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Leadership Highlight: Tennessee State University’s SGA President Derrell Taylor

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to Tennessee State University and did an interview with Derrell Taylor the 2023-2024 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. Taylor, who is majoring in Business Administration – Management, is from Memphis, TN. He is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.’s Beta Omicron Chapter.

We interviewed Derrell Taylor, and talked to him about his position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in 2023-2024.

Read the full interview below.

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

I believed the biggest thing I’ve learned so far is to understand the value in of being a man of the people. The relationships I have gained, the opportunities I have had to mentor and build younger students, and the opportunity to represent the student body daily has taught me so much about what it takes to lead and serve a large number of individuals. Being a man of the people means more than throwing exciting events or presenting empowering speeches. It is the day to day interactions with others that truly influence and impact the next person.

What made you decide to attend Tennessee State University for undergrad?

I chose to attend Tennessee State University because it chose me first. As I began to consider different colleges, I found myself attracted to schools that I felt valued community, career development, and culture. It was on my agenda to attend an HBCU, but coming from a predominantly black area (Memphis, TN), I wanted to ensure I would be in an atmosphere that was designed to embrace who I am and who I desired to become as I matriculate through college. Upon high school graduation, I was fortunate enough to receive a full ride scholarship from Tennessee State University. It meant a lot to me to be invested into by TSU; an investment that would allow me to attend college without placing a financial burden on my family. This was one of the best decisions I could have ever made pertaining to my academic advancement.

How has Tennessee State University molded you into the person you are today?

Tennessee State University has molded me into the person I am today by its ability to build me up as a young man, scholar, and servant to the community. Since my arrival to TSU, a countless amount of people have personally invested in me and have demonstrated the impact of attending an HBCU in general. Without Tennessee State, I would not understand the importance of networking and leadership development. From the “HBCU intro and elevator pitch” to understanding how to connect and follow up with your constituents, I have grown so much professionally since my time at TSU. My HBCU has also molded my character by pushing and preparing me to compete globally. It was the career counselors and professors inside the classroom who have pushed me to apply for internships and attend career fairs. This has provided me with so many opportunities, including 2 internships. Finally, the culture at TSU has molded me by allowing me to embrace my potential due to the inclusive and motivating atmosphere.

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?

During my administration, we have been intentional on addressing specific student concerns and areas of growth on our campus. We have been able to establish student committees that function alongside SGA. This allows students without leadership positions to develop direct relationships with student leaders in order to collaborate on the decisions or initiatives developed. The committees are: Student Concern, Civic Engagement, and DE&I. My administration has also developed an appreciation & development project for our marching band, the “Aristocrat of Bands”. This was a great opportunity to highlight the hardworking members of our band by awarding paraphernalia, and developing a 5 year plan to revamp their practice fields. Lastly, my administration has been focused on addressing the $2.1 Billion dollar underfunding of our institution. This has motivated us to take the lead on resolving the nation-wide issue of HBCUs being underinvested in.

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

The 83rd SGA Administration has issued a response to the mental health concerns by meeting with University administration to improve the university counseling center with a goal of fostering collaboration between this office and the student body more consistently. We were able to produce a week full of activities catered to understanding how to tend to your mental health. The Mental Health Week, “Tiger Wellness Week”, began with an event that discussed understanding your emotions and properly releasing them. The event featured a presentation from a university counselor and included making custom stress balls and personal journals. This event also included a yoga session. The remaining events throughout included a walk/run, breakfast, movie & relaxation night, and much more! The university is also working on relocating and expanding our counseling center to include more services. We, as students, are proud that TSU is committed to providing mental health resources for our campus.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is defined to me as the impact that is made on others. Management and leadership mean two completely different things to me. Leadership is the ability to trust your team and motivate them to continue raising the standard or expectation of the project. Leadership includes mentoring, lifting up, and being a role model figure to the ones you serve. Finally, being a leader means bracing yourself to ride the highs and lows of your team, taking responsibility for the shortcomings, but giving credit to your team for the victories.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think schools need to do to represent themselves online in 2023/2024?

I believe schools should receive more resources to further receive education on the advancements and development of technology. Institutions should also implement a plan of action for understanding the world of AI and social media.

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

I think Watch The Yard is important to Black students because it is necessary to be aware of the activities happing across HBCUs. It is essential to keep a network between each institution so that we are growing as a family. This applies to students, organizations, alumni, faculty, etc.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

I plan on exploring public advocacy. This will provide me the opportunities to continue advocating for HBCU and the issues of our communities.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Derrell Taylor for his work as the SGA president of Tennessee State University.

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