Jamishia Smith, B.A.'02, Communication; M.A.'05, Student Affairs in Higher Education
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Current Location: Laurel, MD or the DMV (DC/MD/VA)
Job Title and Company/Organization: I've worked for The Young, Black and Fabulous, LLC the last 12 years making sure Black Culture & Celebrities AND Excellence are all shown to the world on TheYBF.com!
How were you involved on campus: I probably worked in every department on campus while at WMU (LOL). I worked in Student Activities, Office of Student Financial Aid and Residence Life to name a few. I was the Assistant Homecoming Coordinator (Fall 2002) for the University. I represented WMU at the Summer 2002 LEADERSHAPE Conference. I was also actively involved in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., (the first African-American Sorority on the campus of WMU).
Favorite campus memory: I think either being able to sell flowers at the Annual Flower Sale put on by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc held every Commencement ceremony or getting to finally wear a DST T-shirt to represent our sorority at Bronco Bash in the Fall.
My high school friend & college roommate and I both were first-generation college students when we arrived at WMU in August 1998. We had done everything we were told by our high school guidance counselors regarding applying for FASFA, the Metro Area WMU recruiter who got us both all set after making a last minute decision to attend WMU and thankfully to MAPQUEST at the time to get us safely to Kalamazoo for the start of classes. One thing we didn't expect to see was a bill (with any number over maybe $10). So when we received bills in our residence hall mailboxes (yes, it was no electronic bills), we both freaked out! I had received the Cultural Diversity Scholarship, The Pell Grant and some other smaller scholarships to pay for school--so I was a little startled to see I had a balance. I think it was maybe between $500-$700. It was a lot to me at the time and I didn't want to bother anyone at home with financial issues. Plus it cost per minute back then to call home with a calling card:-). So we both freaked out, probably cried and tried to brainstorm how we could fix this problem. We thought we wouldn't be able to attend classes with a balance and there was no way we were headed back East on I-94! So we sat in our room for a few minutes before we got a bright idea. We remembered one of the 'selling points' or highlights of our Summer Orientation session and attending WMU in Fall 1998 was that it would be a historical time. For the first time in WMU's history, there would be an African-American President of the University-- Dr. Elson Floyd! We were ecstatic to learn of this news and when we first got a chance to hear from him-- HE FELT FAMILIAR and welcoming! We felt like we had a father figure right on campus. During one of his early talks we heard, he must've said if you need anything please don't hesitate to ask. Well even though WMU probably had 60K plus students enrolled at the time, we took his 'word as bond'. We gathered our things in Garneau/Harvey and made the trek to the main campus to pay Dr. Floyd a visit-- yes, to his office during the opening of the school year! We marched right into the Administration building to his office. We greeted his lovely secretary and told her our issue. I want to say he heard us rambling to her and told us to come into his office. If you ever had the chance to meet Dr. Floyd, you know how professional yet down to earth he was but also probably felt like he was 'super important/busy' just by his title alone. I think we forgot all about just what his daily responsibilities were because we gave him the whole rundown as if our things were going to be tossed out of our dorm room and our admission to WMU would be revoked. As 18 year olds, this was the epitome of 'stress and an urgent issue'. After listening to us go on our rant filled with frustration, he stopped us and reassured us that we wouldn't be put out of school and gave us the number/directions to the Financial Aid--and how we could get additional funding to cover the costs. We immediately calmed down, laughed with him and felt 100% better. I think we even went to have lunch right after in one of the nicer dining halls using our 'meal plan' to sort of celebrate or maybe walked over to McDonalds in the Bernhard Center! LOL
Fast forward 4.5 years later to December 2002. I am now days away from being a First Generation College graduate and in desperate need of more tickets to the Commencement Ceremony. We got 11 tickets but I needed at least way more. You see I was the first person to do this in my family and we have a pretty big one--so I needed at least 25-30 tickets. I asked other students and even stood in some long line the week leading up to Commencement to grab an extra two. Of course, Dr. Floyd was still an amazing fixture on campus but was becoming even more regarded around the country in the world of Higher Education. He accepted a bigger role at a larger institution, so just like me--he would leave WMU after the December 2002 graduation. I felt a sense of major kinship to him because we not only started WMU together but 'finished' it at the same time. So just like 4.5 years earlier, when we had a bright idea to pay him a visit, a light bulb went on in my head. Technology had greatly advanced in the time we spent during undergrad, so now e-mail communication was a thing. I took a chance and e-mailed Dr. Floyd with a whole sermon why I needed the tickets and recounted some of our interactions over the years thinking no one would respond or maybe I would get a generic reply. After all, our University President was super busy! Nope-- I got a very timely response back from Dr. Elson Floyd congratulating me on my graduation and with instructions to come to his office to get the tickets from his secretary-- the late Betty Kocher. I got to campus in what seemed like minutes to grab all the tickets I needed so that my entire family from Detroit could drive up and see me walk across the stage to shake the First African-American President's hand as a First Generation College graduate!
This is a story my roommate and I share sometimes with great laughs but pride when reminiscing on our time at WMU. It was truly some of the best years of our lives even with the 'trials & tribulations' we faced. For two young ladies away from home for the first time in a very unfamiliar place, It truly meant the world to have someone leading us who looked just like us and felt like family. When I needed those tickets so that my entire family could be there that day to SCREAM MY NAME, he understood exactly what that not only meant for me--but for my village-- especially the younger people in my family. Even without ever stating the obvious, he knew to "lift as he climbed' and to care for us as he probably promised thousands of parents entrusting their eager college freshmen into his care as the University President.
This is why it is SO IMPORTANT to make Diversity & Inclusion not a priority but 'the culture' of your environment. Sometimes just having someone who looks like you, journeyed where you're coming from, speaks your language and understands your journey makes all the difference. It's now 3 other WMU Broncos in my family and others who I've met along the way who share the #BroncoPride!
Salute to the late Dr. Elson S. Floyd. Your legacy will never be forgotten with this Bronco.