In an effort to highlight the people who are leading colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to Claflin University and did an interview with Otiana Thompson the 2022-2023 Student Government Association president.
The position of SGA president is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes in being elected by their peers to lead. Thompson, who is majoring in Africana Studies and History (Double Major), is from Columbia, SC. She is a proud Spring 2021 initiate of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
We interviewed Otiana Thompson, and talked to her about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in 2022-2023.
Read the full interview below.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned as an SGA president so far?
Since becoming SGA president, I’ve learned how important it is to empower students to utilize their voices. I believe as a student leader; my job is not just to advocate for the needs of students but to help them recognize the power they hold as students. By coming together, we can work as a united front to instill change and show students’ buy-in.
What made you decide to attend Claflin University for undergrad?
I chose to attend Claflin University for undergrad because I wanted to be in a space that would cultivate my being as a Black woman and challenge my mind as an emerging visionary leader. As the oldest and boldest HBCU in South Carolina, Claflin has consistently remained in the top ten for HBCUs, being the #1 institution for Alumni Giving. It has provided numerous scholarships for students of all backgrounds and makes everyone feel like they exist as a part of a larger family. The pride you develop within yourself throughout your matriculation is what we call the Claflin Confidence. Not only do we enter rooms knowing our worth, but also the knowledge we hope to share with others. I knew after my visit that I wanted to be a Claflinite with the dream that one day I would pour into the cup of another student the same way Claflin has poured into me.
How has Claflin University molded you into the person you are today?
Claflin University has taught me that I’m more than a number, a resume, or a hashtag, but a human being whose voice deserves to be heard and understood. I’ve found that through developing the Claflin confidence, I’ve been able to enter spaces outside of my HBCU and overcome any adversity that comes my way. My professors have helped me to realize that to make a better world for people who look like me; I must be committed to the fight and struggle that comes with it. Not only does this challenge the way I approach situations, but also the vision I have for my future. When I leave Claflin, I know I’ll be ready to make my mark on the world because I have an amazing community supporting me.
What specific initiatives have you headed up this year (or are planning) and how do you think they will improve the school and surrounding community?
As the 64th SGA President, my administration focuses on building UNITY amongst the students, faculty, and alums to change our campus culture. Recently we’ve partnered with other campus organizations for HBCU Week to sponsor voter registration drives, a campus-wide clean-up, and spotlight students’ success. In addition, we’ve built a stronger relationship with faculty and administrators by hosting monthly Town Hall meetings, focusing on areas throughout campus and the Orangeburg Community, and improving communication about SGA through social media and our new Panther-X app. We’re currently working to partner with Alumni to offer students more career and academic opportunities, along with creating a Claflin Day of Remembrance where we will honor Claflin students and faculty who passed during our matriculation. We hope that through more dynamic programming, we can foster more student engagement and pride throughout campus.
How is your SGA administration/school currently working on attending to the mental health of students?
Claflin University’s Student Government Association is committed to creating a safe and healthy environment that promotes the health and wellness of every student. We fully support the rise in community dialogue about mental health throughout our campus, where newly created campus organizations such as Triumph Over Tragedy, Mentally Me, SMILE, and others seek to address the need for students to understand and prioritize their mental health. As SGA, we are currently working with our school’s administration to implement mental health days for the upcoming semester to allow students to focus on alleviating stress and anxiety. We’re also planning a Wellness Carnival for the spring that will feature different wellness activities on campus, such as yoga, health screenings, arts and crafts, service animals, and others, while also having students pledge to fight against the stigma of mental health within the Black community.
What does leadership mean to you?
To me, leadership means bringing others up and empowering a team of people to invest in themselves and their future. As leaders, we must be committed to transforming the lives of others. That can only be done through relationship building, employing a collective voice, and supporting others who are just as passionate about changing the culture as I am.
We now live in a digital world, what do you think schools need to do to represent themselves online in 2022/2023?
In addition to technological advancements of the past two decades that have made communication faster and easier, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced me to consider how we effectively engage with our communities in an accessible way. One major aspect of this engagement is branding. The most successful HBCUs have climbed to the top because they have very distinct brands, most of which are recognizable even outside of the HBCU community. Therefore, HBCUs must enhance their online presence across all platforms through intentional branding, highlighting their institutional strengths. Ultimately, telling a story must be the foundation of any digital strategy. We need to be able to tell our story and tell it better than anybody else.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black students and college culture?
Watch the Year provides a platform for uplifting and celebrating Black cultures throughout our extended HBCU community. It is a digital Mecca for Black culture that must be observed and acknowledged for its work to spotlight HBCUs and Black college students.
What do you plan on doing after graduation?
I plan to obtain my Ph. D. in Africana Studies or History and teach at an HBCU post doc. I also want to represent my state of South Carolina one day as a U.S. senator focusing on educational equity and equality.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Otiana Thompson for her work as the SGA president of Claflin University.