Jaisha Smalls Bridges The Gap Between Bennett College & The White House
Two of our very own Bennett Belles, who you may know from BelleAir Radio, were granted a unique opportunity this past year, and we’re ready to share it with you. Jaisha Smalls and Carmesha Blackmon, the hosts of our on-campus radio station, received an intriguing email from Erica P. Loewe, the Director of African American Media at the White House (who Jaisha would later interview on BelleAir Radio), in the summer of 2021.
Unknowingly to us here at Bennett College, the White House had launched an HBCU initiative to provide student journalists the opportunity to attend press briefings similar to what major news companies have access to. “I saw an email land in my inbox that ended with .gov, so I was immediately intrigued and confused,” said Jaisha Smalls, a journalism major at the time. The email stated that two Belles had been chosen as White House student correspondents to represent Bennett College during virtual press briefings specifically for HBCUs, and that they would have the opportunity to visit in-person. With Carmisha unable to attend, Jaisha became Bennett’s lead correspondent.
Throughout the 2021-2022 school year, Jaisha was invited to attend three separate press briefings with White House staff that would last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. “The briefings were pretty intense,” said Jaisha. “You never knew if you’re going to get called on to ask your question, and if you do, you have to unmute quickly and not waste any time.”
During every press briefing, each correspondent is allotted one question, so when Jaisha received confirmation for each briefing, it was all hands on deck. Jaisha and Professor Tom Lipscomb, head of Journalism and Media Studies, would spend hours researching what was happening around the country and the world to prepare a unique, conversation-starting question. Professor Lipscomb would even help Jaisha practice her delivery so that when the time came, she was confident to speak up and represent Bennett College.
Jaisha attended her first virtual press briefing with White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on September 10, 2021. In this briefing, Jaisha asked: Is it true that the Biden administration is suing the state of Texas due to its newest abortion law? How does the Biden administration feel about laws on abortion, in all? This press briefing was recorded and is available for viewing here.
Jaisha attended her second press briefing on November 18, 2021 and spoke with White House Senior Advisor Cedric Richmond. She asked the question: As a senior advisor to the President, what are you advising President Biden on that is good policy and he hasn’t done yet, but you think he should do? This press briefing was also recorded and is available for viewing here.
Finally, Jaisha attended a third press briefing on January 26, 2022 with U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, and they discussed priorities for the upcoming year. As this briefing was held in a different format, no recording was provided.
Unfortunately, an in-person visit was not coordinated before Jaisha graduated from Bennett this spring, but she is very grateful for the experience and opportunity to represent our school at such a high level. She also enjoyed connecting with other HBCUs to see what they’re doing, and looks forward to continuing her journalism career post-college.
We are so proud to have facilitated this opportunity for Jaisha while she attended Bennett College, and we look forward to more student collaborations with the White House in the future.