The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Student leader spotlight: president of Bridging the Gap

Jessica Atoo ’21 makes students feel welcomed, heard and celebrated. PHOTO COURTESY OF ATOO

With St. Joe’s students isolated to abide by COVID-19 protocols, chances to connect with fellow students are limited. Each week, The Hawk will offer conversations with various student leaders to help the community get to know them and their organization.

This week’s Q&A is with Jessica Atoo ’21, president of Bridging The Gap (BTG), who is from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. 

After Atoo graduates with degrees in information technology and music, she plans to stay an extra year at St. Joe’s to earn her master’s degree in web and database technologies from the computer science department.

In the future, Atoo hopes to continue giving back to her community by doing volunteer and service work, all while implementing computer science and music.

What is the mission of BTG? 

BTG is a proactive and progressive organization that aims to promote awareness of all diversities and underrepresented lifestyles and ethnicities to create a more welcoming and accepting environment at St. Joe’s. BTG strives to create a cohesive community amongst the student body, faculty and administration to spread the message of unity and embrace the beauty and celebration of diversity with the entire campus community’s support. BTG will increase consciousness of the need to celebrate all identities, bridging the gap between people from all walks of life.

What is your personal mission as BTG president?

BTG is a community to me. We try to make everyone feel included and welcome in the club, which is how I felt when I first joined. BTG strives to be a space where people can come and feel uplifted, which is so important to me.

My mission as president is to uphold the values and goals stated in the mission statement to ensure that the club remains aligned with our goals in creating a safe and welcoming environment for everyone at St. Joe’s. I want to make sure people feel heard and celebrated for who they are.

What impact does BTG have on the St. Joe’s community?

I think BTG has been able to bring people together to highlight and respect not only different cultures on campus, but [also] allow others to see the intersectionalities in their fellow students. We’re all so much more than just students, and I think BTG has really strived to show that and celebrate that. A good example of this is Taste of the World, which is our biggest event. During Taste of the World, we bring people together with food but also use the event to celebrate all of the diverse groups on campus and shed light on the cultures of so many St. Joe’s students with food, performances and music. 

Why is a club like BTG important at a school like St. Joe’s, a predominantly white institution (PWI)?

The fact that St. Joe’s is a majority white school is of big significance. It can be really challenging for minority students to adjust to going to a school where most of their peers and professors can’t relate to them because of their race or identity. This causes a bit of a disconnect and many challenges that often go unconfronted or unresolved. It’s essential that everyone feels welcomed because when you’re at a school where you’re the minority in one way or another, it can feel really isolating. 

So, having a space where people can just talk to you, and you can know that you’re not alone [is essential]. Being a [Black, Indigenous and person of color] at a PWI can be an overwhelming and uncomfortable experience. I think having clubs like BTG, and the other clubs within the [Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CID)], is so important because members have this space where they can feel like they can be themselves and let their guard down a little, being in a space with people more like them, whether that’s in terms of ethnicity, economic background or identity. We try to advocate for everyone and try to start discussions so that St. Joe’s can become more aware and inclusive.

What does it mean to be Black and female at St. Joe’s?

There are definitely challenges, but I’m so thankful that I joined the Running Start early move-in program my freshman year because that introduced me to the CID and all of the amazing people and programs that come out of it. 

Being a Black woman at St. Joe’s can feel very isolating at times. Still, I’ve been fortunate enough to not only find a group of peers that I can be myself around and that can relate to my challenges, but I can now also work to be a part of the movement to make St. Joe’s even more inclusive.  

What should St. Joe’s be doing to make the campus a more welcoming environment to students of color?

I think the CID is such a great space that St. Joe’s has. Everything that comes from the center aims to create a space where all students can come and be themselves. I think the more resources that can be given to the center, the better.  

I think there should also be some sort of universitywide diversity training or course. Everyone at St. Joe’s comes from such different backgrounds, and I think it’s important that we’re all taught the foundations of how to really be men and women with and for others. This starts with education on topics about racism and microaggressions and the like. [It] then needs to lead to individual reflection and communal accountability so that we can strive to uphold the university’s mantra and make sure none of our community feels like they’re being left behind or highlighted only to save face. 

After you graduate, what do you hope to leave behind with BTG?

I’m hoping I could be the person that I looked up to when I was a freshman, like someone who is super welcoming and makes an impact on someone’s life or someone’s day. Just being that positive kind of welcoming person, even if the events didn’t go as planned, I like to always remain positive. Being able to be someone’s friend whenever they need me to.

To get involved in BTG, send an email to [email protected] or follow @SJU_BTG on Instagram. Also, check Student Life for future events, anyone is able to join. 

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