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Leadership Highlight

Leadership Highlight: Ian Finley the SGA President of Shaw University

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to Shaw University and did an interview with Ian Finley the 2020-2021 Student Government Association president.

The position of SGA president is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Finley, who is majoring in Political Science, is from Nassau, Bahamas.

We interviewed Finley, and talked to him about his position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in 2021.

Read the full interview below.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned as an SGA president so far?

The biggest thing I have learned is that sometimes less is more. The pandemic has forced me to rethink and change many plans and initiatives I had originally intended on completing. However, the opportunity has allowed me to focus on what I can do and do it well. We all know that to whom much is given much is required. But I have learned that to whom little is given, much more effort is needed in the face of adversity.

What made you decide to attend Shaw University for undergrad?

Growing up in the Bahamas I idolized HBCU culture, especially the marching band. Receiving a band scholarship to an HBCU was considered a coveted honor among my peers. So, when I received an offer to play in the Platinum Sound Marching Band Drumline at Shaw University it was like a dream come true. The transition to the US was made easy because there was already a strong Bahamian student presence on campus through alumni and current students. Most of all, Shaw University resembles the community where I came from; strong, intellectual, black excellence. So, I knew I would not have a hard time trying to get my bearings.

How has Shaw University molded you into the person you are today?

The moment I stepped foot on campus I knew that I had to become something greater than myself because I wanted to embody the likes of alumna Ella Baker. Shaw provides the blueprint of leadership, from the legacy in civil rights alone to being the first HBCU in the South and the birthplace of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The family environment also played a major role in molding me into who I am because university administration believes in students. In my freshman year I saw the need to establish an International Students Association, and with the help of my friends and university administration we were able to get it done.

What specific initiatives have you headed up this year and how do you think they will improve the school and surrounding community?

Despite challenges associated with the pandemic, my administration has made considerable contributions to our surrounding community and the HBCU Community at large. Throughout the recent presidential election season, SGA has partnered with Greek Organizations and Student-Athletes to get students registered to vote. This effort was specifically tailored to encourage our students to stay safe and vote by mail or to vote early to avoid long lines at the polls. We also launched a Hurricane Dorian relief drive on campus so that our campus Community could donate hand-sanitizers, masks and gloves to students of Xavier University and Dillard University. Being from the Bahamas, I’m no stranger to the devastation that hurricanes cause so I was more than grateful to be in a position to lend a helping hand.

In understanding the common economic plight of most college students we’ve launched a project, called the “Downtown Raleigh Initiative”, to encourage local businesses and merchants to grant Shaw Students discounts on products and services. We hope to create a symbiotic relationship with this project by increasing foot traffic into their business while students can take advantage of discounts.

How is your school currently responding to the coronavirus and what is your SGA administration doing to help students? 

With the growing concerns of the pandemic, Shaw University continues to proceed with caution in knowing that COVID-19 negatively affects minority communities most. In response we’ve adopted the hybrid-learning model, combining in-person, ZOOM, and fully online classes. This has afforded every student the peace of mind of knowing that educational resources and facilities are available to them, while remaining safe. The university has also made changes to our Fall and Spring calendar in hopes of limiting student travel between home and campus. In addition, we’ve added “Wellness Days” to the calendar to allow students to take a mental break during these stressful circumstances. From SGA, we continue to share free local testing locations on our social media outlets to provide students more than enough opportunity to stay safe and know their status.

What does leadership mean to you?

Before my current role, I’ve always been reluctant to follow the ways inexperienced leadership. Thus leadership to me now, and forever will be, to lead by example. I hold myself to such a high standard that those around me would always feel a sense of urgency to make themselves better.

Leadership is also about understanding that you are in place to serve, not to be served. Respect and deference is a two-way street. Lastly, leadership is temporary and change is inevitable, so it is important to not hold back the knowledge that the position has afforded you to simply hinder the success of who may follow you. As a leader I am in the business of teaching how to fish rather than giving away fish everyday.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think schools need to do to represent themselves online in 2021?

While the education market on social media continues to become more competitive and concentrated, I believe that HBCU’s should start tailoring their marketing to more minority communities. Smaller HBCU’s continue to suffer the consequences of lack of popularity associated with followers. And I think a great way to change the narrative would be to target the Latino, Jewish, and LGBTQ communities with more socially-conscious posts. Also, schools should focus marketing more on academics, rather than student-life. Making detailed curriculum-based information easily accessible into common terms on social media platforms would be a great way for schools to represent themselves online.

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

Watch the Yard provides a platform for the HBCU community to share in each other’s success and struggles. It is important for students, alumni, and fans to indulge in our evolving culture of black excellence so that we know that the bond extends across campuses, state-lines, and even countries

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

After graduation, I plan to attend law school in the fall.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Ian Finley for his work as the SGA president of Shaw University.

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