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Leadership Highlight

Leadership Highlight: University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s SGA President Cairo Harris

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and did an interview with Cairo Harris 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. Harris, who is majoring in Criminal Justice, is from Baltimore, Maryland.

We interviewed Cairo Harris, and talked to her about her 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?

As SGA President the most important thing I have learned is purpose and passion. By no means has this been easy. Advocating for not only my peers and friends but for myself has been fulfilling, but the driving force was learning how important the purpose of why I was elected to be that advocate for my campus community. Being President is a selfless responsibility and called for me to utilize my passion for change to shed a light on what our university family needed and wanted. This called for me to learn that I would been in spaces where I would need to speak up about the things maybe someone else would be unable to speak about. This allowed for me to hear the many stories of Hawks from around the world and how the University of Maryland Eastern Shore was a place that gave many people an opportunity to experience something beyond what society already decided was their outcome.

What made you decide to attend the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for undergrad?

I chose to attend the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, home of the Hawks, because of its breathtaking nature which is unfamiliar to me as a Baltimore native. In my experience I do consider myself well traveled, being that my family is from Kingston Jamaica and Nassau Bahamas but the beauty of the Eastern Shore was a feeling I could not say no to for my 4 years. Just down the road in Talbot county and Cambridge Maryland prolific leaders like Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglas trailblazers of our world proved to me that the Eastern Shore was a place for leaders, a place for change, and a place to be unapologetically proud to be Black. UMES was a no brainer!

How has the University of Maryland Eastern Shore molded you into the person you are today?

“No Justice, No peace!” was a chant I shouted at the small meak age of 5. I marched along protesters at the Jena 6 protest in Washington DC in the early 2000’s. As a 5 year old kindergartener, I already knew I had a passion for leadership. I insisted that my mother take me to visit Obama when he came to speak in Baltimore when I was 5 as well. As a 14 year old I initiated a complaint on my own and won a settlement against a company that mistreated Black youth. It was always in me, but as time has glided by I found myself here in a space where my leadership was able to be motivated, guided, and it was able to grow. UMES molded my confidence in my voice. UMES allowed for me to be me, creative and different, while also giving me the tools to be that and impact more than I could imagine. I started off a as freshman Caribbean American girl from Baltimore, and I am exiting this spring a degreed leader. All thanks to the hope that UMES has given me and everyone else who walks through these doors.

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?

One the main goals for SGA this school year was to reengage students with campus resources on and off campus. This includes providing and setting students up with financial aid plans and internship opportunities. One initiative we planned is to host a resource fair that allowed for coordination with campus departments like Counseling Services and Title IX and more. We also plan to collaborate with Financial Aid on campus to initiate a month to educate students about financial aid, scholarships and how to complete the FASFA. Within our administration, the Dreamstille Administration, new places on campus like Tropical Smoothie and Milk and Honey Restaurant opened on our campus. Another important movement we hoped to accomplish was to get the pool opened. The pool had been closed for over 4 years. Our pool will now be open this spring.

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

The Dreamstille Administration SGA has made efforts to educate students about mental health by inviting Counseling Services to come to our town-hall especially in the wake of events that took place at Maryland HBCUs this past homecoming. We also recognized not every student on our campus enjoys parties or extroverted activities. With that we have hosted events like paint nights, open mics, and pop up shops to allow our students a place to express themselves in every capacity. We also plan to have a dedicated Mental Health Day which will give students a moment to interact with each other, support each other, and learn about many ways to decompress. We hope to have dogs and kittens there to pet and educate on how animals aid in mental health. We also will have a sound bath room dedicated to education through the healing power of music and sound frequencies.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership to me is about being selfless and outspoken. To me you need to understand the students and what they want but also knowing the small things that need to be tweaked and speaking up for it with a strong voice.

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

To represent online, schools need to offer students an opportunity to lead in online spaces. Currently our administration in collaboration with Admissions joined efforts by reigniting the UMES Street Team. The UMES Street Team is an organization that is dedicated to showcasing student life from the lens of students via social media. This team effort from our school highlights what the UMES experience looks like. @umesstreet

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

Watch The Yard is very important for Black students in college because it is a space that specifically highlights student life and all the achievements of the Black community. Without spaces like this especially living in a digital age, we wouldn’t have many spaces as Black college students to showcase our excellence.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school to study international relations to enhance my skills (especially including my background studying Chinese for nearly 10 years and traveling to three of the seven continents) and helping my community and engaging globally. I expect to graduate with my masters in two years, and then travel the world, helping the youth first in Baltimore and then places like the Caribbean and in Africa.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Cairo Harris for her work as the SGA president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

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