In early January, we interviewed Ndeyanta Jallow, a fourth-year undergraduate student in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). Jallow, who graduated from Georgia Tech in May, was at that time serving as president of the Georgia Tech Society of Black Engineers (GTSBE), and we discussed with her her view of leadership, what her participation in GTSBE meant to her Tech experience, and the importance of GTSBE as an organization on campus.
Following the events of the past few weeks – the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman and the subsequent protests around the globe in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we spoke to Jallow again. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on the current moment and why GTSBE is more essential than ever. Now at home in Connecticut, Jallow is spending the summer studying for the GMAT and will begin full-time work with Accenture Strategy in Atlanta this September.
Thank you for speaking with us, Ndeyanta. Can we start out by talking about what’s been on your mind these past couple of weeks?
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, worrying, and praying for change. I have two younger siblings – including a little brother – and I’ve been having important conversations with them about everything that’s happening. And honestly, these are conversations I wished I didn’t have to have.
I’m encouraged to see how people are responding to these events – people who are speaking out when they’ve previously been silent – and I’m hoping that there will be real change. But we have a long way to go, as the problem is bigger than just police brutality.
What do efforts like last week’s #ShutdownSTEM and #ShutdownAcademia accomplish, if anything?
Giving dedicated time and space to have conversations about what is happening is good, but it’s also important to give Black people time and space to talk about these issues outside of when traumatic incidents occur. Many of my Black friends have said they’re expected to go to class or into work and engage as if these protests and this social upheaval isn’t happening. And that’s certainly emotionally difficult.
In our previous interview, you talked about the significant underrepresentation and the lack of recognition of Black people in STEM fields. Do you see this topic gaining currency, and what effect do you expect it to have?
I was just talking with my friends about this. The representation of Black and African American students at Georgia Tech is already low, but the work we do in spite of this is incredible. But it doesn’t get showcased unless the work is really “big,” and there are so many “smaller” stories about Black students that are worth amplifying. These can be showcased in addition to the diversity organizations and platforms our campus has.
Outside of being recognized for awards won, I’ve seen how a Black student in class may answer a professor’s question, and their input will go unrecognized. But then a white student will say the same thing, and they receive the recognition. My friends have also told me that this happens to them, and it’s quite troubling.
At the very least, conversations about these issues that needed to happen for a long time are finally starting to happen. For example, over the past few weeks, President Cabrera and Dean McLaughlin have contacted GTSBE’s executive board. Rather than coming to us in a stance of, “Here’s what we’ll do for you,” they have said, “What do you need us to do?” which oftentimes results in a very different outcome.
I hope that the increased support of Black and African American students at Georgia Tech continues, as I truly believe it will ultimately lead to a stronger community overall at the Institute.
What would you like to say to the current GTSBE community and GTSBE alumni in this moment?
To the GTSBE community, I will say that we are at the very beginning of all this, as many of you would agree. However, as always, our organization will always be here to support you in whatever you choose to do, whether now or in the future. You are not alone.
To alumni, it’s been amazing to see your generous financial contributions to the Black community at Georgia Tech – especially supporting the fundraisers held by the African Student Association over the past few weeks. This money has gone to supporting petitions demanding justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and for causes like providing bail funds for protestors.
All this helps affirm to current student members that they have a community – a family – within the Black student organizations. In times like these, that’s even more important to be emphasized.
In our earlier conversation, you talked about your leadership style being one of serving people and why that’s important to you. Has your perspective on this shifted at all in response to current events?
I want to provide safe spaces for my community to have these important conversations. Even though I’m an alumna of the Institute now, I have told the current GTSBE leadership that if they need anything at all, I’m available for them – I will meet them for coffee, have lunch, or even talk on the phone with them to discuss about what they’re experiencing and how they’re doing. I care for the GTSBE community and its executive board immensely, and it’s important that I demonstrate that. Not just as a leader, but also as a friend – whether someone is feeling happy, sad, or needing to vent, I’m here.
Where – if you are – are you finding spaces for joy and self-care in the middle of all this?
Right now, there are so many documentaries to watch on Netlfix, for example, and TV shows that explain the history behind these protests and this movement. And of course, it doesn’t just stop at TV and movies. There are so many books about this that can help instruct every single one of us. I’ve taken it upon myself to continue watching, reading, and educating myself as I continue to have important conversations with family and friends.
Aside from this, it has also been important to take time for self-care and joy, as you have asked. My normal go-to activity for relaxing and enjoying time to myself would be getting a manicure and pedicure, which I obviously can’t do right now! Luckily, we have a pool in our backyard, so I’ve been getting some sun every day since returning home from Atlanta.
As I mentioned earlier, I have two younger siblings, so I’ve also been able to spend more time with each of them. My brother and I enjoy setting aside time in the day to get in an outdoor workout, and my sister has tried hard to get me to join in on her dance videos. As of late, spending time with my family has been extra special.
The GTSBE website has resources for Black students, including mental health resources here. Allies of the Black community can also find petitions to sign and ways to donate to the Black Lives Matter movement.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering