Five years ago, cheerleading captain Alexis Reed ’23 stood at the 50-yard line before the first football game of the season. The high school senior from New Orleans didn’t intend to raise eyebrows for anything except her team’s amazing basket toss. But as the opening lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” floated through the stadium, Reed decided to raise her fist in the air. She felt compelled to protest the social injustices she had observed firsthand as a young Black woman growing up in a state with the nation’s highest incarceration rate, where Black people are sent to prison nearly four times more often than white people, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
Her actions ignited controversy among some high school administrators, parents and alumni, but she didn’t back down — she and a friend continued their peaceful protest at every game. Reed’s tenacity would eventually land her an interview with sports journalist Dave Zirin for his book The Kaepernick Effect and an appearance in a Showtime documentary about the history of Black athletes and protest.
But as a high school senior in the thick of the college search, she was intent on finding a campus that shared her commitment to social justice. She was primarily considering universities in the Washington, D.C., area when her high school’s college counselor mentioned St. Edward’s University. “She told me, ‘It’s small, it’s personal, and they care a lot about the issues you care about … There’s just one thing. It’s in Texas,’” Reed remembers. “Texas was not even on my radar!”
After meeting with a St. Edward’s admission officer and connecting with Sydney Wade ’20, then-president of the Black Student Alliance (BSA), Reed was sold. “I got that feeling they say you’re supposed to get, like I had found my place,” she says. “Everyone consistently said that St. Ed’s cares, that they give students a platform for their voices that is supported on all levels, all the way up to the administration. I was still growing into my voice and beliefs and wanted an atmosphere that would encourage, support and respect my journey.”
That’s just what she found when she moved into Dujarié Hall in the fall of 2019, declaring Sociology as her major and minoring in Criminal Justice with a pre-law focus. “It’s been a perfect fit,” she says. “I’m getting to learn about things on an academic level that I was already passionate about and already experiencing.”
She also took on leadership roles in BSA, serving as event coordinator her sophomore year, vice president her junior year and president her senior year. She met with Black prospective students at events like Brunch with BSA and participated in call nights to answer their questions about St. Edward’s.
“I was still growing into my voice and beliefs and wanted an atmosphere that would encourage, support and respect my journey.”
When campus reopened last fall after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and fellow BSA leader Courtney Reed ’22 (a good friend who coincidentally shares her last name) decided to highlight the topic of social justice by organizing a Power to the People symposium. Zirin’s book featuring Reed had just been released, and once the St. Edward’s community learned her story, it became clear that she should speak at the event.
“Let's say you’re nothing like me — you’re not outspoken; you’re not 20; you’re not Black. You have completely different life experiences,” she said in her keynote speech at the symposium. “You don’t have to be like me to be an activist. What you do have to be, though, is willing. Willing to commit, to listen, to learn, to be criticized. Willing to sit in your discomfort and dissect it. Willing to try again and be better.”
Reed has heeded her own advice time and again during her four years on the hilltop. Commit and listen: She collaborated with others to expand the Power to the People symposium in its second year. Dissect and learn: She won a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State to travel to South Africa and learn about powerful social movements there. Keep trying: The activist framework she has created for BSA and the Power to the People event will continue to guide students long after she graduates.
“Take on your world — they preach that at St. Edward’s, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” she says. “I want all of these events and all this momentum to be carried on and pushed beyond this campus, into Austin and even farther. I want it all to ripple out.”
“You don’t have to be like me to be an activist. What you do have to be, though, is willing. Willing to commit, to listen, to learn, to be criticized. Willing to sit in your discomfort and dissect it. Willing to try again and be better.”
By Stacia Miller MLA ’05