By Women for Women: Msaada Matches Black Alumni Mentors and Students
Bernice Saladin and Anissa Patton didn’t know each other a couple of years ago. Now, they visit regularly by phone and Zoom, talk about all things Davidson, ask and answer burning questions, discuss future plans and have casual but important “how are you doing?” check-ins.
It’s been about 60 years since the first Black students entered Davidson College. Ten years later, the Black Student Coalition was born. Today, Davidson is better because of those early leaders and the following generations they inspired to build a more diverse and equitable college community. In February, we commemorate Black History Month with stories of the past and present.
The two were matched through Davidson’s Msaada Mentoring Program, designed to pair alums who identify as Black women with students who identify as the same. In Kiswahili, "Msaada" means to be of help.
“There were fewer than 15 Black women on campus when I was a student,” said Patton ’91, an attorney specializing in child welfare in the Atlanta area. “I had no idea there were Black women engineers. I had never seen a Black woman judge. In a lot of ways, I was like a rudderless boat as a student, and I think about what could have been different with the right network.”
Two of the three Black women in Patton’s class graduated, and Patton joined Teach for America, later deciding to pursue a career in law. She now represents those who need her most—vulnerable children in the foster care system who have been through some of the most difficult situations imaginable. She is their advocate, their voice.
Saladin ’24 shares Patton’s heart for helping. And, she’s getting a front row seat to the real world of law and child welfare work. The political science major and data science minor finds inspiration in her mentor.
“I’ve shadowed her court cases on Zoom, and it’s a very difficult environment,” Saladin said. “It makes me nervous to think about learning to advocate for people who can’t do it for themselves, but seeing her has given me the confidence that I will be able to do it in the future.”
Saladin, who is interested in corporate law and pro bono child welfare work, chose Davidson over Tufts University and the University of Southern California. She was drawn to Davidson for its size, and the college met her financial needs in a way no other school did.
Davidson has been the ideal fit for the New Jersey native, who has become deeply involved in the campus. In addition to Msaada, she is a member of the Davidson Cheer Team and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., serves on the executive board for the Black Student Coalition and is a Resident Adviser. She enjoys having someone with experience who can help guide her through the rest of her busy time at Davidson and beyond.
“A lot of times students might have questions but are scared to ask them,” she said. “There are great resources on campus, and Anissa is another connection I can lean on. She’s someone who looks like me and has been in my same position. Representation is important, and I’m grateful alums give back to Davidson in a way that supports students so directly.”
Bernice enjoys being a mentee but came into Davidson with extensive experience as a mentor, too. Through her boarding school’s “Friends Program,” children visited campus and spent time with the students, eating with them in the dining hall, doing arts and crafts. She also spent one-on-one time with a child through a semester-long enrichment program that focused on academics.
“I was in a bubble of privilege, and being able to work with kids who had a variety of family, mental health or school challenges was rewarding,” she said. “I’ve always liked giving back to the community, and I hope to give back to Davidson students one day, too.”
Patton and Saladin are one of more than 50 Msaada matches since the program’s 2021 launch. The concept was born through conversations between Patton and a few other alums. Today, the program is managed by the Matthews Center for Career Development and the Office of Alumni and Family Engagement.
“As successful Davidson alums and as successful Black women, we have a responsibility to share our experiences and knowledge and support the students who are on campus today,” Patton said. “My dream is for this program to create a mesh—not just a network—so students have every opportunity to connect with alums professionally and personally. It gives them a safety net, in a way.”
The program is still in the “baby stages,” Patton said, but the early momentum is encouraging. She hopes many more alums will see the value in the relationships built through Msaada and decide to get involved.
“I can promise you I’m learning just as much from Bernice as she’s learning from me,” Patton said. “I always tell her she’s actually my mentor, not the other way around. She’s brilliant, attentive and asks great questions. I’d love to see her on the Supreme Court one day.”
Learn more about the Msaada Mentoring Program, and consider supporting students by becoming a mentor. In honor of the 50+ Years of the Black Student Coalition reunion taking place Feb. 10-12, 2023, alums, families and friends have an opportunity to support programs that enhance the Black student experience at Davidson, including Msaada. Learn more about the crowdfunding effort.