Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Ten finalists contend for Saluki royalty

Janiyah Gaston
Homecoming Court 2023 poses for a group photo at Student Center Oct 15, 2023 in Carbondale, Ill.

Since 1921, Homecoming has been a beloved tradition at Southern Illinois University, welcoming all Salukis, current and former, to the biggest football game of the year. It wasn’t until six years later when sophomore Dorothy Benner was elected “football queen” that a new tradition began and would continue throughout the next century.

The SIU Homecoming Court is an annual competition open to all juniors and seniors. Students in good standing with the school are invited to fill out an application. From that point forward, they will complete an interview with a panel of judges in hopes of becoming one of the ten finalists.

Those chosen are expected to embody all characteristics needed to be a true leader at SIU. From Illinois to Indiana to Wisconsin, these Salukis are not only representing Carbondale, but also various cities across the Midwest.


To senior Dean Dearing, Homecoming is a means of honoring the past.

“Tradition is a very valued thing where I’m from,” he said. “Here at SIU, it’s the exact same way. People come back together, alumni come back into town and it’s just a special time of year where we [all] want to be around each other.”

Dearing is a finance major from Princeville, Illinois. At SIU, he serves as the vice president of finance for both Farmhouse Fraternity and the Undergraduate Student Government. He is also on the men’s rugby team.

Emily Bakri is a senior from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, majoring in political science. Her motivation for joining the Homecoming Court was to connect with the student body.

“I really wanted to meet more people…and see what they like or don’t like about SIU, and [also find out] what SIU means to them and how they live that out in their daily lives,” she said.

Bakri is a Saluki Ambassador and a member of Alpha Gamma Delta. She currently serves as the executive vice president of USG as well. After graduating from SIU, she plans to attend law school.

To others, Homecoming is a way to connect with and give back to the community. The two students crowned SIU royalty will be given the opportunity to lead a service project. If selected, candidate Raygen Parker plans to start an after-school program for youth in Carbondale, with hopes of getting them more involved in the community.


A first-generation student, senior studying criminal justice with three minors (American Sign Language, social justice and sociology), Parker is heavily involved on campus. She is a member of three honors societies, a student worker for Rainbows End Child Development Center and she holds leadership positions in her sorority Delta Zeta. She is also currently finishing out her final term as president of the College Panhellenic Association.

Parker said she was nervous about joining the Homecoming Court but ultimately made the decision so she could represent those in need of a role model.

“I was nervous to put myself out there,” she said. “But at the same time, I love being a driven person and wanted to be involved…so I just went through the interview…I was scared to even find out the results, but I wanted to serve as basically a representative and a leader for students at SIU. I’m a first-generation student, I’m a first-gen Greek, neither of my parents attended college, so I wanna be a role model for students who don’t always have someone to look up to.”

Parker is currently in an accelerated master’s program for criminal justice, but is considering enrolling in the dual master’s program of social work and criminal justice in the near-future. Her plan is to become an advocate for those affected by child abuse and domestic violence.

Community is what senior candidate Quierra Love values most at SIU. Since day one, she said, she has been encouraged by staff, friends, coaches and professors to be confident in herself. By running for Homecoming royalty, Love hopes to inspire her peers to step out of their shells, as well.

“I think before I got to SIU I was very fearful,” she said. “I’m running to show others like, hey, this might be out of your comfort zone. It might be something you’re not used to, but don’t be [afraid] to do it. Step out of your comfort zone, do something that is uncomfortable…Because with uncomfortableness comes growth.”

Love is from Edwardsville, Illinois and is majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. She is captain of the women’s basketball team and a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. She is also involved with Saluki Unity and volunteers at elementary schools and churches in the area. After graduation, she plans to enroll in nursing school to become a nurse practitioner.

Pearl Williams is a senior in the fashion studies program with a minor in marketing. She is president of the fashion club, vice president of Sigma Kappa and works at the university daycare. She is also an active volunteer at Prairie Living nursing home, Saint Francis Animal Shelter, Gumdrops and Carbondale Fashion Show. Williams, who is also a first-generation student, came to college with a goal of being as active as possible.

“I’ve had so many opportunities to get involved…and that’s something I really missed out on in high school,” she said. “And just something I really wanted was to find kind of a home away from home.”

Williams said she decided to apply for the Homecoming Court to make the most of her college experience. After graduation, she plans to return to her hometown of Chicago and work as a buyer in the fashion industry.

Homecoming can also be a great learning experience, candidate Katelyn Schultz said.

Schultz is a senior from Sugar Grove, Illinois, studying hospitality, tourism and event management. She is a fundraising chair for the equestrian team, case competition member of American Marketing Association and active volunteer for the Women in Aviation Maintenance organization. Schultz sees Homecoming as an opportunity to connect with and learn from alums.

“I think it’s extremely important that we are learning from the older generations and how they contributed to SIU, [so] we can also make a better contribution to the university,” she said. “So I think it’s just a good learning opportunity for everybody and also [a way to] have a good time and…connect with one another.”

Schultz is keeping her options open for after graduation, but hopes to either work for a non-for-profit charity, such as Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity, or a corporate organization, such as Marriott International or a Disney property.

At SIU, there are countless opportunities to get involved and explore different interests, but having those opportunities get in the way of academic success is a common worry among students. Senior Jessica White decided to run for Homecoming to show others that it is possible to find balance.

“I decided to run for Homecoming to get myself a little bit outside of my comfort zone and just to be able to show other students that you can be involved on campus and still be successful academically,” she said. “I’m a senior and I’ve changed my major a couple of times but I am still graduating within four years and am still able to do things that I love, like [volunteering] and being active with my RSO [registered student orientation].”

White is an exercise science major from Indianapolis, Indiana. She is currently president of the Women of Action Chapter of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Inc., member of Diversify Stem and volunteer for the Strong Survivors Exercise and Nutrition program. After graduation, White plans to go to graduate school, preferably at SIU, to pursue a career as an exercise physiologist.

Candidate Jonathan Montoya hopes to use this opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion.

“Homecoming, to me, is not just an event; it’s an opportunity for transformation,” he said. “It’s a chance to redefine who we see in leadership and celebrate the diversity that makes our university truly special. I believe that by running for homecoming, I can contribute to fostering a more inclusive and representative campus culture that we can all take pride in.”

Montoya is an active member of numerous multicultural clubs. He currently serves as president of the Delta Phi Chapter for Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. and is a member of the Student Nurses Association.

“In the future I hope homecoming can be a symbol of our schools commitment to embracing diversity and a tribute to unity,” he added. “Together we can change homecoming into a memorable occasion where the values of togetherness and respect for diversity serve as the cornerstone of our university’s history.”

Montoya is a senior from Beardstown, Illinois majoring in nursing and healthcare management. His future plans include becoming a first-generation college graduate and pursuing a career as a registered nurse with a specialization in dialysis.

Ava Haase, a junior from Kankakee, Illinois hopes to use her position on the court to promote positivity on campus.

“College is…a time for self discovery of who we want to be and what we want to do with our lives,” she said. “It’s a stressful time and stress does not discriminate. I want to be an example of learning to grow and take in every step of this process. There are highs and lows to everyday life, but I want to encourage individuals to always focus on the positives. No one is alone throughout this process and everyday should be cherished.”

Haase is a nursing major and former Saluki Ambassador. She is active in Greek Life and is a member of SIU’s SENSE (Students Embracing Nature, Sustainability, and Environmentalism) and Triathlon organizations. She also volunteers with Gum Drops, Adopt-a-Spot and St. Francis Animal Shelter.

The last member of the court is Olufemi Terebo, a senior from Harvey, Illinois studying exercise science. Terebo currently serves as Vice President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Secretary for Black Male Roundtable. Additionally, he is a member of Campus and Community Chair for Black Affairs Council and a member of Melanin & Medicine. He was also an academic chair for the Black Affairs Council from 2021-2022.

Terebo has used his time at SIU to branch out and try new things, he said. He ran for homecoming for that very reason.

“My entire time here at SIU was filled with doing things that was outside the realm of my comfortability,” he said. “Running for homecoming royalty, campaigning, and things of that nature are definitely not on my regular list of things to do because usually people will see me to myself, AirPods in, and just in my own world.”

After graduation, Terebo plans to pursue a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and a Masters in Business Administration.

Voting is open to all students on D2L and will close at noon on Oct. 20. The top two contenders will then be crowned SIU royalty during halftime of the “Salukis in Paradise” SIU Homecoming game on Oct 21.


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