Nazareth College student Sarha Smith-Moyo is New York Social Work Education Association Student of the Year
She serves as a leader in social justice and responding to the homelessness crisis
Rochester, NY (11/17/2021) — Nazareth College student Sarha Smith-Moyo is earning accolades as the New York Social Work Education Association's Student of the Year. She is a senior social work major whose leadership in the classroom, on the Nazareth College campus, and in the larger community is reflective of a deeply engaged and activist social worker.
"It is rare indeed to find a student with such a deep and sustained social justice commitment," said Nazareth social work faculty who nominated Smith-Moyo. "Sarha is a leader in the classroom, on the Nazareth College campus and in the community, with special ability to serve as a leader in the areas of anti-racism and social justice. She is an activist."
Smith-Moyo is often focused on creating spaces that are equitable. In 2020, she co-founded the Black Lives Matter (BLM) student organization on the Nazareth campus and developed the group's initial programming such as the BLM campus march and Nazareth sit-in (in relation to both the campus climate and the Daniel Prude murder), and a community conversation in spring 2021 to explore how the College can work to create greater equity within the campus community.
She says Nazareth is on the way to creating a diverse and inclusive campus environment, but there is still much work to be done to avoid an exclusive campus climate. "My peers and I found it is crucial to make more space for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community here at Nazareth. Social justice will continue to be something we strive for at Naz."
Smith-Moyo is serving her community by responding to the homelessness crisis in Rochester and beyond. Her passion for the work took root in her first year at Nazareth, when she volunteered at Genesis House, a young adult group home in Rochester.
"There are so many horrible stereotypes and stigmas surrounding homelessness - I quickly learned that had anything gone a little differently in my life, I could be in the same exact position as they were," said Smith-Moyo. "Many of the residents were hard workers, students, parents, and many times society saw them or treated them as degenerates and deadbeats."
She believes that she found a special opportunity working with them. "There are so many problems that this population faces that are completely out of their control. I tried my best to give some of that control back. Whether people are in situations due to their own choices, or out of bad luck, they deserve the same amount of respect and autonomy in their lives."
As a student intern in Albany, she organized a major youth speak-out so young people could address their concerns with the Office of Children and Families. She's volunteered at Project Homeless Connect-Rochester events since 2018 and worked as a social work intern with the University of Rochester's Street Outreach program, helping medical students more fully understand the needs of those experiencing homelessness.
She delivered activities and relationship development for children and youth facing homelessness as a volunteer in Nazareth's Partners for Serving Program. She was selected as a student researcher in 2020, working on a project exploring the roots of homeless shelter entry in the Greater Rochester area. More recently, she is pursuing her dedication to accessibility/disability rights through a senior year field practicum with AutismUp.
"This award helps me see the actual impact I've had on my classmates, professors, and the Rochester community," she said. "It is really nice to have the work I've put in these four years to be recognized and I am very proud and privileged to earn this honor."