Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Creating connections with the Black Faculty and Staff Alliance

Friday, August 27, 2021
Director of Learning Assistance Programs WyKeshia Atkins advises freshman Ian Billiot (left) and sophomore Christen Griffin at the Black Faculty and Staff Meet and Greet. Billiot, who said he is an advocate for mental health, connected with a campus counselor at the event.
Photo by Nicolette Baker

In the Dempster atrium Wednesday evening, Black faculty and staff members met with students to create, foster and deepen connections on campus.

"I would've dropped out if I did not know these people and I wasn't part of the programs they told me to go to," senior Camille Shoals said. “I’m proud to admit that, because we need to understand these resources are very important for students of color.”

The meet and greet event is in its seventh year, Dean of Students and Vice President for Equity, Access and Behavioral Health Sonia Rucker said.

Political science and communication studies major Shoals said the community of Black faculty and staff members at Southeast helped her build confidence, network and navigate the many challenges of college life.

While she said there aren't any Black faculty members in her academic departments, events such as Wednesday’s meet and greet helped her to connect with a support system.

According to statistics provided by Southeast’s Office of Institutional Research, 8.4% of students and 4% of instructional staff are Black or African American at SEMO, according to Fall 2020 and Fall 2019 data, respectively.

Four of associate professor Shonta Smith’s student mentees have graduated; it hasn’t stopped them from all keeping in touch, she said. Faculty members play a vital role in providing resources and support to students, especially through events such as the meet and greet.

“This is for incoming freshmen that are Black and brown, just to give them an overview so they can get to see people on campus that look like them,” she said. “Because we’re so spread out all over campus, they might not meet anybody. This just brings us together.”

In addition to meeting new faces, students also reconnected with familiar faculty and staff. Sophomore Christen Griffin said he first met Associate Vice President for Equity and Access Trent Ball two years ago at a St. Louis Boys and Girls club.

“Trent [Ball] is basically like a father to me,” Griffin said.

Others found new connections with individuals offering resources on campus. Freshman Ian Billiot said he met counselor Dinia Jenkins at the event.

“Mental health is important, and I’m an advocate for that,” Billiot said. “I think she’ll be a big help.”

Shoals shared her contact information for students seeking support, guidance or networking.

“Contact me at, if you need me,” she said. “I’m a student worker and also a student. I know what it’s like to not know what to do and then need it done, and not have it done. It sucks.”

This event was hosted by the Black Faculty and Staff Alliance and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. For more information about the alliance, visit their website.