Sydney Sullivan always wanted to help.
So, as the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion with the Student Government Association, she drafted a five-year plan that would help High Point University recruit and keep more students of color. She researched, talked with students, staff and faculty and came up with Initiative 2025.
She showed it to Dr. Doug Hall, HPU’s assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion, and Terry Chavis, director of multicultural affairs. Together, they and other student leaders presented her plan to HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein.
Sullivan’s work impressed Hall and Qubein. They along with others on campus have been working on those very issues. Yet, when they read what Sullivan came up with, they saw synergy. They also saw the power of what one student can do.
“This is how you make change,” Hall says. “If you’re invited to the table and lay it out the way Sydney did, that is how you bring it.”
Sullivan, a senior criminal justice major from Queens, New York, is one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of November. She is a High Point Scholar, a Student Justice, a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and president of HPU’s Black Cultural Awareness club.
After she graduates in May, she’ll begin HPU’s newest program and obtain in a year a master’s degree in communication and business leadership. She then plans to go to law school and become an attorney representing the forgotten and disenfranchised.
She found that career goal at HPU. She also found much more.
Sullivan’s Wow Moments at HPU
Sullivan came to HPU as a pre-pharmacy major. She chose the university because of its small classes, the resources available and the friendliness she found on campus – from students to staff and faculty.
She also wanted to come to North Carolina. Her mom, Nancy, director of the Human Resources Solutions Center at NYU-Langone Health-Long Island. always wanted to move there. And Sullivan wanted to help make that happen for her mom and her maternal grandmother, Sylvina Picard. Sullivan calls her “Grandma.”
She was raised by both in a home full of faith. She grew up singing, dancing and teaching Sunday School in the Christian Cultural Center, a non-denominational church, and she enjoyed how her church followed its motto, “Warm, Welcomed and Wanted.”
More than any other university she toured, she found that same feeling at HPU.
Yet, when she came, she also found struggle. She took a pre-chemistry class, and she soon realized that science wasn’t her career path. For a teenager who hated to show weakness, she felt like a failure and wondered what to do.
Dr. Brian Augustine, her chemistry professor, came to the rescue. He talked to her about next steps. That wowed Sullivan.
“He knew my head wasn’t in science, and he still supported me,” Sullivan says today. “He’s an awesome guy.”
Her next stop was HPU’s Office of Career and Professional Development. There, she met Hall. A career advisor then, Hall helped. Sullivan took a test known as Strength Finders and found her affinity for criminal justice.
She also found a mentor.
“I didn’t want to feel incapable, but Dr. Hall was someone I could identify with and talk about it,” she says. “It’s easier to show my weaknesses to people who look like me, and knowing he was there to help me was the best thing I could have.”
Two years ago, during a winter snowstorm, Hall helped Sullivan once again.
Hall was driving around High Point to see the snow. A Chicago native, Hall loves the snow. When he drove by Walmart on the way home, he noticed a lone car in the parking lot –– a black Jeep with a High Point University sticker.
He pulled in and found Sullivan and Sullivan’s boyfriend, HPU junior Xavier Freeman.
“What’s going on?” Hall asked, rolling down the window.
“We’re stuck!” Sullivan said.
Hall helped Freeman push Sullivan’s car out of the snow. Before heading home, the married father of three turned into a campus dad.
“Email me and let me know you made it back to campus safely,” Hall said.
Sullivan’s relationships with Hall and other staff and faculty at HPU helped her grow. She gained confidence, became a campus leader and felt more comfortable.
“The resources here are abundant, but it’s not just the physical resources, it’s the faculty and staff,” she says. “Along with my friends, they have helped me through my journey, and I’m more confident in the things I say and do, and that’s empowering.”
HPU: A Place of Discovery
Sullivan has received help. She’s also given it.
Like with Angie.
As a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Piedmont, Sullivan spent an hour twice a week with Angie. Sullivan saw Angie, a student at a High Point elementary school, for two years. They played, talked and made wishes by blowing petals off a dandelion.
“To enter a child’s world is so relaxing,” she says.
She also became a peer career advisor in HPU’s Office of Career and Professional Development. She helped students with their resume and reassured them when they wondered about their major. She told them her own story.
“I know what it’s like,” she’ll say. “It’s OK not to know.”
Sullivan immersed herself in organizations that encapsulate who she is and what is important to her.
Sullivan is on HPU’s Board of Stewards, the organization that helps create the Wednesday service in HPU’s Hayworth Chapel. She’s also a member of the VOICE Student Advisory Board, which creates programming that encourages students to be more inclusive and self-aware.
Then there is her involvement with Black Cultural Awareness and her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. There, Sullivan found connection.
“I’m from New York, and I didn’t know anyone down here,” she says, “but I got to form a sisterhood, a connection with all these people.”
‘Sydney Has It’
As SGA’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Sullivan created Initiative 2025 to help the university become more diverse and inclusive. She followed a blueprint she found that was created for Davidson College by one of its students. In Initiative 2025, Sullivan has proposed a diversity mentorship program, a club for Latinx students, courses in diversity and equity and a bigger multicultural affairs office.
Hall sees the merit in what Sullivan drafted. He also sees the merit in what it has done for her.
“It brought in this whole idea of legacy for her,” he says. “She won’t see it happen in her time here, but in good faith, she ran with it. That shows a whole level of maturity. You either have it or you don’t. And Sydney has it.”
“High Point University is working hard to be more inclusive,” Sullivan says. “And I want people to see what we’re doing and say, ‘Hey, they’re serious about this!”