Standing on the front lawn just three days into her first year at Lehigh, Nande Trant, ‘22, was approached by Savanna James, ‘21. Understanding the inherent difficulties of the first few days of college, James introduced Trant to other Black first-year students, whom she had already met.
Each year, James has done the same; she approaches Black first-year students at orientation events and introduces them to Lehigh’s Black community.
“She is the Black community’s godmother,” Trant said.
James, co-president of Lehigh’s Black Student Union, serves as a maternal figure for Lehigh’s Black students and has allowed her passion for equity to guide her activism and involvement at Lehigh.
James is majoring in sociology and minoring in history and Africana studies, a background that has enabled her to become a leading activist on campus.
Prior to her involvement in Lehigh’s Black Student Union, James organized protests for the “Path to Poverty” campaign, a response to Lehigh’s “Path to Prominence,” protesting the lack of consideration for student needs by administrators.
As her current Black Student Union co-president, Trant characterized James as impactful.
“She’s a leader and she has that type of spirit around her so that when you’re around her you want to do things and do better,” Trant said. “She pushes people.”
After serving as vice president of the Black Student Union her junior year, James assumed the role of co-president for her senior year.
“I saw an opening and I took it because I knew it was needed,” James said.
Speaking to her go-getting spirit, Brian Lucas, ‘22, a close friend of James, described her as unafraid.
“She’s not easily intimidated by a lot of the things that other people I think are scared of,” Lucas said.
Lucas said her bravery is something he admires about James, and hopes to emulate within himself.
Lucas also said James is a mother figure to him. He said that calling James a close friend is an understatement and he prefers to refer to her as his “Lehigh mom.”
Although COVID-19 presented a challenge, James said the Black Student Union has remained active. Recently, the club hosted a Black Panther Party Brunch Giveaway, where students could sign up to receive chicken and waffles from LJ’s Midnight Munchies.
James said when Lehigh committed to becoming an actively anti-racist institution, the club began to take a more political role.
Since this summer, James and other members of the Black Student Union have met with administrators to discuss some of the school’s initiatives and have continued to do so throughout her final semester.
After graduating in May, James plans to teach at a New York City public school through the Teach For America program. Although she does not intend to remain a teacher for the entirety of her career, James said this experience will be a stepping stone for her, before she pursues a profession within the realm of law and public policy.
“I’m getting experience on the other side,” James said. “I was once an inner city kid, as a student in public school, and now I’m going to work in a public school in the inner city. So now I can see both sides of the coin. So wherever I end up in life, I have experience in what I’m doing.”