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Senior Erykah Pasha Strives to Uplift Others

October 20, 2023

They have taken advantage of opportunities to learn and help others, including work with the local organization Layla’s Got You.

While a high school student in Syracuse, Erykah Pasha developed an interest in politics and activism, and became determined to help others in their community and amplify the voices of the underrepresented.

Erykah Pasha
Erykah Pasha

When it came time for college, Pasha didn’t travel far. They decided to stay local and enrolled in the pre-law track at Syracuse University, determined to become a lawyer. “That was what I wanted to be,” they said.

Courses in Maxwell’s Washington, D.C., programs, however, made Pasha reconsider their journey. Now a senior, Pasha is majoring in political science and sociology at Maxwell.

“Definitely a lot has changed, but I think my overall goal really hasn't,” Pasha said. “I still want to help people. I want to help people that historically and systemically haven't been able to or have been stopped from being helped. And I think I've just found a different way for doing that for myself.”

In their first three years, Pasha found a sense of community and confidence to become a campus leader with the University’s Intercultural Collective and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Resource Center. They excelled academically, having been named a Kessler Scholar and McNair Scholar.

Additionally, Pasha has taken advantage of numerous activities and experiential learning opportunities, such as joining the Kessler Student Advisory Board, serving as the fiscal agent for a new student organization—Planned Parenthood Generation, serving as a mentor for first-year women of color on campus, and working as a research assistant for the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (SOURCE).

The work with SOURCE gave Pasha an opportunity to work with Associate Professor of History Tessa Murphy, who is creating a publicly accessible database of people enslaved in British Caribbean Crown colonies. Pasha helped transcribe and verify handwritten paleographic information from an 1813 Registry of Plantation Slaves in Trinidad. They said the project “has taught me so much about what African and African descendant peoples went through during slavery and made me think about the ways this time manifests itself today.”

“I think just having those resources there and allowing me to benefit from them has really allowed me to build a confidence in being able to speak openly,” Pasha said, adding that they have gained confidence knowing that what they have to say matters, “even if you stutter or your voice shakes.”

Last summer, Pasha participated in a highly competitive and prestigious public affairs experience, serving as a research assistant at the University of Michigan through the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP). Pasha assisted Lydia Kelow-Bennett, assistant professor of Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan, on a book proposal on Black women in popular culture.

The project resonated with Pasha and aligned with their goal of amplifying the voices of others. “I hope to empower people to fight for changes that work best for them and their respective communities,” they said.

While participating in the SROP, Pasha completed a research project, “Black Queer Grassroots Organizations Throughout the U.S,” which they presented at a symposium held this past summer.

Off campus, Pasha has volunteered with Layla’s Got You, a Syracuse organization that educates women of color about reproductive and sexual wellness issues as well as things like lead poisoning—a health crisis that disproportionately impacts low-income families.

When Pasha graduates in May 2024, they hope to find a career assisting marginalized communities and citizens through policy and political engagement.

Pasha’s big aspiration—to make the world a better place—is being realized from a series of small actions.

“I think now with the research that I've been able to do and readings I've been able to engage with, I think it's given me a little bit more hope because there are so many little things you can do,” they said. “It can be really easy to dip into a kind of nihilism, but I think there's just so many opportunities to make small enough differences to people that can end up being really big for them.”

By Jessica Youngman

Published in the Fall 2023 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

How Do You ‘Ever Strive?’

“Ever strive” is the unifying theme selected in celebration of the Maxwell School’s 100th anniversary in 2024. The two words are etched on the wall in the Maxwell School’s first-floor foyer. They begin the Oath of the Athenian City-State, which serves as guiding signal of the school’s mission to make the world a better place for all.

Student Erykah Pasha ever strives to help people and amplify the voices of those who’ve been historically and systemically marginalized.

As we prepare to celebrate our centennial, we’re eager to hear how our students and alumni ever strive. Visit our centennial webpage to tell us how you ever strive to make your world better.

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