Kristyl Smith is a jill-of-all-trades.
The San Diego State University psychology senior is a dynamo involved in numerous campus organizations, activist groups and beauty pageants — and that’s only the beginning.
Despite all her successes, Smith is living with sickle cell anemia, a hereditary blood disorder which causes red blood cells to develop an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. People with the disease experience a multitude of complications, including severe pain, frequent infections, vision problems and delayed growth.
In high school, she spent roughly half of her time in school and the other half home sick or in the hospital.
Even with the maladies, Smith has always been adamant about excelling in school and surrounding herself with positivity.
“Growing up, there were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do that everyone else was doing,” Smith said. “So I channeled my frustrations into my schoolwork and stayed dedicated to my goals.”
After a challenging upbringing plagued with sickness, frequent moves and bullying, Smith arrived at SDSU ready for a fresh start.
She chose SDSU because of the diversity, organizations and proximity to her hometown of Los Angeles. When she first arrived on campus, she struggled with depression because of her crippling sickle cell pain.
“Freshman year, I was anti-everything,” Smith said. “Depression is common with sickle cell, so my grades suffered which made me feel even worse.”
At the beginning of her sophomore year, Smith knew it was time for a change.
“I wanted to change my life and the way I thought about things, so I got involved on campus,” Smith said.
Smith reached out to the Student African American Sisterhood and ran for activist chair. She was elected and through her position, got involved with the Multicultural Caucus under Associated Students. Her role was to act as a liaison between Associated Students and various ethnic groups on campus to ensure their needs were being met.
“I try to be somebody that can speak up for people, but I also want to be somebody that comes up with solutions and gets things done,” Smith said.
“I wanted to change my life and
the way I thought about things,
so I got involved on campus."
After realizing how diverse SDSU’s population is, Smith pioneered Cultural Week — a week where different cultural SDSU organizations table throughout campus and educate the community about their culture, what their organizations do and how to get involved.
Smith also worked with the Afrikan Student Union.
One of Smith’s favorite campus involvements was when she participated in last year’s edition of SDSU’s “The Vagina Monologues.” Her role was characterized as “the most sexual role” in the whole play, and despite her Christian background, the role made her feel more empowered and inspired her to get involved in more charities focused on serving women.
Changing the world
Though sickle cell is part of Smith’s life, she is determined not to let it take over.
“I don’t want my disease to define me,” Smith said.
Instead, Smith is dedicating her time and energy to raising awareness about sickle cell through activist work.
Smith also participated in a pageant hosted by the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity at SDSU. After winning first place, she went on to win the regional pageant. Through the pageant’s platform on human trafficking, Smith was introduced to more opportunities to make a difference.
“SDSU has helped me remove my naivety,” Smith said.
She credits her success to the resources available at SDSU and the leadership positions she obtained through campus organizations. Her psychology classes have also helped shape her worldview, and consequently, how she envisions her future.
“I’ve had some amazing psychology professors at SDSU,” Smith said. “I’ve been in classes where we have heated debates and fascinating discussions and that’s what you need in college.”
SDSU’s Chief Diversity Officer Aaron Bruce also helped Smith achieve her goals by recommending her for an internship with KKSD Jazz, an online radio station. Her role? “I do a little bit of everything – literally,” Smith joked.
Smith fell in love with radio and is interested in pursuing a career in the industry.
“I used to be someone who did a lot of talking – but I’m learning how to change those words into action,” Smith said.
Through her charity work, leadership and positive attitude, she is well on her way to achieving her goals.
Smith's advice to current students? “Submerge yourself in the university and get involved in everything you can. Once you find your niche go for it and that is what will continue to motivate you to go on to grad school or into a career.”
Despite the hardships, trials and tribulations Smith has overcome, the future couldn’t be brighter.