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Aug. 13, 2014

Jolisa Brooks: If Not Me, Then Who?

August 13, 2014

When it comes to getting involved in social issues senior Jolisa Brooks feels passionate about, the political theory and constitutional democracy major asks herself one question: “If not me, then who?” Jolisa has found her voice and already is making an impact by educating college women about preventing sexual assault and relationship violence and leading intercultural events as a resident assistant. Inspired by a study abroad experience in Madagascar, the Detroit native plans to pursue a career in international development and hopes to add her voice to community revitalization efforts—around the world and in her hometown.

I always viewed universities as “dream sellers.” They create a façade and invite you and your money to be a part of it. But Michigan State was different. It did not sell me a dream, but it altered my reality and changed my life for the better. I know that college years are for wanderlust, selfishness, self-discovery and recovery, and I have experienced all of that during my time at MSU.

The moment I arrived in East Lansing, I felt an overwhelming sense of community. Out of 50,000 students, I felt important. A large part of that is attributed to my family in James Madison College. Being a member of a residential college has provided me with a rigorous academic experience, but has also challenged my beliefs, ideas and perspectives about life.

I remember being a freshman and a professor telling me that despite my insecurities and anxieties, that here is where I belonged. The faculty are tough and demanding, but in the same hand, loving and nurturing. They are the life of the college.

I have also met the most amazing friends who, like me, are opinionated, passionate, and just plain awesome. James Madison has allowed me to grow as a scholar and a person.

MSU has allowed me to see the world by participating in one of the best study abroad programs in the country. In the summer of 2012, I journeyed to Madagascar as a 19 year-old liberal black girl from Detroit. My ideas about privilege and injustice were shaped by my American experience, and I viewed the world accordingly. I projected my American perspectives on the rest of the world, and studying in Mada helped me realize my naivety.

While in Madagascar I saw unparalleled natural beauty juxtaposed by extreme human suffering, and for the first time I saw myself. My journey to Madagascar has been the most transformative part of my undergraduate experience because it widened my perspective. It enabled me to see that privilege transcends color, class and gender.

Since my return, I have discovered that I want to dedicate my life to a career in international development, and that is all due to a summer study abroad. I have also been blessed to visit Beijing, China, with MSU in the spring of 2013, and I traveled to the United Kingdom this summer. One of the best parts of being a Spartan is being global!

Being a peer educator for the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence (SARV) Prevention Program at MSU has been one of the greatest work experiences in my life. The purpose of SARV is to educate students about sexual assault and relationship violence in efforts to decrease occurrences of these acts and to foster a supportive campus environment. My work at SARV strives to demystify the fallacy that victims are to blame for their abuse, and that people bring violence or sexual assault on themselves. I hope that message is received by the participants, and I hope it makes a difference at MSU.

Last year I competed in the Miss Black and Gold scholarship pageant, and I am proud to say that I won on the local and district level, and I competed in Nebraska this spring. The purpose of the pageant, which is sponsored by the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the oldest black Greek letter fraternity, is to promote academic excellence, leadership development and, most important, service and advocacy on behalf of the black community.

The Black and Gold experience holds a special place in my heart because it provided me with a space outside of academia to express myself and display my nonacademic talents like dancing and public speaking.

Photo by Kurt Stepnitz, video by Communication and Brand Strategy

Learn more about Jolisa and other students who were part of the President's Report, MSU Inside Out.