CSUDH undergraduate Skye Harris’ educational pathway has not been a traditional one, but she has overcome every obstacle placed in her path and is set to graduate with a degree in sociology in spring 2021.
For her hard work and persistence, Harris has been named the California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) recipient of the 2020 CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. The award is the California State University’s highest recognition of student achievement, providing annual scholarships to one student on each CSU campus who demonstrates superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service, and financial need.
“It’s really an honor to be getting the award and to be acknowledged for my hard work,” says Harris. “It was quite humbling, and let me know ‘Hey you’re on the right track. Don’t get dissuaded, keep pushing forward,’ so it meant a lot to me. I’m grateful.”
Harris applied and was accepted to CSUDH in 2018 following a 15-year gap in her college education. She had attained her A.A. degree from Citrus College in 2005, but circumstances prevented her from continuing her studies. Harris went through a lot during those 15 years, from raising her seven children as a single mother and housing insecurity to enduring the trials of affirming her identity as a queer person of color.
“I’ve been through some things, and I’ve struggled,” says Harris. “I’ve come from places of grief and loss, family struggles, and identity struggles. I’ve definitely had to navigate those things, and it hasn’t always been easy.”
Harris’ experiences and hardships have been the driving force behind her desire to help others in need. She currently works as a training specialist at Five Acres, a non-profit mental health advocacy group for foster children located in her hometown of Pasadena. Harris leads their RISE Committee, which partners with the Los Angeles LGBT Center to help create safe, affirming spaces for LGBTQ youth.
“It’s my job to work with new hires as they are brought into the agency,” says Harris. “I let them know about foster care reform, how to navigate behavioral issues with kids who have experienced trauma, how to create safe spaces for LGBTQ youth. I also help provide interventions to deal with some of the kids we have who can have some very extreme behaviors as a result of their trauma – self-harming, physical aggression, things of that nature. I teach them how to remain safe and create safety for the kids, too.”
Harris has found that her personal struggles often put her on the same page as the people she works with. “It helps me connect with them,” she says. “Often, people need to see themselves reflected in somebody else. After talking with me, they might think ‘If this person can do it, why can’t I?’ It allows for a real personal connection.”
As a single mother, the award’s financial assistance means a lot to Harris. “This means I don’t have to take anything from my kids in order to further my education, which is very important to me. I don’t want to take anything off their plate by going back to school so late in life.”
Upon graduating, Harris plans to continue her education, with an eye on becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist. Ultimately, she hopes to open a resource center for LGBTQ youth in her Pasadena community.
“I’d like to create safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ youth, maybe a resource center or something with a counseling or peer group aspect to it, as well,” Harris shared. “I just want to continue contributing to my community with my education. I want to give back by creating safer places, more informed people, and by bringing resources to areas where it’s necessary and needed in order for people to feel safe and feel seen. Lots of our youth really need that extra support.”