SaShay Butler speaking at a FGLI conference / Photo courtesy of SaShay Butler

SaShay Butler dashed from room to room looking for water bottles, blankets and portable chargers in the Student Enrichment Services office the morning of April 25, day one of the five-day pro-Palestine occupation at Deering Meadow. The SES doors were locked to prevent outsiders from entering.  

As assistant director of SES, Butler normally spends her day advising first-generation, low-income students who visit SES, which is located in the Foster-Walker Complex. Given the unique circumstances, however, she wanted to go beyond her usual role and distribute supplies to the demonstrators. While she unloaded towels, tampons and blankets, she wore a beige cap featuring the palm of a Black hand that read, “Young. Melanated. Professional.”

The Northwestern Divestment Coalition began the pro-Palestine encampment to pressure University officials to divest from companies profiting from Israel’s war in Gaza. Hundreds of students attended, many of whom Butler personally mentors. She said she wanted to show up for students and support them through their passions, including their activism.

Outside of the encampment, she mainly focuses on supporting FGLI students. With a record 15% of the incoming Northwestern class identifying as FGLI combined with the protests, Butler is busy.

“My favorite part of this role is connecting with students, especially when they are talking about something that they’re passionate about, that excites them or brings them joy,” she said.

Butler connects with students by drawing back to her roots. Growing up in a rural town on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina, Butler said she felt she needed to mask her identity as a queer Black woman. She said she felt pressure to be more reserved about her true self in the heart of the Bible Belt. But with time, she learned to find pride and make her identity a “non-negotiable” when interacting with students.

“There’s no way I can show up in a space and not be SaShay,” Butler said. “If I'm able to model that, I hope they’re able to recognize it and they can do the same.”

Butler inspires many students navigating their own identities at Northwestern, said Weinberg first-year Amelia Fay Wilson, who spends hours in advising sessions with her each month. She said Butler encouraged her to explore new opportunities on campus, including pole dancing.

“She’s what allowed me to be my authentic self by just being a source to listen and give advice and feedback when I needed it,” Fay Wilson said. “She helped be there for me in my transition to Northwestern.”

With Butler’s support, Fay Wilson performed in Lutkin Hall last Friday at the Polerize showcase, Northwestern’s pole dancing club.

Fay Wilson now works as an SES ambassador to give back to the community that supported her first year at Northwestern, she said.

Jo Scaletty (Comm ‘23), spent four years being mentored by SES and now works as their receptionist.

“Her students feel safe and comfortable,” said Scaletty. “SaShay is someone you can tell pretty much anything to, especially in the pursuit of getting the resources you need.”

Butler works hard to help FGLI students get more financial aid, as well as academic and psychological help, Scaletty said.

Butler started this position only a year ago, but she has already formed a wide network of campus connections. When a student needs a resource, she immediately knows who to contact, said fellow SES Assistant Director Jesus Galvan.

“She maintains a history of what students are going through,” Galvan said. “By listening attentively and intentionally, she already has internships and professors in mind.”

Her “aura” is so kind and supportive that many students feel drawn to confide in her, Galvan said. McCormick third-year Kassie Ramirez experienced this firsthand. When Ramirez was having issues with her living situation, she turned to Butler in one of their monthly conversations.

“She feels like a safe space – I feel like I could tell her anything,” Ramirez said. “The advice she gives is not biased. She gives it to me straight.”

Over two years, Butler has empowered Ramirez to feel more comfortable with herself, she said. With her newfound confidence, she said she feels ready to communicate boundaries to her roommates.

Butler said she hopes her messages about reaching out for help and feeling worthy will stick with students long past graduation.

“Show up authentically as your whole self,” Butler said. “As your authentic, whole, vulnerable self.”