Syreeta Martin started a group to advocate for nontraditional students.
Last March, senior journalism major Syreeta Martin thought she and her two daughters would be out of a home.
Now, with a new student organization under her belt and a job lined up, she said that not only does she have a firm grasp on her situation, but she’s excited for the future.
“Though, I am nervous about what’s going to happen. But you know, I’ve been nervous probably 20 other times in my life,” Martin said with a laugh. “I mean, I was really nervous when I was 16 and about to give birth. If I can do that, I can do anything.”
On Feb. 26, 2010, Martin received an email from Resident Director of Graduate Housing William Fenton that stated that beginning in the 2010-11 academic year, “minors will no longer be allowed to live in graduate housing.”
She and her two daughters – Arionna, now 5 years old, and Gabrielle, now 2 – who at the time lived off of $500 a month in Triangle Apartments at 1924 N. Broad St., relied on university-related housing so rent could be paid through her student loans and charged to her tuition. Martin immediately issued a petition calling for the new policy to be reversed.
When The Temple News inquired about the policy change to President Ann Weaver Hart, she said she and her cabinet were “unaware of the changes.” Hart then emailed Martin and told her she was “told in error” about the policy change and that Martin and her daughters could remain in Triangle Apartments.
But Martin said student-parent recognition is an issue that needs continual support. In December 2010, she and co-founder Haniyyah Sharpe officially formed Full Fledged, a student organization aimed to be both a support system and a liaison to the university for nontraditional students, including student parents.
“I can tell the administration that I see people all over [Main Campus] walking around with baby carriages, but with actual numbers to back it up – showing them nontraditional students do have a firm presence here – we can then make sure they address our needs,” Martin said.
Martin said Full Fledged is structured differently than most student organizations with mostly an online presence because most of the 50 members are working full-time, taking night classes or spenting time with their families.
The group also holds information sessions on topics that cater to the members’ interests such as “how to turn your hobby into a business” and “how to get a grasp on financial aid.”
“Student-parents definitely face a different set of circumstances,” Martin said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but we have to find ourselves a lot earlier. We don’t really have time to make major or minor mistakes. But just because our circumstances are different, it doesn’t mean we’re not relatable. It’s just a different struggle.”
As for Martin’s struggle, she said she hopes to use what she’s learned to help others in similar situations through nonprofit work.
For the past three years, she has worked with at-risk teenagers at the Northwest Community Coalition for Youth – an environment Martin said has been like “an adoptive family” for her, allowing her to bring her kids to work and even set up a bassinette in the office when her second daughter was born.
“They were these older black women who were running their own business and helping people,” Martin said. “Their experience made me realize I wanted to do that, too.”
Through her work with NCCY, she was offered a position working with youth this summer at Martin Luther King High School in West Oak Lane.
Scheduled to graduate in January 2012, Martin said she hopes to spend a few years learning all she can about the business side of nonprofits, so she can eventually start her own for at-risk youth and young parents trying to get on their feet.
“I know there’s going to be a time when I take that risk and do it on my own,” Martin said. “I know that I have the willpower to do that. At one point, I thought I was going to be in journalism, working in magazines. But I can truly never see myself doing something not involved with student-mothers, -fathers, advocacy. I just cannot.”
Maria Zankey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.