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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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Kayla McLeod Kayla McLeod

Finding Community Within the Community

Getting involved with Black community at SDSU leads to success for health communications major Kayla McLeod.
By Aaron Burgin

“Being able to make an impact in the SDSU community whether that be through service or friendship is my goal.”

When Kayla McLeod arrived at San Diego State University, she knew she wanted to find a community reflecting her interests, background and heritage as a Black woman. 

On a campus where only 4.5%  of the population looks like her, seeking out the Black community was of utmost importance. 

“I was a commuter student that did not know anybody,” McLeod said. “I can vividly remember how miserable the first couple of weeks on campus were. I came to school, went to class, came home and repeated that schedule. I knew I had to get involved or I would not make it.”

Two years later, the junior from Spring Valley is thriving. 

McLeod is a member and academic coach in the Henrietta Goodwin Scholars (HGS) program, a Basileus of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and second vice president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the governing body for SDSU’s Black fraternities and sororities. McLeod also is a member of the Student African American Sisterhood.
“Being involved with the Black community at SDSU is truly like another family,” McLeod said. “We check in on each other, laugh together, study together, motivate each other, and we stand up for each other. I can truly say that being a part of so many Black organizations on campus and having that community has helped me grow as a person and student.”

SDSU encourages students to get involved with one of the more than 300 recognized student organizations and communities, a practice that leads to higher retention and graduation rates. 

Bonnie Reddick, director of the Black Resource Center, said Black student organizations help students “build community and foster meaningful relationships,” a pivotal role for the underrepresented population. 

McLeod, who graduated from Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley, said her journey began with a successful audition with SDSU’s African dance team. 

“I was a part of the Afrique dance team for two years, I played in the Student of African American Brotherhood powderpuff games, I joined Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., went to Afrikan Student Union meetings, SAAS, became a HGS 2.0 academic coach through the Black Resource Center and the list goes on,” McLeod said. 

A health communications major and a biology minor, McLeod has struck a balance between social, academic and leadership and service activities. She carries a 3.33 GPA  and is on the verge of completing a rigorous emergency medical technician course. She and her sorority sisters organized a multiracial student-centered conversation about race, which Reddick has asked her to replicate for the Black Resource Center. 

Among dozens of community service projects, two favorites — both involving her sorority — stand out: “Operation Big Book Bag,” a backpack drive for over 150 students in the community, and a hygiene kit drive for homeless individuals. 

“It was eye-opening to see how there are people living in my own community who don’t have access to basic necessities,” she said. “These projects made me realize the small things I take for granted mean the world to others.”

McLeod said the COVID-19 pandemic has made her realize how important the ties she made within the SDSU Black community were to her well-being and success. 

“Coming into the fall 2020 semester it was difficult,” she said, alluding to a summer roiled by protests against police brutality and a national reckoning with racism. “Us Black students had been seeing people who look like us killed repeatedly with no justice being served. That’s traumatizing and draining. Now that learning is virtual, it can be even more difficult when all you see are white faces on a screen, and you’re the only Black person.”

Despite the challenges, SDSU’s Black community “is doing the best that we can to still have unity and support each other,” she said. “We are celebrating our achievements.”  

As McLeod continues to prepare for a career as a physical therapist, said she won’t take those relationships for granted. 

“I want to be as present as I can for the rest of my SDSU career. By present I mean being involved and as active as I can be whether that is in person or via Zoom,” she said. “SDSU is a great place to meet unique and warm people. … Being able to make an impact in the SDSU community whether that be through service or friendship is my goal.”