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Leadership Highlight

Leadership Highlight: Clark University’s SGA President Sofia Bishop

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to Clark University and did an interview with Sofía Bishop 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. Bishop, who is majoring in Management (Marketing Concentration), is from Westchester, NY.

We interviewed Sofía Bishop, 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?

Serving as Clark University’s undergraduate student body president is a fantastic opportunity. You have the chance to bring in ideas that hopefully transform the community, center student voices within the academic institution, and revitalize the college experience. The biggest thing I’ve learned as student body president is the importance of giving oneself grace. Serving in this position is naturally isolating and unforgiving; As Clark’s first Black, Afro Latina, and openly disabled student body president, I often find myself navigating the pressures of being a “first” and wanting to do right by the communities I represent. Imposter syndrome is incredibly real, especially because most undergraduate students do not see the hours spent in meetings with university leadership, completing research on campus-wide issues, or building on-campus advocacy coalitions. It is a labor of love but still unforgiving labor.

I recently had the opportunity to welcome the incoming Class of 2026 to our Clark community. I told them the following: “If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself wanting to be flawless, but college is not about getting an A on every paper, or receiving every accolade, but rather about not always knowing, slowing down, and looking across the table at all of the people who are always rooting for you and have your back. Being perfect is an illusion”. Understanding perfection is not realistic is easier said than done. My position can sometimes feel like a battle, I always push myself to achieve and be the leader I know my peers deserve. I’m constantly learning, and while I am in my senior year, I know that my legacy is just beginning.

I continued by explaining that “Sometimes finding yourself can be a messy and unforgiving process, but I hope in these moments you remember that you are each at Clark for a reason. You each have the opportunity to define your legacy and impact on this campus. So take a chance, bet on yourself- who knows, you may end up on this stage telling the first years how your mom was right about buying everything from Bed Bath & Beyond for the first year move in. I took a chance on Clark, on myself, and it was the best decision ever. I hope each of you takes this same opportunity, immerse yourself into campus life and define what it means for YOU to be a Clarkie”.

What made you decide to attend Clark University for undergrad?

Turbulent is the word I would use to describe my college application process. I am often met with shock when recounting my journey that led me to Clark, but Clark University was not my first choice. A running familial joke is that I went to Clark kicking and screaming, but my love for Clark was undoubtedly a slow burn. After ten months of countless medical appointments and testing, in December 2018, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It wrecked my senior year of high school. Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system and causes severe stomach pain, chronic fatigue, and ongoing joint pain, among other physical and emotional symptoms. I finally had a medical diagnosis that explained the ten-month struggle while juggling the enormous pressures of honors classes, rowing on a club team, and the SAT. Despite my best efforts, my senior year remained very challenging. I was forced to rethink the college application process in its entirety. Questions of “How close is the dining hall to the first year dorm?” and “How active is the Black Student Union?” were quickly replaced by grimmer statements such as “What is the university’s proximity to the nearest hospital?” and “Can she even attend an out of state university?”. I felt defeated and limited, as many of my top choice schools no longer fit into this box I was now constricted in. I was one of few Black women in my high school, and I was fatigued by the overt racism I faced from peers and ready for my next chapter.

My mother found Clark University featured in a book called Colleges that Change Lives by Loren Pope, and was sold. Clark was the first school in the country to offer an accelerated five-year bachelor’s and master’s degree program with the fifth year tuition-free. It is a liberal arts-based research university where the rallying cry “Challenge Convention, Change Our World” inspires the community. Its academic philosophy was rooted in intimate classroom settings and experiential learning. The typical ‘Clarkie’ is quirky but resilient. It was also a fifteen minute drive from a major hospital and an hour away from Boston. It was everything my predominantly white catholic single-sex independent high school was not. She loved it. I did not see how I would fit. In line with my mother’s persona, we visited Clark anyway. My opinion did not change. I applied, hoping that Clark would slip out of her mind. It did not, especially when I was awarded a competitive merit scholarship. The decision was made, and I placed a bet on Clark University. I spent the summer worrying about how I would fit in, hoping to meet other students of color, and applied for their BIPOC-centered pre-orientation program, Connections@Clark. This five-day, leadership-themed program for incoming first-year and transfer students of color changed everything for me. The Connections program was how I formed friendships, became more confident in myself, and served as an incubator for me to be equipped to work in social justice circles. I attribute my whole Clark experience to my time spent during the program and will always be grateful for it. Connections provided me with what felt like (and continues to feel like a safety net). It’s a space where I feel seen, safe, and welcomed as a Black woman on campus. My peers from my cohort turned into lifelong friends. My mentors became colleagues and role models for me in spaces beyond the program. I continue to feel the effects of that program as an upperclassman. My mentors were change agents on campus who showed me how to turn my struggles into fuel. My connections mentor, Eunice Dollete was the first non-binary student of color who served as student body president during my first year. I would later serve as student body Vice President with my other connections mentor, Jackie Madrigal. She served as student body president for the 2021-2022 academic year. Clark molded me into who I am because I was provided with mentors whose impact exceeded their job description. They embody Clark’s core value of social justice, and their lessons reach beyond identity. Clark provided me with this incredible experience. By the first week, I was comfortable. By my first year, I was empowered, and now in my fourth year pursuing my accelerated master’s- I am empowering others.

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?

This past Spring, our executive board ran on a platform focusing on:

Institutional Accountability

Holistic Student Wellness

Supporting students who are affected by the merger of Clark University and Becker College.

Justice & Equity.

Like many higher education institutions, Clark University experienced a racial reckoning admin the murder of George Floyd. Our Black Student Union released a list of demands and formed a coalition with the Clark Undergraduate Student Council (CUSC), hoping to advance anti-racism initiatives. As the last remaining founding member of that coalition, we call for the university to continue the conversation around the Black Student Union’s 2020 Demands. Our then university leadership had no racial diversity and an open posting for a Chief Officer of Diversity of Inclusion. These demands laid the groundwork to change that, and the composition of university leadership reflects that. Our executive board hopes to collaborate with the newly appointed Chief Officer of Diversity & Inclusion, Margo Foreman, on building an accessible and responsive Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) office that centers student needs when providing direction on institutional change. We also hope to continue to support our office of Identity, Student Engagement, and Access (commonly known as ISEA) in cultivating spaces for historically marginalized students and facilitating vital pre-orientation programs for BIPOC and first-generation students, such as Connections@Clark.

This rallying cry is not limited to racial justice. We hope to strengthen support for other on-campus activism groups that are woven into the Clark fabric that work to combat on-campus ableism, food insecurity, xenophobia, and classism. We want to ensure the Food Insecurity Resistance Movement (FIRM), Access@ClarkU, SeeYou Collective, and International Students Rights Coalition (ISRC) are empowered to receive tangible resources from the university while honoring its roots in student leadership. Clarkies are always challenging convention, and its our duty to stand with them. Throughout our campaign, we prompted students to “Dare To Look Forward” with us. We wanted them to envision a university where students are consulted on major decisions that affect campus life, such as tuition increases and Covid-19 health and safety policies. Our vision is rooted in initiatives that empower students to be more than bodies in a classroom but powerful thought partners.

How is your SGA administration/school currently working on attending to the mental health of students?

Holistic student wellness has come to the forefront of student needs and now that we have just wrapped up our fall general elections within the student council, we are excited to launch our class, hall, and identity based representatives to work with university offices to advance mental health resources for our undergraduate community. Since the pandemic, the office of Identity, Student Engagement, and Access has worked incredibly hard to cultivate resources for students to gain access to on campus and off campus counselors, address issues such as imposter syndrome and trauma based support, and launch student leaders to become peer workers. Student mental health took center stage last year as some of our representatives and executive board created an initiative to reform our Title IX office and reinstate wellness days into our academic calendar!

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is about serving as a frontline responder and disrupter while building community. Communities connect us, ease the pain of our struggles, and unite us on critical social issues. As a student leader, I pride myself on fostering an inclusive environment where its members feel safe, respected, and connected. As a disrupter and frontline responder, I consistently infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion in every space I engage in. I often find I’m most satisfied in my work when addressing community crises and taking uncomfortable actions to build power and shake the status quo. It fuels me!

We now live in a digital world, what do you think schools need to do to represent themselves online in 2022/2023?

I think that it’s important for institutions to highlight student life and achievement. I feel for students who went through the application process during the height of the pandemic, so many prospective students did not get the opportunity to really see what it would be like to immerse themselves in student life!! This really forced universities to pivot in their branding and marketing strategies. I’d really like to see them continue to do that and utilize social media!

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black students and college culture?

Watch the Yard is important to college culture and Black students because it highlights the positive things we’re doing on college campuses and gives highschool students a real look into Black college life at both HBCU’s and PWI’s. Its so important to be able to provide students with that perspective so they can find and build their own communities at their institutions!

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

After graduation, I will be continuing my course work for my Masters in Science in Communications with a specialization in Public Relations. I hope to help companies craft corporate messages that infuse the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion and inclusive marketing!

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Sofía Bishop for her work as the SGA president of Clark University.

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