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Providing a Voice for the Systemically Suppressed With Erykah Pasha ’24 on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
From an early age, Erykah Pasha ’24 has been driven to help provide a voice for those who have been systematically oppressed and suppressed in their community.
Originally when Pasha enrolled, they felt passionately that becoming a lawyer was the best way to bring about change in their community. But Pasha soon realized the legal field wasn’t for them, and instead, set their sights on earning dual degrees in political science and sociology in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Since embarking on this journey, Pasha credits the University for providing them with the resources and, more importantly, the opportunities to effect change. Included in those efforts are Pasha’s involvement with a local organization, Layla’s Got You. The organization educates women of color about reproductive and sexual wellness issues while engaging with a community that often feels neglected, Pasha says.
“Syracuse just always seemed like it was going to be the place for me to go, and since I started going here, it’s clear that was the right choice for me,” Pasha says. “My education has allowed me to improve my own engagement with my community here in the City of Syracuse.”
When they graduate, Pasha plans on assisting marginalized communities and citizens through policy and political engagement.
This summer, Pasha is participating in a highly competitive and prestigious public affairs experience, serving as a research assistant at the University of Michigan through the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP). Pasha will assist Lydia Kelow-Bennett, assistant professor of Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan, on a book proposal on Black women in popular culture.
On this “’Cuse Conversation,” Pasha, a Kessler Scholar and McNair Scholar, discusses their research, how they hopes to create change through this summer experience and how they found their voice through their time on campus.
As Pride Month is celebrated across the country, Pasha, who identifies as queer, shares how both the Intercultural Collective and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Resource Center play a pivotal role in their development as a campus leader and how the programs and engagement efforts offered through the LGBTQ Resource Center created a home-away-from-home atmosphere.
Check out episode 141 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Pasha. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01What kind of research will you be conducting as part of the SROP at the University of Michigan, and why is this a topic that’s important to you?
I’m super excited about it. I’m helping Assistant Professor Lydia Kelow-Bennett on her book proposal that’s on Black women in popular culture today. I’ll be helping with the literature review, the bibliography and more. It will involve a lot of reading and writing, but I’m excited because it’s about all types of things I’m interested in. She does a lot of work in Black queer theory and Black feminist theory, and this is going to tie a lot of that into the book.
I am a Black woman, so first and foremost this is a personal topic for me, but also, when you look at a lot of media today, a lot of it comes from and is inspired and influenced by Black women. Simultaneously, the contributions and influences from Black women are disregarded a lot of times. So a book like this and studies on this topic are important to both acknowledge and give flowers to an entire group of people that a lot of times are disregarded.
02What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received at Syracuse?
Bringing it back to the Kessler Scholars Program, my meetings have really helped me develop into the leader I am. And it was something that our past director, Huey Hsiao, always mentioned to me: Don’t be scared to explore different things. When I came in at Syracuse, I was dead set on being a lawyer. Huey let me know to not be afraid to explore other clubs or groups on campus that didn’t pertain to law. I did that, and I ended up finding other things that really interested me. We have all of these resources and programs that you can take part in on campus. It’s important to really take advantage of that and don’t be scared to step outside of the box.
03What does Pride Month mean to you?
It’s important to note that Pride and the celebrations came from the Stonewall Riots, an uprising in New York City [in 1969]. The year afterwards, that was the first Pride Parade, and it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of this comes from our struggles and it comes from fighting back.
But there is also that celebration piece, acknowledging who we are as people. We can be who we want to be, who we feel we are. That deserves to be celebrated in all the ways it can show up, whether it’s your gender identity or sexual identity. Being you and being open to expressing that and feeling safe that you won’t face retribution or backlash from that. Being open and free and also knowing we still have a lot to fight for.
04Just how special of a place and a resource is the LGBTQ Resource Center here on campus?
I love the LGBTQ Resource Center. We’re always putting together great programs that engage with the queer community on campus in different ways. We have affinity groups. Every fall we have the HalloQueen Ball, and in the spring, we have Queer Prom. We’re always doing things to engage with the queer community and let LGBTQ people know that there is a place for you to feel safe, heard and seen, where you’re okay. You really do feel a sense of that when you step into the space.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.