Zaria Smith: Profile on a student leader


Natalie Tyler

Zaria Smith is a senior who is involved in many aspects of campus life. She is in UPAC, Sigma Sigma Sigma, Panhellenic Council, Student Senate and the RE Initiative. Smith was also elected Homecoming Queen this year after receiving the nomination from Student Senate. Smith encourages everyone to get involved on campus.

Ren Gennerman, Profile Reporter

Chances are, if you are active in advocacy, been in Greek Life or passed the Student Senate office, you have seen Zaria Smith at work. However, this year, Smith also received the honor of being Winona State University’s homecoming queen.

Smith, a senior psychology and communications major, has been active on campus from the start of her time here. First, Smith joined UPAC, and then soon got involved with Sigma Sigma Sigma, a sorority on campus. From there, her passion for being involved on campus flourished, as she later joined Panhellenic Council, Student Senate and RE Initiative.

“I really got to spread my branches while I was here,” Smith said. “It’s been a great experience getting to meet new people and I really encourage others to get involved as well.”

Smith began her official homecoming queen campaign by asking Student Senate to endorse her for queen, although she had no expectations of winning.

“I knew that I may or may not win, but I wanted to try anyway,” Smith said. “It’s rewarding seeing that I know a lot of people. You never see how many people you impact on a day-to-day basis. It’s really nice to have the reassurance that the work that you do doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Though Smith is not the first woman of color to win the title, she is honored to be the first African American woman to win. The first woman of color to win Queen Daisy, was crowned homecoming queen in 1959. An Asian-American woman, Daisy was originally from Hawaii. Smith is proud to follow in her footsteps.

“Race is not something we think about all the time, but it is there, regardless,” Smith said. “It’s nice to be aware of that and know that we are moving in the right direction.”

Smith recognizes that for many people of color on campus, it may be difficult to get involved. However, she urges them to push themselves out of their comfort zone.

“You have to make Winona your home,” Smith said. “As an African-American student, it’s hard to find your place sometimes outside of your culture. Wanting to get involved is hard, especially because most of the things I’m involved in have a lot of people that don’t look like me. It just takes a little extra effort to get out of your comfort zone and try new things with new people.”

Smith embodies this sentiment, starting off her first-year at Winona State by joining Tri Sigma, which she said has taught her how to manage time well, plan events and build leadership skills, all of which she will use for the rest of her life.

“Sigma has really helped me grow as a person,” Smith said. “The organization makes me grow in who I am and help me feel comfortable in my own skin.”

Smith now also works on Panhellenic Council to help guide the culture of the national sororities on campus. She also tries to create a better name for Greek life as a whole.

“We sometimes get compared to Greek life culture at other, bigger schools and our culture is not the same, whatsoever,” Smith said. “I believe we do a lot more on our campuses and we are more involved in our community than other organizations.”

Lindsay Marosi-Kramer, the assistant director of student activities for greek life and leadership at Winona State, raved about Smith.

“[Smith] is such an amazing woman. She works on so many initiatives that it’s hard to sum her up in a few short sentences,” Marosi-Kramer said. “That might be the best thing about her though, she’s an advocate for so many that her impact is wide spread, genuine and sought after.”

Through Tri Sigma, Smith has helped with many projects, such as planning a philanthropy dinner for the Robbie Page Memorial Foundation, which works towards funding polio research projects. She also recently helped run the blood drive on campus and has set up one weekend a year for the Tri Sigma members to volunteer at the local animal shelter.

However, Smith’s work in helping

others does not stop with her soror-

ity. In Student Senate, Smith said she works to make sure students are

represented by other student voices. With her communications major, she has chosen to focus on advocacy. Smith is a certified advocate in the state of Minnesota, as a well as an active member in the RE Initiative.

“[Advocacy] training made me realize there are people in the world that can’t speak for themselves and don’t have a voice,” Smith said. “By becoming an advocate, I can help make sure they have one and that they aren’t oppressed by any of the systems that are in place to prevent them from succeeding, and to give resources to those who need them.”

Smith originally joined the RE Initiative because of how crime statistics represented and impacted west campus. On the Annual Campus Crime and Fire Safety Report, west campus was not included as a campus building.

“It was considered an off-campus building, so I worked with the RE Initiative to figure out what we could do to make it known that those statistics don’t align with the reality, especially because we are expected to follow campus rules on west campus,” Smith said. “We got a motion moved through Senate to make sure west campus was included with main campus to report any crimes, but especially sexual assaults. They weren’t being reported in our main campus total, which made the total number of assaults seem much smaller than they actually were.”

After the success of Senate changing this policy, Smith was inspired to contribute to other projects with senate. Recently, Senate just passed an academic leave policy, prohibiting professors from penalizing students for taking leaves of absence from classes. These leaves of absence are reserved for emergency situations like family members dying, or for personal rights, such as religious holiday celebrations. Students just have to provide a legitimate reason to their professors.

“As a student, you don’t realize how much power you have unless you ask the right questions and talk to the right people,” Smith said. “Seeing that one person can make that big of a difference just by having that one conversation made me think of how I could do so much more.”

After graduation, Smith is moving to the San Antonio area to reunite with her sisters and be an active part of her nephew’s life. While she focuses on regrouping with her family, she will consider what she wants to do next. Smith is passionate about working with students, so graduate school may or may not follow.

“Whatever I do next, I’m excited for. A job will come with whatever I choose to do, but I’m so thankful for Winona State for supporting me and other students with goals,” Smith said.