Sinna Habteselassie is the first black woman to serve as the University of Cincinnati’s Student Body President in its 200 years of existence. Her latest mission? Removing former slave-owner Charles McMicken’s name from the College of Arts and Sciences degree she’ll receive for her neuroscience and organizational leadership degrees in May.
First off, why the neuroscience major? I started off thinking I wanted to be a doctor, and quickly, within a year or two, I was like Eh…I don’t think I like these courses. But I was still really passionate in a lot of the organizations I was involved in, and that really opened the door to NGO work, international law, and policy. I had a lot of mentors who were really adamant in their views on social justice, and I thought maybe I should go into law, because that’s the thing I could lose sleep over—that defines what your path is, right?
Did anyone encourage you to become student body president? There were a lot of women in my corner, just reinforcing me with encouraging words for every doubt I had. In this position now, I feel as though I really need to be pushing other women—whether that’s through mentorships, or friendships, or sisterhood and solidarity.
Have there been any moments when your identity directly influenced your leadership? Last semester I wrote and helped pass a resolution asking the university to remove Charles McMicken’s name from the College of Arts and Sciences. There was a lot of controversy around that topic. I personally don’t want someone’s name on my degree who didn’t want me in the country, let alone the college. I think it will benefit our community in that we’re impacting this conversation by telling the whole narrative of who this individual is to our university. For a lot of us it seems like you’re erasing the past, but the reality is you’re just now telling the whole truth.
Do you feel women need to hold political positions to have their voices heard? I don’t think you need a leadership role to change anything, but it definitely makes things a million times easier. We actually hosted Elect Sis last semester, and the idea was to get more women of color to run [for student government], because 200 years is a long time.