Jailani Harris’ hard work recognized with Rising Star award
Attending college is generally considered a chance for young adults to prepare for a career.
For senior Jailani Harris (’22), choosing Loras College has proven to be transformative experience.
In the past year, she has helped found a student organization focused on inclusion, worked in the Office of Student Affairs as the first-year experience coordinator and shifted her focus to pursuing a career in student affairs in higher education.
Originally from Oak Lawn, Ill., Harris came to Loras as a volleyball recruit. She didn’t know what she wanted to study, but through the encouragement of multiple faculty and staff, she has found her voice and her path. And it started with a simple suggestion she offered to someone else.
A member of the Black Student Union (BSU), Harris found some frustration with getting non-black students to attend the organization’s meeting and events. While she was hoping to forge connections and start conversations, she was met, instead, with reluctance.
“They were hesitant because they thought it was just for black people, even though it was open to everyone,” she explained. “I wanted everyone to know there is a place on campus where they can go to have conversations, to listen, learn and ask questions – a safe place for everyone and not just for a minority group. I wanted to ensure everyone is learning, especially because this campus is small and we can make a larger impact as a result. I wanted something we as a community could take back to our homes.”
Harris took this idea to Kelsey Callahan (’17), assistant director of student life, hoping the student life office would take the idea and run with it. She didn’t expect the response she received.
“She said, ‘Great. Do it!’ I said, ‘No. I just wanted to give you the idea,’” she laughed.
Callahan and Sergio Pérez (’13), director of inclusion and advocacy, felt despite her reservations, Harris was more than capable of bringing her idea to reality. As it turned out, she was not alone in her desire for a more inclusive group, as Nicole Platt (‘22), approached Perez with a similar idea. Together, they launched Forward Thinking during the 2020-21 academic year and continued to foster its growth.
Harris admits she didn’t always have an ambitious streak, but her arrival at Loras and receiving the encouragement from the student life office, residence life and the Center for Inclusion and Advocacy have helped her find more in herself than she was aware. Ultimately, she took on the duties for the first-year coordinator and has flourished.
“Kim and Kelsey saw something in me and thought I would be a good fit. Again, I wasn’t sure about doing it, but once I got started, I realized, not only did I enjoy it, but it was something I wanted to do longer term,” she said.
Her duties as first-year coordinator include planning the orientation event Launch into Loras, hiring organization leaders and getting welcome staff committee together for move-in day. For someone who had her struggles transitioning into college life, she can call on her experiences as she helps new students as they arrive at Loras.
“When I first started at Loras, I went through that early transition to college on my own. Once I discovered the Center for Inclusion and Advocacy and found the support that was in place, I was able to open up and begin talking. They kept finding things in me to push me forward into new conversations and areas that fit me, in ways I wasn’t aware of. ”
That support after her initial struggles had such a significant impact she is now looking toward a career in support future students in higher education. After graduation, Harris is looking toward graduate school to support a career as a program coordinator within diversity, equity and inclusion — areas she is particularly passionate about.
To punctuate her busy year, Harris received an Undergraduate Rising Star award from the National Association of Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education (NASPA) in October. The award recognizes individuals in student affairs who have done outstanding work and show potential to continue in that profession
“The award was a total surprise,” Harris said. “I had no idea Kim (Walsh, assistant vice president of student affairs) was nominating me. It is crazy!”
Earlier in the year, NASPA selected Harris as a fellowship recipient.
“Both of these awards highlight Jailani’s early contributions while also acknowledging the significant impact she will continue to make within student affairs,”Callahan (’17) said. “These opportunities and awards will introduce her to professionals in the field both at schools in the Midwest and nationally.”