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Serving In A New Normal: Jackson State University SGA President Daniels Trying To Lead In Virtual Climate

By: L.A. Warren

After Jacori Daniels won the presidency for JSU’s Student Government Association, he later would confront a much bigger challenger: COVID-19 – which has halted much of his campus agenda.

Despite that, the SGA pressed forward with its in-person voter registration drive this fall with help from the Campus Activities Board and other internal and external partners. Still, much to his chagrin, homecoming and traditional commencement ceremonies became casualties of the pandemic.

The toll has been heavy on student morale and disrupted his platform, POWER (Providing Opportunities Where Everyone Rises). “I wanted my peers to believe they can be a catalyst for change by spreading power and love to advance the community,” said Daniels, a biology/pre-med major with a 4.0 GPA in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.

Looking for way to ‘uplift students’

He added, “Initially, it was hard for a lot of students, staff and even family members to accept that we were not going to have a normal school year – no graduation, no fall football games. Ninety-five percent of events were virtual, so it hit students’ morale quite a bit. We’ve been trying to look for ways to uplift students.”

The 21-year-old Phi Kappa Phi Honors student also said the acquisition of former NFL superstar Deion Sanders, aka Coach Prime, as the new head football coach was just what the campus needed. “This a great way to boost student morale and give everyone something to look forward to in the spring.”

Even with that, the future physician said, “We also want to look at students’ mental health, which is very important. We let them know that they’re not in this by themselves. These experiences are new for everyone, but at the end of the day, we will get through this together and make the best of the situation. We will continue to uplift our HBCUs.”

Daniels is also concerned about the physical health of all people, in general. In fact, he plans to practice internal medicine with emphasis in pediatrics while working in rural Mississippi such as Hazlehurst, where he grew up. Those areas are especially important, he said, as rural hospitals are closing and forcing patients to travel many miles just to see a doctor. He knows such inconveniences can lead to apathy. Fortunately, the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program awarded him $30,000 annually toward his medical career.

The complexities of virtual learning

While pursuing his plans for a medical degree, Daniels had previously stated, “My goal is to serve all people and not because it looks good. It must be genuine and real. I don’t want to do it just because of the money.” Most recently, Daniels worked as a summer intern at the University of Mississippi Medical Center while continuing his SGA duties.

He lamented that the fall semester at JSU and elsewhere ushered in a new way of engagement for many students unaccustomed to virtual learning. He acknowledged that most students prefer in-person classes. “It’s so difficult to have class instruction online due to technology disruptions such as WiFi, for example, or living in areas with limited or no connection. Also, some people live in different time zones. In-person allows us to raise our hands in the classroom when we have questions and congregate in the library for study sessions.”

Despite the many changes, however, Daniels said he hopes SGA will be able to sponsor at least one other in-person activity in the future, barring any worsening COVID-19 circumstances.

Right now, Daniels said he tries to find joy amid the despair and new normal. He’s even warning his peers not to minimize the importance of following safety guidelines and urges them to wear masks during this pandemic.

“You see people without masks, and they try to normalize it today as if we’re still in the old normal. This is the new normal. Generally, it takes two years to get a handle on a pandemic. Researchers are still trying to figure out what can be done to reverse the effects.”

A new agenda to ‘make things better’

Despite the challenging times, Daniels said, “I wake up every day with a new agenda to try to make things better. I try to maximize my time so that I don’t feel I’m missing out on things.” Since his arrival at JSU, he’s answered the call to serve. Formerly, he was freshman vice president and a Collegiate 100 member. Later, he would be elected Mister Sophomore and junior class president. As well, he’s been inducted into the National Collegiate Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

His affiliations include the JSU Blue Ambassadors, NAACP and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He’s also an organic chemistry tutor.

The laundry list of activities gives the impression that life for Daniels is all work and no play. In fact, he enjoys bowling twice a week on average, having been team captain for three years in high school. He loves to play sports, run and spend time with family, especially because many of his younger relatives “look up to me, give me so much energy and inspire me to go 10 times harder.” Shopping and reading nonfiction are part of that list, too.

Even though he’s naturally ambitious, Daniels still credits JSU for honing his skills and providing an environment to flourish.

“Jackson State has impacted me by showing that you don’t have to go to a PWI to gain adequate contacts for a successful career. You can do that through JSU, and probably better, and come out well-structured.” He added, “I’ve learned how to connect with others better and not to be uptight but instead to talk, walk, dress, stand out and be hip on a mature level.”