Mentees become mentors in new RSO

By Tierra Carpenter, @TierraMC_

Leaders from the program Sisters Interacting Successfully have started a new mentoring initiative on campus, through the Registered Student Organization, Sisters Working and Achieving Together.  

SWAT focuses on mentoring middle and high school students and is an extension of the program SIS, which gives female African-American freshmen the chance to have mentors, attend workshops and connect with collegiate resources.

Taelor O’Bannon, president of SWAT, said it will provide workshops for high schoolers so they can start networking before they get to college.


SWAT’s mentors will mainly consist of previous SIS members.

O’Bannon, a sophomore from Plainfield studying information systems technology, said women from SIS have the option to transform from being mentees to becoming mentors.

“We take the girls we have in our [Living Learning Community in Bowyer Hall] for Sisters Interacting Successfully, and when they transfer out of the LLC, they have the choice if they want to join SWAT,” she said. “That kind of carries on that mentorship.”

SWAT held its first workshop for the young students on April 18.

The organization held a workshop for 40 middle school and high school students with help from Upward Bound, an educational assistance program on campus.

“We gave them a workshop about starting college and planning ahead,” O’Bannon said. “We wanted them to understand it’s a long-term thing. You can’t plan for it at the last minute.”

Jailel Barr, who is in charge of SWAT’s public relations and was the main presenter at the workshop, said the students responded well to the workshop.


“They were very interactive, and they asked good questions,” she said.

Barr, a freshman from Ullin studying advertising and marketing, said she hopes the event helps students understand experiences college students have on campus.

“Hopefully they learned what really happens in college, and not just what is told to them through TV shows that they watch,” she said.

Despite its name, SWAT welcomes all races, ethnicities and genders. 

“We understand that we are not going to be dealing with females all the time,” she said. “We would like to make sure men are involved so that men can still have that mentorship.”

However, because SWAT is an extension of SIS, it has a certain duty to African-American women on campus, O’Bannon said.

“We’d like to talk about issues that young African-American women deal with on an everyday basis,” she said. “We’ll try to bring in speakers and documentaries that talk about those issues that no one else wants to talk about.”

SWAT will also have events that involve the entire campus. One of those was its April 18 Lupus Walk for Awareness. 

The walk’s 60 participants circled the main campus, starting and ending at the Campus Lake Boat Docks. Danielle Graham, treasurer of SWAT, coordinated the event alongside O’Bannon. The idea of holding a lupus walk came from Graham — a sophomore from St. Ann studying biomedical sciences — because it is a cause close to her heart.

“My family struggles from lupus. I also recently had a diagnosis of lupus,” Graham said. “It’s something that’s not spoken of enough. Lupus is actually called the silent killer for that reason. I wanted to raise awareness where I can. What better place than SIU?”

SWAT is not keeping any of proceeds raised from t-shirt sales, Graham said. The only benefit is increased awareness of both lupus and the organization. 

“It’s a charity event for us,” she said. “We donate all the money to the lupus foundation.”

Graham said some of her co-sponsors, including the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, helped set up for the walk that morning, while others contributed financially.

“We had really good co-sponsors that came out and helped volunteer and picked up slack where we weren’t able to because we are a new RSO.”

Desmon Walker, the president of Alpha Phi Alpha, said his organization contributed some of the funding for T-shirts, and helped with promotion and recruitment.

Eight members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity participated in the walk, said Walker, a junior from Champaign studying finance.

Shirpora Blackmon, a freshman from Chicago studying business management, said she participated in the walk because two of her best friends and her sister’s friend suffer from lupus.

“I’m glad it was such a success,” she said. “It’s nice to see everyone coming out to make a change. That’s what we need.”

The Lupus Walk For Awareness will not be a one-time event, Graham said.

“It’s something we want to come back annually, and we want to do it bigger every year,” she said. “It’s something that when you hear lupus walk, you’re going to think ‘SWAT did that.’”

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected]