Fate Harrison-Griffin’s first experience with Pitt’s close community came after an eight-hour drive from Long Island on a campus visit.
“I felt welcome from the moment I walked onto campus,” she said, remembering how individuals who saw she had a Pitt information folder took time to greet them and offer their help and encouragement.
“People stopped me on the street to talk to me,” she said. “It was just very comforting and comforting – Pitt was one of the first colleges I went to so I didn’t know what to expect.”
Looking back, “Pittsburgh was the perfect place for me,” said the Pitt senior, referring to the feeling of a small community in a city that still offers many opportunities and resources for networking and internships.
As a first-generation student, Harrison-Griffin made much of the transition to higher education without a clear idea of what to expect. “I didn’t have a lot of guidance. I followed my own intuition, ”she said.
She found her way. An aspiring attorney, she is completing a degree in Political Science and African Studies and Certificates in Global and Latin American Studies as part of Pitt’s Class of 2021, preparing for the opening ceremony of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences on May 4 at PNC Park.
She plans to begin law school this fall and plans to specialize in intellectual property law and entertainment to provide legal knowledge that will help disadvantaged musicians and creators protect their intellectual property.
Hear more from Destiny Harrison-Griffin about Good Trouble and his work in this latest installment of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Food Podcast.
She has not yet chosen where to continue her studies. Choosing between acceptance offers from about half a dozen law schools is one of her top priorities after starting college, she said.
While Harrison-Griffin looks forward to continuing her education to serve others, she leaves her own legacy of mentoring and advocacy here in Pitt, where she has worked to make the campus community even more welcoming than she found it to be .
When she arrived as a freshman, Harrison-Griffin said, “I was very introverted. “I was scared and nervous. I was the only one from my high school who came to Pitt, and the house was eight hours away. “
She quickly established a relationship with her roommate in Tower B, attended events, and soon found a community of students from across the country through the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences BRIDGES program for underrepresented students.
Their early experiences motivated them to act. “I wanted to serve as a mentor to help potential students when they need someone to talk to,” she said.
After attending predominantly white schools in New York, she found her first opportunity in Pitt to deal with her own cultural background through Africana study courses. In her sophomore year, she joined the Dietrich School as a student ambassador and also joined the student recruitment team. Over the past three years, she has had the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds.
What she originally intended as a minor turned into a major when she fell in love with coursework and found a favorite professor at Christel Temple. “It was really rewarding to be tutored by a black woman,” said Harrison-Griffin. “I didn’t know I needed it until I had it.”
Her role as the Dietrich School ambassador included liaising with prospective students in general, but she was particularly inspired to mentor and encourage other black students.
She co-founded the Association of Black Political Science Students, a Pitt student group that aims in part to increase the percentage of black faculty in the department and increase the visibility of color political scientists.
She also founded Crown Culture, a student group for the appreciation of natural hair that worked on community projects and met regularly to educate each other about natural hair, including navigating professional workspaces.
And in the midst of the riots in summer 2020, she wanted to make sure that the organizational culture in the student ambassador program reflected inclusivity.
Inspired by the words of the late US representative and civil rights activist John Lewis: “Don’t get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year, but the struggle of a lifetime. Never be afraid of making noise and getting into good trouble, necessary trouble, ”she founded Good Trouble in the student ambassador group of the Dietrich School.
The ambassadors developed student boards at Pittsburgh Public Schools to strengthen a pipeline to Pitt for city high school students who may not have considered themselves college students. Good Trouble’s early projects included developing a partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to alleviate the disproportionate burden of food insecurity on black and brown communities during the pandemic. “I envisioned them as a subcommittee that could reflect this mission of diversity and justice and engaging and enhancing community relationships,” she said.
Harrison-Griffin was a student member of the Dietrich School Diversity Task Force, where she worked with her faculty advisor, Political Science Professor Andrew Lotz.
“Destiny is a great student, but given her experience working with committees, I believe she is more than just a student, but part of the material that shapes Pitt and moves Pitt into what it could be,” he said.
“Fate was an always powerful voice on the committee, fearless as an advocate for what students not only needed right now to be supported by the university, but also for the greater opportunities, like the campus community to be thoughtful and a real address could generate patterns of systemic racism for them, ”said Lotz.
“What definitely sets Destiny apart is its ability to connect, bridge, and motivate this diverse group of faculties, staff, PhD students, and fellow students. … Fate handled it perfectly, and her contribution was one of the most powerful in these sessions as there was a clear attempt to understand the diversity of the committee and to present concerns in a way that can appeal to anyone regardless of faculty / staff status / Students. ”
Harrison-Griffin did not neglect her academics in the midst of advocacy, but rather intertwined them with their interests.
As part of a research seminar on Africana Studies, Harrison-Griffin pursued an independent research project that looked at the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case and its implications for the Black community and education in general. “Some revisionist sentiments have downplayed the importance of the case,” she said, while watching the impact the landmark civil rights decision had on her own ability to study at university.
She also assisted the political science professor Scott Morgenstern in research for a book on the relationship between the United States and Latin America over several decades.
“In the first few months that she worked with me, all I knew was that she was a dedicated and insightful student,” Morgenstern said. “This was a volunteer position and yet she really got into the work and impressed me with her hard work and quality work. When I later learned about her life story and how much she was involved in so many high-level and socially impactful projects, I was even more impressed. … She is clearly one of the most dedicated students – both in terms of her academic activities and social issues – that I have had the pleasure to work with, ”he said.
In letters of recommendation, Temple has highlighted Harrison-Griffin’s strength in observing and evaluating before presenting her thoughts in class, as well as her ability to connect the practical applications of her studies with the current moment.
“She was not the kind of student who eagerly raised her hand first or vied for the professor’s attention to exchange early and obvious observations about the texts we were studying,” said Temple. “Instead, Destiny is the last to share her ideas after listening patiently. … Every time she shared her insight into a text, it was more mature than her colleagues, more philosophical than her colleagues, and more innovative and original than her colleagues. “
Harrison-Griffin plans to spend the next several months in Pittsburgh to explore the city more relaxed while she prepares for her studies. “This summer, I plan to take some time before going to law school,” she said. “It’s going to be a really difficult journey with a lot of work – this rest time will be nice.”
Harrison-Griffin’s support for fellow students and her dedication to creating good problems doesn’t stop when she gets her diploma. She is part of the Panther Forward Cohort of 2021, a group of 150 college students who pledge to prepay the federal student loan facilitation they receive through mentoring and financial support for future Pitt students.