Recent Graduate Chazzlyn Jackson Honed her Passion for Social Justice Activism at Kent State
When recent Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President Chazzlyn Jackson started her journey at Kent State University in 2018, she had planned to major in fashion until a mentor with Kupita/Transiciones (K/T) cultural orientation program helped her tap into her leadership abilities and passion for social justice issues.
“She said to me ‘Don't take this the wrong way, but I just don't think you're in the right major," Jackson recalled. "I really think you should think about it some more. You can have fashion as a minor, but I don't think it should be your major. Here's why …’ It really opened my eyes. I was like ‘Oh yeah, I felt that, but you're confirming it for me.’ She saw my leadership skills and my desire to tackle social issues and politics.”
From that day on, the advice played a pivotal role for Jackson, who graduated last weekend with a bachelor's degree in Africana Studies and a minor in Sociology. She stepped into leadership roles and anti-racism advocacy and has not looked back.
Over the past four years, Jackson has achieved some impressive accomplishments. After George Floyd’s unjust killing by police in 2020 and at the height of the Black Lives Matter Protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson was invited to serve on the university’s Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF), which was created to look at how racism, in particular anti-Black racism, exists and persists at Kent State. It was her junior year and she was also serving as the USG Senator for Diversity. Jackson co-chaired the Academic Curriculum Subcommittee on the ARTF with Linda Piccirillo-Smith, senior lecturer and faculty senator with Kent State’s Department of Africana Studies.
According to the ARTF final report, “The Academic Curriculum Subcommittee focused on how Kent State can create/develop curricular changes that focus specifically on anti-Black racism, as well as other marginalized communities and generally on issues related to discrimination and equity.”
One of the recommendations made by the subcommittee was to develop a syllabus statement on diversity. Jackson is proud to say that the syllabus statement on diversity received an endorsement from the Faculty Senate.
“That was really big,” she said. “It was a two-year process.”
The work during her junior year was exhausting, but she felt compelled to next vie for the position of USG president because she wanted to further her service to the student body.
“I'm a Christian, so I had to pray about it because I was like, this is a big job, and ultimately it was,” she said. “I recognized the work that still needed to be done when it comes to advocating for all students, which includes our marginalized voices, our students of color and our LGBTQ+ community.”
As president of USG, Jackson has been intentional about further developing a partnership with Black United Students (BUS), because the two organizations have not historically had a relationship, she said.
Jackson is the third of four children in her family. She was bitten by the advocacy bug early in life. She grew up in North Royalton, a predominantly white community in Cuyahoga County, with few other Black children in her classes. This is when she learned how to speak up for herself and to speak up for her peers as well.
“I was the only Black girl in this and the only Black girl in that,” she said. “So right away I was different from my peers, whether it was obviously because of the color of my skin, my hair or the cultural differences. As I grew older, I became more conscious of the socialization that I was experiencing.”
The person who has provided her with a blueprint for success has been her sister Terraria King, who is nine years older and her biggest role model. King was class president when she was at Euclid High School and captain of the varsity cheer team. King attended Northwestern University and is now an electrical engineer for Tesla.
“She's amazing. She had a lot of prominent leadership roles,” Jackson said. “It's nice to have someone to look up to. I was literally watching her be successful as a black woman. I saw her doing it, so I can do it too, even though I'm in a predominantly white space, I can still do it. And so that pushed me forward to continue as a leader.”
Knowing that her older sister had experienced many of the things that Jackson was about to go through gave her comfort, which has been especially helpful now that Jackson has plans to attend graduate school. She and her sister had deep heart to heart talks about where she wanted to attend and her concerns.
Jackson has committed to the Ph.D. in Sociology program at North Carolina State University, where she will also complete a master’s degree. She loves higher education as a possible future career choice, but she is also interested in politics and nonprofits.
Jackson trusts that life has a way of working itself out and she cherishes the experiences she gained while working to make Kent State a more equitable place to live and learn.
“No college is perfect,” Jackson said. “But what I like about Kent is that we have people here that can acknowledge that … and keep pushing and striving for better, and go to that next level, whatever it may be. That's what I appreciate about Kent. I feel like with that mindset, students will have that space to strive and go to the next level too.”