Beginning with her freshman year at UConn, junior Jalia West not only joined the cheerleading team, but she made it an obligation to be involved at the African American Cultural Center. As she embarked on the new experiences that accompany her college life, West decided to attend the welcome back dinner hosted by the AACC, which happens at the beginning of every fall semester. For West, this was her first encounter with the cultural center.
The Waterbury native uses the AACC as a source of comfort. “I think it’s important to get back to the roots and always make sure I have that family at the AACC,” West said.
The sense of being active in her involvement allows her to have some sense of her home environment while at school. Although it is difficult for West to maintain her involvement with the AACC due to having her hectic schedule, she manages to stop by as often as she can, especially when she doesn’t have a meeting for Campus Curlz to attend.
West described her experience at UConn and the usefulness of the AACC, saying, “the minority population on campus is so small and I’m so used to being the outsider within a group. For example, on the cheer team there’s not many minorities, so the AACC is a great community to be around, especially since I come from an inner city. That’s what I’m used to.”
The AACC allows for West, as well as other students in her position, to gain a sense of community at a predominately white institution. Regardless of where one goes on campus, they will stick out and be the outsider that West referenced when referring to herself. However, the AACC changes that for the given moment that one is there.
West’s involvement allowed her to gain connections and expand into her current leadership position as the vice president of the organization Campus Curlz, which meets bi-weekly in the AACC. A simple conversation with a friend, who attends Hampton University and is where the idea for Campus Curlz originated, sparked conversation between West and Marlene Kabeya, the current president of the organization at UConn.
West and Kabeya acted on inspiration and put their words into action. The initiation of the organization led West to gaining connections with students throughout the campus. She refers to the decisions for this newly made club as being trial and error, so as an organization, the executive board is finding what works for them in their attempts to keep it going, even after they graduate.
West not only balances the weight of cheerleading and Campus Curlz, but she is a nursing student as well, which demands a lot of her time. While West admits that sometimes it is hard balancing Campus Curlz, cheerleading and her academics, she explained, “if you care about something, you’ll find time, so I have to make it work. I don’t know how I do it, I just do.”
West puts time into everything that she does. While it may appear to be a lot to bear, she enjoys every bit of her experience. She explained her love for being kept busy, otherwise she wouldn’t know what to do with her time. She plans to use the undergraduate degree that she will attain in nursing to propel her on her path to becoming an APRN.
West believes, “If you want something you’ll make it work, no one’s ever too busy. There’s always time to find to do something.” She makes it work for her every day on campus, through finding time to serve as a leader on Campus Curlz as the vice president, being a mentor in cheerleading on top of her existing responsibilities and keeping her academics up to par.
Hanaisha Lewis is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.