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A native Delawarean with a passion for helping others, Kasiyah Tatem, AS22, came to the University of Delaware with dreams of becoming the first surgeon in her family. Four years later, first senator in the family is perhaps the more likely calling.
“What I deeply care about is making life better for and advocating for others, standing up for what's right,” Tatem said. “I’m very vocal about things I'm passionate about that impact people, like race, identity, social justice and criminal justice.”
And Tatem – a medical diagnostics-turned political science major with a minor in legal studies – is already making her mark as a Blue Hen. She is the first Black woman and woman of color to serve as UD Student Body President.
For generations, UD student leaders have stepped in to use their voices to help inspire change and create a sense of hope through the University’s Student Government Association (SGA). Now finishing her first semester as SGA President and looking ahead to the spring, Tatem said that, upon learning she had won the election, she felt it was “the beginning of something.”
“Just knowing that we started this path and it's only up from here is something that really made me excited about the work that we could accomplish,” said Tatem, who plans to attend law school following graduation and aspires to work as a foreign service officer or senator one day.
When Tatem first came to UD, she said she felt a warm welcome thanks to fellow students and student-led organizations. In turn, she has also worked to build community and become actively involved in UD student life. She is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the former president of the Sisters on the Move student organization and an Each One Reach One peer mentor at the Center for Black Culture.
Her dedication to her UD community and passion for helping others led her to become more involved with SGA. Her fellow Blue Hens took note. A groundswell of support during the 2020 SGA elections led Tatem to become the SGA Vice President of University Affairs, and her success inspired her to run for SGA President in 2021. As SGA President, Tatem has emphasized the importance of mental health and wellbeing, diversifying representation on campus and increasing student retention so that all students feel seen and heard.
“I wanted to serve as inspiration for people who looked like me or who identified like me at this University,” Tatem said. “Oftentimes, minoritized students feel excluded from main campus and we don't feel seen, we feel pretty invisible, so it was my way of saying you're not invisible, that you deserve to be in these spaces.”
Since joining SGA, Tatem has navigated issues specific to campus as well as those that are part of larger national and international conversations. As an intern with Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s office this past summer, Tatem said she had an “eye-opening experience” working on legislation related to LGBTQIA rights and seeing how government affected individuals on a personal level.
And student leadership, just like any other type of leadership, doesn’t go on a break during challenging or historic times.
While navigating the world of virtual learning herself, and anticipating the return to campus, she served on University committees and shared her experiences as a student facing the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. She noted the pandemic revealed certain student inequities – such as access to technology and varied family situations – that may not be apparent, and that this is all the more reason to be accepting of and compassionate toward others.
Equity and inclusion are themes throughout Tatem’s SGA experience. Over the summer of 2020, she helped establish student body town halls, including one that brought together students from SGA, UD’s NAACP chapter and the Black Student Union and University leaders with UD Police. That meeting led to the creation of the UD Police Advisory Council. Another student body town hall connected students with high-level administrators in UD Student Health Services and Student Life.
As Tatem looks toward the second half of her presidency and her own graduation, she hopes to continue such important conversations with students and University leaders as well as alumni and other members of the Blue Hen community.
“SGA sets the foundation for how the University administration interacts with students and how they include students,” Tatem said. “We have a very vital role on this campus, and I do feel like I am part of a legacy of student activism.”
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