Azarriah Lovett, left, and Rosalyn Henderson, right, leads the university’s vital safety net program, discusses racial equality and homelessness
Enduring leadership is a quality that permeates across Cheyney University’s community, providing students with an environment to achieve their full academic and personal potential. This value extends to students of all socio-economic backgrounds.
For Rosalyn Henderson, Cheyney’s TRIO Student Support Services Director, it’s about reaching students in need with a hand up and empowering them to overcome personal challenges and realize their maximum potential.
Henderson, who holds a master’s degree in human services and is a Cheyney alumnae, oversees TRIO Student Support Services, a federally funded program that provides academic assistance to up to 284 eligible undergraduate students at the university. The goal is to help low-income and first-generation college students and/or college students with disabilities to succeed and earn their bachelor’s degree.
She along with other staff members know that some of the university’s students come from marginalized backgrounds and might need more resources and support than other students. According to Henderson, some students are not aware of the resources available to them, while others allow their pride to get in the way.
“When a student is struggling academically, you have to get to the root of the problem,” said Henderson. “I always tell people that we don’t want to be seen as giving hand-outs but a hand-up. People can tell the difference and when the hand-up is genuine.”
Henderson wants students who need support to keep coming. “They can grasp immediately that we’re here to help them. TRIO is not just academic support, but a holistic approach to student support services. When they graduate, they’ll be well prepared for success and the challenges life presents.”
Henderson, who joined Cheyney’s staff in 2009, noticed over the years students coming into her office who were hungry, and they were coming in on a regular basis.
“Normally we keep snacks and drinks and the number of students never decreased. We also saw that they needed other things, like personal hygiene items so in 2019 we began talking about it and started seeing the data.”
The statistics are alarming. According to a February 2020 New York Times report of a research study produced by The Hope Center, homelessness among American college students has become an increasingly visible problem. Other research has determined that more than a third of college students do not get enough to eat.
“What we learned from talking with our students was that you can have a meal plan and still be hungry,” said Henderson. “That is why in 2019 we created a food pantry that included fresh vegetables and fruits.”
The food pantry donations started small, but it didn’t take long for the contributions to increase. Then, the pandemic hit.
“We had about a hundred students who were still on campus and needed our help because the campus had limited operations,” said Henderson. “The donations were coming from organizations like Women in Media, Chester County Food Bank and the Salem Baptist Church, and then Cheyney alumni stepped up and so did Philabundance. The bottom line is if you’re food insecure you can’t focus on your education and have poor academic progress. This problem affects students of color at a much higher rate.”
One TRIO scholar who needed the additional support is Azarriah Lovett, 20. Lovett who has been a Cheyney student for three and a half years is a business administration and psychology major. She is one of the young women from a marginalized background for whom TRIO exists.
“In October 2019, my mother had to give up her house because of gentrification. The bills were too high,” Lovett said. “This was followed with months of other family problems.”
“I was sleeping on the couch and commuting four hours to work. I was eventually able to move back to campus housing and a few days later, I was hit by a car,” said Lovett.
Over time she recovered from her injuries, but then the pandemic hit.
“I was house hopping for months. Miss Roz (Henderson) helped me and provided networking opportunities, assistance with food and housing insecurity. She helped me find a job. I had friends that also helped me financially. Eventually I got an apartment with a friend. I do a lot of gig work and modeling casting calls. My time at Cheyney keeps me on track.”
Lovett’s situation is not uncommon, and one example described by Henderson who recently appeared as a guest speaker at the Feb. 25 webinar, Bombas Fireside Chat: Empowerment, Racial Equality, and Homelessness. Henderson and other panelists discussed the intersection of empowerment and racial equity as it relates to homelessness. The discussion, Henderson said, was on the importance of Black Excellence, the need for equitable services, and the impact of female empowerment.
Henderson said since the pandemic, she thinks more and more people, organizations and corporations are coming together and working to alleviate the problems of food insecurity and homelessness.
“Part of the reason for that is the pandemic caused suffering among people who never had these problems before,” she said. “Can we do more? Yes, we can always do more. Homelessness and hunger should not exist.”
Cheyney’s TRIO Student Support Services program has allowed students like Lovett to realize her full potential. She is a youth and child advocate and works with the Latino social services organization Congresso and Women Organized Against Rape. She is set to graduate in the fall and is considering expanding her studies.
“The challenges I’ve faced haven’t broken me and the support and empowering resources I’ve received through Cheyney University have kept me together,” said Lovett.