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Nia Vega is selected as a Newman Civic Fellow


SUNY Cortland junior Nia Vega has been a campus leader in many different equity and social justice initiatives on campus and an effective advocate for the victims and survivors of sexual assault.

For her dedication to the welfare of others, Vega recently was named among only 171 college students in the country to earn a prestigious 2022-23 Newman Civic Fellowship.

Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education, coordinates the yearlong fellowship program, which provides training and resources to future leaders.

As a Newman Civic Fellow, Vega will be guided by more senior Campus Compact coalition members as she expands her skills in leadership and community involvement. The students selected for the program demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities locally, nationally and internationally.

“Nia is an outstanding student and an incredible member of our campus community,” said her academic advisor, Elizabeth Bittel, assistant professor of sociology/anthropology. “She will excel in this role.”

Vega, who grew up in the East Harlem section of New York City and benefited from SUNY Cortland’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), would like nothing better than to see the students she helps today become tomorrow’s movers and shakers.

At Cortland she mentors new students taking part in the EOP program over the summer During the school year she works with Cortland high school seniors to put them on track for college. While when she’s back home on break, Vega is employed by her former high school as a Bridge to College Coach.

At SUNY Cortland, her social justice endeavors have ranged from organizing informative discussions and assemblies to supporting peaceful demonstrations.

Vega, who has concentrated in criminology with a minor in computer applications, serves as president of the SUNY Cortland organization Students Active For Ending Rape (S.A.F.E.R.), which hosts a Take Back The Night event each semester and conducts programs aimed at ending sexual and domestic violence. S.A.F.E.R. also works to recruit new students to become the next generation of campus leadership.

“At the root of my praxis, I begin by connecting with folks across the gender identity spectrum to address violence,” Vega said. “This includes economic, racial and gender/sexual-based violence. I achieve this through highlighting current event issues that educate club members and others in the community.”

“I assure all concerns and opinions are considered to recognize everyone’s perspective,” she said. “Therefore, all voices can be heard in my pursuit of spreading awareness.”

Vega currently is co-president of Men Of Value and Excellence (M.O.V.E.), working with men of color on campus to foster a culture of wellness and leadership.

“We actually advocate for all men on campus, because their voices are not heard,” Vega said, noting that not many clubs just for men exist at Cortland. According to her, the in-person shutdown during the pandemic had almost extinguished the 12-year-old organization, which depended on lots of in-person interaction.

“A lot of people never heard of us,” she said. Vega recently organized a hybrid in-person and virtual version of M.O.V.E.’s annual Men of Color Leadership Summit. The annual event attracts speakers and collegiate attendees from a wide geographic region to strengthen men’s self-affirmation and positive empowerment.

Vega blends her social advocacy work with her academics, conducting social justice research with two sociology professors, Bittel and Kent Johnson. She and three other research interns are conducting in-person interviews with students of color that will comprise a sociological study about race and racism at SUNY Cortland. Her research will help educators understand perceptions of race and racism on the campus and in the greater Cortland community. Vega and her classmates will present their findings in a poster session on Friday, April 29, during Transformations, a university-wide academic open house.

Applying for the fellowship focused her aspirations on a career in mental health counseling.

“It made me realize a lot of what I want to do moving forward after college, how I want to approach things on creating my future,” Vega said.

“I am looking forward to being able to mentor people who are part of this fellowship,” she said of her upcoming year as a Newman Civic Fellow. “I am only expanding my experience with mentoring because I have been doing that for a few years now.”

SUNY Cortland students have captured more than their share of this award, despite the fact that many higher educational institutions never see a single student join the Newman Civic Fellow ranks. Recent past SUNY Cortland student honorees, are listed below:

  • Patricia Winston, scheduled to graduate in May 2022, 2021-22
  • Shaneya Simmelkjaer ’21, 2020-21
  • Ryann Hudson ’20, 2019-20
  • Alexandra Cicero ’19, 2017-18
  • Nicole LaFrenier ’15, 2014-15