Tikia Travis Leads Impactful Conversations During the YWOC Summit and IACAC Conference

Tikia Travis MA ‘21, Admissions and Recruitment Counselor for UIC Business

sing her voice to inform and influence students of color and higher education professionals is Tikia Travis MA ‘21, Admissions and Recruitment Counselor for UIC Business. Shortly after completing her master’s degree, she was invited to present at two major events. During the 1st Annual Young Women of Color (YWOC) Summit, Tikia created a space for CPS students to improve their personal development skills. The Illinois Association for College Admissions Counseling (IACAC) Conference was a platform to shed light on effective methods used to engage with Black students.

The YWOC Summit hosted sessions about women empowerment, self-care, and managing college and career pathways. Considering that many of Chicago’s female youth may find it challenging to prioritize themselves, describe what it meant to provide guidance and support to the summit’s participants. 

It was so important for me to speak to young women and enlighten them on all the ways they matter and how to walk in their purpose.  New initiatives are popping up across the country, but this conference was dedicated to young women of color from CPS high schools. That made it personal. As a CPS alumna, I remember not having anything like this to participate in. I found myself joining NJROTC for leadership and professional development; but later, I needed to learn how to develop personally.

For this summit, I created a session layered with support that would help the young women identify how to see, love, protect, and invest in themselves. Personal development is something that we are all working to achieve. Equipping them with this knowledge early on may help during their journey into adulthood.

You spoke during a session titled, “The Gifts Within You.” What impact did the personal development information and activities have on the young women? 

I hosted two sessions and received great feedback on my presentations during each one. I love quotes. I read them, write them, and work to follow those that I believe. Quotes are inspirational and provide great encouragement. I developed an activity that allowed participants to choose the quote that best reflected who they were. As each participant shared their selection and explained how it applied to their life, that created a safe space for more women to share their past experiences and hopes for the future.

We also spent time discussing terms like imposter syndrome and how to navigate that feeling in different settings. Most women said they had never heard of it or never understood how imposter syndrome affected their abilities in social groups or academic settings.

Reflecting on the summit’s theme of Unity in Vision, in what ways did the participants leave you inspired? 

There are some incredible, intelligent, and gifted young women here in Chicago. Their cultural awareness, creativity, and optimism were visible throughout the session. As I listened to them describe their reasons for choosing a particular quote, and the terms they wrote down during the activities, I was so inspired. These young women are capable and left me wondering how I can be more intentional about my goal setting.

As we discussed the terms, what they meant to us, how they made us feel, and how they applied to our lives, I was reminded of times when I did not truly understand how to navigate difficult spaces. Sharing these stories helped me feel empowered because I reflected on my past experiences and gave advice that could possibly help a young woman who is going through a similar situation.

I was inspired to continue connecting with and positively impacting young women, especially those from underrepresented communities who are searching for ways to enter the academy and become future shifters.

The IACAC Conference was another platform for you to lead a discussion about theory and best practices for working with Black students. What did your research and field work from your M.A. studies reveal about the biases that are affecting Black students?  

Participating in the 2021 IACAC Annual Conference was a dream come true. In 2017, I started working for UIC Admissions and was on the job for about three months when I learned about the IACAC Conference. I promised myself that I would learn as much as possible within my role and one day present during the conference. I started my master’s program in 2018 and began researching student preparedness for post-secondary education. This led me to examine Black student enrollment and retention rates.

Attending college fairs and visiting high school gave me the opportunity to be with these students and get a better sense of who they were as individuals and not ID numbers. Black students are not monoliths. They all come from diverse backgrounds. That is what makes the community so rich and diverse. They are students who are looking for mentors, safe spaces, and communities that will invite them and their cultures in. Because many people have skewed perceptions of Black people, our youth faces biases and criticisms that impact their ability to participate and civically engage. Research has shown that Black students tend to enroll at institutions that have diversity, inclusion, and social justice initiatives.

Social Justice resources are relevant and needed at all institutions and organizations that pride themselves on being diverse and inclusive. I learned that while many institutions focus their resources on diversity and inclusion, they lack social justice initiatives. Social justice has become an increasingly popular issue given the climate that the Black community faces. As educators, we have the responsibility to teach ourselves about the issues that Black people experience in their communities and become advocates for them. The stigmas they face are additional barriers that prevent them from achieving their goals. We must change that.

Working full-time and completing my master’s degree full-time was a rich experience because of the exposure, connections, and confirmations I was able to make through research, theory, and practice. I found my passion for education and my community.

How did you communicate these findings to paint a picture of the difficulties that Black students may face during the college admissions process and throughout their post-secondary education? 

I wanted to communicate my findings using descriptive language and sharing my own experiences working closely with Black students. As I thought about the individuals I would be speaking to, I realized that my session should advise the audience on practices to better engage and interact with Black students.

I presented the terms: co-authoring, anti-deficit framework, cultural capital, and wealth to educate participants on identifying and understanding the unique barriers that Black students face. To encourage reflection, I invited participants to share some of their experiences engaging with students. It was not my goal to paint Black students as deficit-bearing individuals who need their hands held, but to highlight how their character, strengths, and personal backgrounds affect their abilities to enroll and remain at colleges or universities and how we can be better advocates and supporters of them.

How do you plan to continue educating and raising awareness among youth and higher education professionals? 

First, I plan to continue educating myself through books, films, and returning to school to earn my PhD. Since completing my master’s program, I committed my time to reading works by some phenomenal authors. Much of my research came from reading works by James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Eddie S. Glaude, Ibram X. Kendi, and many more. I have also attended a few public talks and conversations hosted by Education and Policy Scholars, which further ignites my passion. I will continue reading, engaging in critical conversations with peers, and sharing my knowledge through virtual platforms.

On Friday, June 25, I will deliver my IACAC presentation, ”Co-Authoring Black Student Stories,” to UIC Business staff members. This will be my first public presentation since the IACAC Conference, and I am excited to extend this information.