how I’m going to write a statement and appease everyone, but we’re all in the same boat,” Danielle Geathers told NBC. “We hop on a Zoom call and are really just there for each other without having to sympathize or empathize because we’re walking in the same shoes,” she continued.