Student Spotlight: Sylvie Baele

Sylvie Baele, a first-year MPA student, has recently earned the Race & Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) Student Leadership Award, an achievement that recognizes and supports student leaders who share RSJI’s mission for achieving systemic change for race and social justice. That makes Sylvie’s proposal, A Commitment to Increasing Diversity on Campus through the Cultivation and Integration of Bicycle Transportation, a dual award-winning initiative. Last fall, Sylvie also won the Sturcken Memorial Oratorical Competition.

Sylvie’s dedication to creating change by elevating bike transportation as a local economic and social catalyst is interwoven into both awards, her MPA coursework, and daily life. “Bicycles, when used as a primary mode of transportation, are the intertwining link between resilient social, economic and environmental adaptation. They are instruments of social justice and revolutionize mobility. They solve transportation woes while providing economic freedom and environmental and physical health benefits.”

In her Strucken Memorial and RSJI proposals, Sylvie explains what we can do to help our campus bridge necessary gaps with a ‘Better Bicycling Initiative. “There are two wheels of the Better Bicycling Initiative: a course and a student-run cooperative. The course, ideally a First-Year Seminar, would encourage active participation from students and teach them bicycle safety, maintenance and basic repair, as well as best commuting practices while riding. At the student-run bicycle co-op, students practice their skills while while building knowledge in business management, finance, marketing, etc. This co-op would benefit the entire college community.”

But her pursuit extends beyond the College’s campus. Her lived experiences motivate a calling to address systemic inequality in the greater Charleston community. “As a college in a city that struggles to remedy systemic inequalities, we have a responsibility to make real and necessary changes. Lack of access to healthy food and medical care, the gentrification of historically black neighbors, and inequities in housing and work opportunities make up just some of the complex web of oppression that is lived by black residents. Dismantling this requires a creative and co-produced approach that fights the system of oppression from all directions. I am deeply passionate about the empowerment and opportunity that bike transportation provides users. I believe that by making those benefits accessible to the black population, it can ameliorate some of the racial disparities that exist in Charleston County.”

The RSJI award will help support Sylvie’s passion to increase community equity, as she will be attending a national bike advocacy conference in March. “The National Bike Summit provides workshops, resources, and connections that will help me develop and execute plans to facilitate the use of bikes for transportation. This college can be more than a beautiful and historic campus, we can be a leader in intersectional growth in environmental, social, and economic facets of sustainability literacy. A vibrant, inclusive and sustainable future awaits us.”

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