Florida State University President John Thrasher and graduating senior Inam Sakinah are not a pair one would typically expect to be working together to catalyze change on campus.
But since meeting in 2014 during the president’s visit to one of FSU’s neurology labs, the two have formed a strong bond despite their differences in age, race, religion and political views.
It was a conversation between the unlikely duo that sparked an idea for Power of WE, the university’s first student-run, student-created campaign operating under the Office of the President.
Sakinah, also a member of the first cohort of FSU Presidential Scholars, had written a proposal about launching an initiative related to diversity and inclusion that made its way to the president’s desk, and they set up a meeting to talk about her ideas.
“Walking into the room, I knew I was about to have a conversation with the president, and I was nervous about how I would approach asking the president to support such an audacious idea,” Sakinah said.
Her nerves calmed as soon as she sat down with the always welcoming Thrasher, and that initial meeting helped to shape much of Power of WE’s mission and vision, which seeks to bring together individuals from all walks of life to engage in meaningful dialogue necessary to bridge differences.
Since its launch in 2016, the initiative has hosted several events designed to bring students together at a time when divides are continually deepening. In February, Power of WE’s Shared Spaces Series hosted an event featuring former Congressmen David Jolly (R-Florida) and Patrick Murphy (D-Florida), who joined forces across the aisle toward a bipartisan good.
“When something controversial comes up that creates a lot of tension, it’s better to sit down eyeball-to-eyeball with people and have the important conversations,” Thrasher said. “We were able to head off some real problems that could’ve occurred on campus if we hadn’t had that kind of dialogue going already.”
Today, Power of WE is the only student-run organization that reports directly to the Office of the President, which gives Thrasher the ability to advise and guide the organization, as well as provide resources and support to host events.
“While interacting with President Thrasher or watching him interact with others, I was able to see what leadership looked like personified.” — Inam Sakinah
“I just felt that Power of WE would be such a powerful organization that engages so many different groups on campus that it ought to be something I’d be directly involved in,” Thrasher said. “You know students have varying views of the world and its people, so to have them sitting down and actually talking to each other is a lot more effective than some of the things that are going on at other universities.”
Thrasher and Sakinah’s relationship reflects the organization’s dedication to bringing people of varying backgrounds together to create meaningful conversation. Using their differing identities as leverage, the pair shaped the initiative to include and appeal to students from all walks of life.
“While interacting with President Thrasher or watching him interact with others, I was able to see what leadership looked like personified,” Sakinah said. “When he walks into a room, he starts with questions and not answers. He is open to learning while he leads, which is remarkable for a person of his stature and life experience. For him to be able to acknowledge how some of his perceptions and views have changed during his term as president is so powerful.”
Recently, Thrasher was awarded the Educational Service Award through the Atlantic Institute of Jacksonville for his work with Power of WE. The honor is bestowed to individuals who actively promote education, diversity and intercultural exchange in their communities and workplaces.
With Sakinah’s May graduation, her legacy as the Power of WE’s founding director is strong. Sophomore Isa Colli has taken the reins as director, and the initiative is set to launch a national partnership in the coming months to inspire meaningful dialogue at universities across the country.
Thrasher believes that students should take advantage of opportunities outside the classroom like the Power of WE, and that positive experiences like these will help shape the nation’s future.
“Our students are so bright and well-prepared coming to Florida State University, yet there’s still a lot for them to learn once they get here – civic responsibility is a big part of that,” Thrasher said. “They are the future of America. I want everyone to be involved in their local communities. If people want to run for office or be on a school board, they ought to do that. Anything they can do to give back to their community is just so valuable.”
For more information or to get involved, visit http://powerofwe.fsu.edu.