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When there are no seats at the table, you create your own

SGA president Erika McKissick '22 created Brave Spaces — daily safe spaces reserved for students to discuss what matters to them

February 1, 2022

Sometimes you have to become the change before you can inspire it in others. Cue Erika McKissick ‘22, Film, Media and Social Justice major. She’s spent her life listening to the real voices and experiences of people, like her, who identify as marginalized in a culture predominated by those who don’t look, act or sound like them. These voices are McKissick’s “why” for reaching out and bringing people together.  

Make no mistake. This SGA president didn’t arrive at the Mount on an unstoppable mission. It has been a journey. Grounded in a will to serve her community and empowered by the support of her mentors, professors and peers, McKissick has tapped into the power of herself. She now stands confident and poised to serve her people, her environment and the world. “You have to uplift yourself, uplift your community, uplift your peers and those around you because who else will do it, if not you?” 

Dedicated, authentic mentorship at the Mount has been key to McKissick’s success. The Women’s Leadership program and Student Affairs office — including Rosalyn Kempf, EdD, Laura Nario, Karla Avalos, Brittney Plascencia-Saldana, and Chinako Belanger, PhD — uplifted and guided her. “Without them, I don’t even think I’d be here. I wouldn’t be able to do so many of the things that I’ve done.”  

For starters, McKissick was encouraged to go beyond her regular course load and tackle leadership courses for Mount Leads, part of the Leadership Scholars program. The all-encompassing program demands self-reflection in leadership, in mission- and vision-setting, and in goal attainment. McKissick got a cohort to move forward with — a family of choice, joined in purpose — and opportunities to mentor peers and be mentored by professionals.  

She credits this program with transforming her first year and teaching her self-reflection — on her personal wellness, leadership skills and skills as a person. “They really pushed this message: ‘You can do anything. The sky’s the limit. You break the ceiling.’ They emphasized so many things about not only leadership but, as an individual and as a woman, how you can continue to progress and to move forward in a world that can sometimes try to limit you, deter you, or minimize you.” 

As last year’s SGA inclusiveness excellence senator, McKissick created “Brave Spaces” — daily safe spaces reserved for students to discuss what matters to them, like centering Black and AAPI students and serving students to get their basic needs met, both on and off campus. As SGA president, she is working to transform the student experience by expanding the SGA’s footprint on campus-diversifying initiatives to be more ethnically, culturally and intersectionally inclusive, as well as taking initiatives for a safer campus with a no-tolerance policy toward discrimination.

McKissick fashions her own resilience and tenacity by looking to Mother St. John Fontbonne for inspiration. She was a French CSJ leader who narrowly escaped the guillotine for refusing to renounce her faith during the French Revolution and whose legacy expanded that faith to the Americas (and established the Mount in 1925). For McKissick, Fontbonne is the embodiment of unstoppable, having expanded her reach even in the face of great adversity. 

This spring, McKissick will graduate and launch her screenwriting and directing career. She’s determined to flood the media with true representation that acknowledges and uplifts unheard voices. Until then, she’s driven to inspire change and growth at the institution where she learned to embrace her own power. “I hope to bring something long term, long lasting...a legacy to the Mount that can be carried through as I walk on.”