If you were to walk up to Difference Maker Alia Jessop, one of the first questions they would ask is “How are you doing?” The question would not be asked passively, or with the expectation of a one-word answer, but genuinely, the beginning of a heartfelt conversation.
Alia is a health and human services major who has been greatly involved with social justice and inclusion efforts on campus… so much so, that it has even shaped some of their future career goals. “The health and human services curriculum has been amazing at giving names to concepts I experienced but didn't know were a ‘thing’ and connecting them,” Alia says. “I want to work in community health or even get my master’s to do clinical therapy.”
Furthering their involvement on campus, Alia works at two different UM-Dearborn offices, The Center for Social Justice and Inclusion (CSJI) and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Both offices work to promote inclusion, equity, social justice, diversity, and mental health awareness on campus.
“I want my work to be people and community-centered. Between my experiences working at both the CSJI and CAPS, the importance of social justice in my work has shaped my career path for what I would like to emphasize in my career goals and beyond,” Alia says.
Identifying health needs on campus
As a Mental Health and Wellness Peer Educator, Alia often does outreach on campus. When asked about an experience that left a mark on them, Alia recounts one specific time during Wolverine Welcome Day — an event for incoming students to get an introduction to campus life.
While sitting at the CAPS table, an incoming first-year student made their way over. “Many people shy away from mental health resources, but this student wasn't shy,” Alia says. “They wanted to hear about Counseling and Psychological Services, and took one of the free stress balls while they did a few rounds looking at other tables.”
After a while, the student came back and admitted to the group that one of the reasons they chose to come to UM-Dearborn was due to its counseling services. When deciding on which college to go to, they looked to see who offered their perspective major, and who had a good counseling department. The student explained that they were excited to attend during the Fall semester after learning about what else UM-Dearborn had to offer, but said the first thing they wanted to do was sign up for therapy.
“That interaction surprised me and really reinforced in me the impact I, as a part of the Counseling Services department, had on our campus community by advocating for mental health,” Alia says. “I was helping influence people who didn't even go to our university, yet.”
Creating inclusive spaces
As an active community member, Alia has hosted a fair share of events on campus. These events have centered around bringing students together, promoting diversity and inclusion, and having fun.
“I am currently the most proud of helping to organize the first Campus Drag Show that we have been able to host since we've been in person post-COVID. “
The Campus Drag Show is an annual event that last took place in 2019. The CSJI office worked to bring this special event back to campus this year. The event featured professional performers from around Southeast Michigan as well as UM-Dearborn students.“While it's been difficult to organize, it’s been really fulfilling to bring local drag performers on campus,” Alia says.
Among Alia’s accomplishments with CSJI, they:
- Helped LEO (lecturers Union) bargain for a better contract by organizing and educating student groups
- Orchestrated and organized TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance) in 2019, 2021, and 2022
- Organized Lavender Graduation 2022. Lavender Graduation is a ceremony to recognize the accomplishments of graduating LGBTQIA+ students
- Helped stock and educate students on sexual health products offered by CSJI
“I cherish the smaller daily interactions I have with people on campus. Sometimes students need directions to the bathroom or are confused about an office's acronym,” Alia says. “Some days students need just anyone to connect to. I feel happy to be remembered as the person who listened and had good advice.”