Experiences gained as a young student and family member helped shape the perceptions and intentions of Muskegon’s Nia Goins, who graduates summa cum laude on Saturday at 12:30 p.m., May 7, from Ferris State University’s College of Business with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice-Corrections.
“I am the eldest daughter and middle child in my family,” Goins said. “Both my parents went to college, with my mother earning her degree from Baker College. Since my father was in the military, he attended various schools to complete his education.”
Moving from place to place meant she learned in multiple school districts, a formative situation for a young student.
“I started in a predominantly white public school system, wrapping up my high school years in a predominantly black district,” Goins said, noting she recognized the disparities that would impact her. “It made me want to seek opportunities to become a positive and active advocate for change.”
Goins found encouragement during a visit to Ferris arranged by the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District’s Career Tech Center.
“When I got to Ferris, I was pleased to get to know the professional and student staff of the Office of Multicultural Student Services,” Goins said. “After that, my decision to attend Ferris was essentially made. I took AP and dual enrollment classes to prepare me for college-level courses.”
Goins did not forget the OMSS staff’s impression made on her after she completed her enrollment activities and arrived on campus.”
Visiting OMSS, now as a student, solidified her thoughts.
“In my first days as a Bulldog, I went to the OMSS office, which gave me a great foundation in the opportunities for involvement that were available,” Goins said. “I began taking advantage of those opportunities in my first semesters and continued throughout my campus time. I’m so thankful for each chance to make this campus more comfortable by stepping up as a leader.”
Goins also focused on academic accountability.
“I did not go easy on myself; even if I earned a ‘B,’ it wasn’t good enough for me,” Goins said. “I am growing and learning how to give myself more grace because sometimes being a perfectionist can get unhealthy. I am proud, however, to have made the Dean’s List the last two semesters. I want to make sure that I am still achieving excellence in this final Spring semester. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
Beyond her Criminal Justice degree, Goins is proud to be claiming a minor in Sociology from her studies.
“I know that continuing my education will be helpful to my career,” Goins said. “As this final semester wraps up, I am trying very hard to slow down and take in what is happening around me. Burnout is very real and normal. However, if I can keep up with my involvements and rest, I can be my best self as a student and advocate.”
Goins offered support as a “College Positive Volunteer.”
“When K-12 students visit the campus, we serve as hosts and help answer questions they had,” Goins said.” Usually, they want to know what the food is like and about our housing experience, especially living in the dorms. Some students asked more difficult questions. Answering was sometimes tough because you really can only respond based on your campus experience, and everyone is different. They asked about support systems based on their identities. I was glad to be a resource and potential friend if they came to Ferris. Being real and honest with them is essential to building trust.”
As a junior, Goins supported the Anti-Violence Alliance.
“I was impressed how AVA leadership took so many communities facing violence into consideration,” Goins said. “The LGBT+ community and the BIPOC community are all researched and worked with thoroughly. We want to be sure we listen to their needs and support the community as best we can.”
She added, “A key concept for addressing incidents of violence is intersectionality, the idea of how identity can factor into a person’s situations and experiences. As I am a young Black woman in Big Rapids, originally from Muskegon, my experience compared to someone from a more rural or suburban setting can be significantly different. Our levels of support can also vary if a situation of harm occurs.”
More recently, Goins joined with a fellow graduating senior, Laila Duncan, to found Sistah Circle with the support of the OMSS.
“The idea first came to me in my freshman year, when I heard about the Black Male Network on campus,” Goins said. “While women could find support in TOWERS (Teaching Others What Establishes Real Success) and You Beautiful Black Woman, I believed there should be a parallel organization to empower multicultural women parallel to the Black Male Network programming.”
Goins and Duncan found an ally in Danyelle Gregory, who returned to OMSS as its director.
“The survey results showed us that relationship dynamics, professional development and personal issues such as depression and self-esteem were key topics to be addressed,” she said. “Women on campus wanted to feel safe and able to speak with people who look like them, who have the same experiences and find support in that group. Even if that fellowship is in a one-hour monthly session, the work is being put in to continue toward the goals we met for Sistah Circle.”
Putting the Sistah Circle in a great position, looking into the future has been a priority.
“We’ve kept our eyes and ears open for students who could lead the initiative going forward,” Goins said. “We will do what we can to support the Sistah Circle as it proceeds if that means being involved via Zoom or making contact with OMSS leadership to learn what’s happening. It’s my baby. That is very significant to me, and I expect to feel that way and continue my efforts to support it for years to come.”
Being a lifelong learner means Goins will be pursuing a Master of Science in Public Policy or Sociology or an appropriate graduate degree program, so she can work as an advocate on policies that apply to corrections, diversity, equity and inclusion, along with other concentrations.
“It is important to find answers to the societal struggles of recidivism, and the ‘school-to-prison’ pipeline, that comes from zero-tolerance policies and directing young people to juvenile and criminal justice systems,” Goins said. “Research shows that punitive measures at an early age, like suspensions and other forms of discipline, are much more likely to occur with children from marginalized communities, so I would be very interested in research and advocacy.”
She added, “The public school system can affect a young person’s situations, choices and responses, without considering the stressors, like whether they have access to good food. That is just one facet of societal elements that can bring on a variety of responses from a young person.”
Wherever Goins continues her studies, she feels her experiences on the Ferris campus and with the organizations she took part in will serve her well in her education and professional formation.
“I am grateful for all my friends, past and present,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’ll likely be rare that all of us will get together again, but that won’t stop us from meeting up when we can.”
Goins hoped to offer a message of encouragement for students who continue in the classrooms and RSOs as Ferris heads to a new academic year.
“If you feel nervous about joining an organization, or your ability to get good grades, don’t be afraid to use the resources on campus to put your best foot forward,” Goins said. “You may not begin with much confidence, but you’ll gain it as you put yourself in uncomfortable situations and see you can navigate them. I know sometimes I felt uncomfortable and nervous, especially with the pandemic in the middle of my college experience. Trust yourself, and get adventurous. Putting yourself out there shapes your experience in the best way.”
Finally, Goins took a moment to reflect on her time at the university, being the first of her siblings to earn a degree.
“I never thought about it that way. It just dawned on me,” she said. “I am glad I chose Ferris due to all the experiences and opportunities I’ve had. The youngest of my siblings, Jasmine, is getting ready to start her academic journey in the fall at Michigan State University. Our whole family is so excited for her. I’ve been giving her advice and easing her anxieties about her potential experience, and I will do my best to help her be confident and successful.”
Spring 2022 commencement ceremonies take place Friday and Saturday, May 6-7, on the Big Rapids campus.