Voices of Promise: Makayla Dawkins Interview

Tell us about yourself?

Yes, so I am a junior. Now a rising senior at the University of Connecticut. My major is potentially individualized. Right now it’s a combination of gender studies, human development, and Family Science. And I aspired to get my Masters of Public Health through UConn’s accelerated program where I can do my Bachelor’s and Master’s in five years. On campus, I am a student leader, and I’m really committed to service. Most recently, I joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority where I serve as the president of the Epsilon Mu Chapter. And another other two roles that I hold close to my heart is my role at the LGBTQ center called the Rainbow Center. I’ve been working there for the past three years, as an administrative assistant and Student Programs team member, where we throw all of the educational and social events on campus for students pertaining to LGBTQ identity, awareness, and inclusion. 

My last role is the Undergraduate Student Government with sexual health and education advocacy. In that role, a really big project that we take on is our menstrual equity program called the period box, which is where we get students of all gender identities the products that they need. We also have a collaboration with the LGBTQ Center, which is called the gender affirmation closet. And that’s a place for students who need certain things like binders, and you know, access to services, they can get those resources. So that’s a little bit about me. and at UConn. 

When I’m not focusing on scholarship, and service, you can find me hanging out with my siblings. I have two brothers and a sister. I really love fashion and art. I served as an RA of the arts community for two years. I finally finished my last semester being an RA. And in that environment, I was able to focus on art and creativity.

Has your experience at UConn been?

In my experience, it took me three years to find a major that I felt resonated with me. So it’s truly been a journey. I came in with a lot of college credits and had the experience and time to take classes that I loved. Thanks to scholarships and other sources of funders supporting my education. I was able to do summer education, and in the summer of 2021, I found out what I wanted to do. I found out I wanted to go into human sexuality. From there, I got involved in research. I like to really hone in on diversity, equity, and inclusion work. So I started working in a lab that focuses on accessibility and people living with disabilities and how they live to combat ableist practices and how people who don’t live with disabilities could kind of look in and see what that means to them. So I’ve been involved in research. Last summer I focused on LGBTQ people and how the pandemic impacted their mental health. And that’s how I found out I wanted to get my Masters, because I eventually want to lead my own research and oversee a lab. It helps students like me who may not know what they want to do, at least have an idea of their passions and interests. 

Since I’m an introvert it’s been really difficult in the pandemic, it’s been so difficult to socialize. Doing this sorority has been a great contribution to my educational experience, we really leaned on each other to build community, and have built relationships beyond just work. Shout out to the cultural centers and different programs like the UConn leadership legacy, and other leadership programs where I’ve been able to meet people who have common interests and passions. It’s really about getting involved in service programs and putting myself out there to meet with professors. I always reach out first and then I’m staying in contact with my professors, professors have been a stepping stone for me. I was selected as a research scholar through the Society for Research on Adolescents and I was able to fly out to New Orleans to meet other scholars across the world. At that conference, I was able to meet UConn professors who were researching what I was passionate about. From there, I reached out, so UConn has been great for me, being a person of color black woman on UConn’s campus sometimes feels isolating. And, as a response to that isolation, I’ve had to stand out. I’ve always done that since I was a first year at Hill House. I always wanted to be different. So that continued at UConn.

What have you learned during your time at UConn? And through all the experiences that you’ve done?

My motto is, that the worst answer you can get is no. You could bargain with people. Sometimes, if you don’t get selected for something, you stay in touch, and you don’t let your setbacks be the end all be all, stay connected. My sorority says, stay connected to the vine and stay connected to your village and things will work out for you. In 2019 I had one fall semester of regular college life and in that spring, we were sent home. I had a few setbacks where I thought it was the end of the world for me, but it wasn’t. I put myself out there, I stayed connected to the professors and I went to office hours. I also found out that I don’t have to fit within a box, if I feel like something’s not working for me, and if I don’t see the blueprint that is set out for me then I create my own path. That’s why I created my own major. Because everything is not a one size fits all kind of thing. I feel like it’s cliche but it’s about staying true to yourself, not taking no for an answer, and just being yourself. It’s all about your brand. Create your brand that aligns with being with yourself.

What are you looking forward to in your senior year?

I’m looking forward to continuing my education, I want to study abroad even if it’s in my fifth year. Or doing it in another state or city. I would love to have an experiential learning opportunity where I intern somewhere or I’m in an actual lab, let’s say the University of Texas because there are few professors down nearly leading the stuff that I’m interested in and so I look forward to taking my four years and applying that somewhere else, I’ve been in Connecticut, all my life, I think it’s time to branch out and take my talent elsewhere. I always want to stay connected to New Haven, so I might be getting my Doctor’s degree at a local university in New Haven, Yale, Southern, or just ordering some classes because I never want to stop learning. Then, in years down the line, I see myself leading research or writing a book, and focusing on self-care. I feel like in college, we’re just going and trying to push through to graduate, we kind of put our mental health second because we want to get things over with.

I really look forward to living a soft life, like I want to live a life where I don’t have to be rushed, or have to set an alarm. And I look forward to taking the time to heal. I always tell people, like, my mom passed my freshman year of high school, and ever since then I’ve been on go, this is gonna be like my eighth or ninth year in school without really addressing childhood wounds. I think that mental health is important. If you want to be successful in your adult life, you have to address your youth. So that’s something I really look forward to. I just want to live a soft and in tune life, and then get back to the grind after I focus on myself.

Can you tell us about all the achievements that you just achieved?

I applied for this award called the Emerging Leaders award and that was for a student that was doing service but didn’t have a fit on campus. I then went on to become a UConn, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Woman Leadership Collective Scholar, and I was paired with mentors. That was a great opportunity that concluded this year. I went on to be part of the Leadership Legacy experience. It began last semester or early this year and it was a great opportunity for me to be connected with student leaders on campus. Unfortunately, I had to take steps back to focus on my new sorority experience serving as the president and doing presidential duties. But in that setting, I had time to think about my why. and about how my youth contributed to my present.

I recently got the Ever Again Scholarship for community engagement. And that was a continuation of the Emerging Leader Award for someone that is part of a student organization. I’m super proud of the Cohen Leader Scholarship for enhancing community. The Cohen Scholarship is about eliminating bigotry and bias on campus. I was so proud to be one of 12 scholars for one of UConn’s largest scholarships. Over the weekend, I was selected as a 100 Years of Woman awardee, for this scholarship, a PhD student, a high school senior, and an undergraduate student gets selected, so I’m one of three and that was a great opportunity to be honored as a person who was woman identifying and also with other marginalized identities.

I’m also a Kristie Ann Wood Endowment Scholar which is for UConn undergraduates in the woman gender department who are doing scholarship service. That is my UConn path. Outside of UConn, I was a Horatio Alger scholar and they support students who have individualized independent status, those who had humble beginnings. A scholarship that I received three times is the Bouchet scholarship, the Promising Scholars for students who are high achieving people of color, and also that are Connecticut natives, those are just a few. 

It took a lot to get there. I’ve been involved in a bunch of things such as UConn Community Outreach, working in Costa Rica, and virtually to learn about service and civil rights. I also took part in a bunch of innovation bubbles like the UConn Innovate Wellness challenge to find health interventions, the New Haven Promise entrepreneurship Life program and creating a mental health app. I also took part in the UConn work innovators to think about how I can bring entrepreneurship to be related to my marginalized identities as a woman, a queer person, a black person, and like, How can I create things for my people. I’ve also done research, and I’ve been a part of almost four labs. I love getting back to younger people. I’ve taken part in the UConn LEAD program to talk about college admissions and financial aid. 

I also took part in my free time, I’m a person, my father has been incarcerated all my life and I feel like that group of people isn’t really talked about much because one, it’s stigmatized, and two, we focus on bereaved youth who have lost a parent, which I also have that identity as well. So I volunteer with a nonprofit, for children who have incarcerated parents. I’m creating my own mentoring program to help students who have a loved one that’s been in jail, even if it’s a monetary scholarship. So in my free time, I want to do mentoring and nonprofit work. I serve on the Action Board for black girls who have been trafficked, creating interventions and bringing in resources for them at the policy level to help policymakers and programs understand how they can provide for them. I hope to use those skills to relate to my own mentoring program. 

What would you say you want to do after college? Where do you see yourself?

I worked hand in hand with Planned Parenthood, which is a very controversial topic right now. But I worked as a peer educator for sexual health. Right now I’m doing work related to harm reduction and that’s what I want to do, I really want to go into harm reduction work. Specifically working with Leeway, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer at Leeway. People living with HIV and AIDS, I would love to work with that demographic later in life. Once I get my Masters of Public Health, I would love to get my Doctor’s degree. I’ve always seen myself being a doctor in an office just because I’m a very interpersonal person, but I might get a PhD in infectious diseases or go back to school to be an epidemiologist, not really sure. I definitely want to focus on people who have terminal illnesses, and infectious diseases.

What advice would you give to other scholars?

People are watching you and people are rooting for you. If you can’t find something that’s out there for you, but you know, you would love to have it or you know, someone that needs it, create it. Get together with your peers and professors, and build a team and a network to put it out there for someone else. Due to my identity, there are a lot of gaps between educational institutions and students. Talk to people about that, because a lot of people have certain privileges they can’t see. So that’s a big thing. 

Also, it’s really important to create your brand. Earlier I mentioned being yourself, and that is so cliche, but it honestly is true. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to speak about your experience that you may not be proud of. Sometimes people can be inspired to share their story, or get help or be themselves because they haven’t, there’s someone out there who also has the identity or has that lived expertise. I’m really big on creation and sharing your story. I really want to inspire scholars to take time for self-care. When you have time to just relax, I would recommend just relaxing because burnout is super real. And I have learned that the hard way. So yeah, prioritizing self-care is key.