Brianna Scott grew up in Muskegon and attended Michigan State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing. She earned her law degree from Wayne State University in 2000 and has licenses to practice law in both Michigan and New York. When Scott was hired as the assistant prosecutor in Muskegon County, she became the first African-American to hold that position. During her final year in the prosecutor’s office, she worked on felony criminal sexual conduct and neglect and abuse cases. Brianna Scott was elected in 2018 to the MSU Board of Trustees.
What current project or initiative are you working on that you would like Michigan Democrats to know about?
The election of the next president of Michigan State University is undoubtedly the most critical task that I face as a member of the Board of Trustees. I was honored to be chosen from among my newly elected colleagues to become a member of the Search Committee, and I will strive diligently to assure that we hire the best possible candidate to inspire, unify and lead the MSU community decisively through the coming challenges. Under the leadership of a committed and innovative new president, I envision Michigan State University becoming a national leader in providing a safe, inclusive and collaborative culture that will foster both academic excellence and an equal opportunity for all students to obtain an outstanding education to fulfill MSU’s mission as our nation’s first land grant institution. Our new president should exemplify qualities of integrity and transparency, as well as excellence in academic scholarship and the administrative and financial astuteness that will provide resources and promote affordability.
What message do you have for others who are interested in politics but need a push in the right direction?
My message would essentially be to share my own story as an individual who was involved and committed to the betterment of my community in various activities and leadership roles, but who had no political experience or involvement beyond exercising my right to vote. I had no ready source of financial resources for a campaign and was located geographically distant from the population centers on the eastern side of the state. In spite of all of this, as a proud MSU alumna who was confronted with the ongoing crisis at Michigan State University and concerned with the responses of the MSU leadership, I was moved to consider whether my skills and experience could make a difference. I engaged in discussions with family, friends, colleagues, and community leaders who encouraged me to run. With their support and a lot of time, energy and commitment, I was able to become the top vote-getter among the candidates for the educational boards in a statewide election. To the extent that I was able to succeed in this effort, I would encourage others to believe that they could do so also.
How can we get college students who are interested in politics involved and active as we prepare for 2020?
18 to 24-year olds have historically had the lowest voting rate of all age groups and college students, in particular, have faced significant barriers in exercising their right to vote, including the requirement that first-time voters vote in person in the location that they claim as a primary residence. The recent successful ballot initiative will change many rules for Michigan voters and will hopefully change the rules that particularly impact college students.
Beginning with freshman orientation, MSU should provide the necessary voter education to assist all students in exercising their right to vote. At the same time, students should receive information regarding the many groups on campus that could directly or indirectly involve them in the political process. Faculty members could also be engaged in providing information to students on their voting rights and responsibilities and consider papers or assignments that would increase student knowledge of the political process and the issues at stake in the 2020 election.
The University could encourage and support various campus organizations in sponsoring candidate debates on campus or other forums to educate students regarding candidates and their positions leading up to the primaries and the election.
Finally, I would hope that my plans to promote more student input and involvement with the decisions of the Board of Trustees might also help students learn about the power of their voices and encourage their further engagement in the political process.
What have you learned from your time on the MSU Board of Trustees office so far?
Thus far, I have learned what a difference an election can make in a short amount of time. I campaigned on a promise to be a change agent while at MSU. Within my first month, I was able to elect our Board Chair, Dianne Byrum, who has shown great leadership in obtaining the resignation of John Engler, reinstating the Healing Assistance Fund for the Survivors and their families, and also meeting and speaking with survivors and their families who have felt they had no voice until recently. It is clear at MSU and throughout this state and country that elections do matter!
What inspired you to get involved in public service?
My inspiration to run for the MSU Board of Trustees was rooted in my own very positive and affirming experiences as an MSU student and the experiences of my son who was, and is, currently a student at MSU.
After attending a high school with very few students of color, I welcomed the greater diversity that greeted me on the MSU campus at that time.
Throughout my years there, I experienced many forms of needed support as a student, including a professor who encouraged me to pursue the law profession that has enabled me to serve others and break new ground as the first African-American assistant prosecutor in Muskegon County and the first African-American female to own a law firm there.
In stark contrast to my experience, my son was attending a university whose reputation was tarnished by a tragic failure to protect its students and a failure of its leaders to competently and transparently address this crisis. Tuition costs for his education were steadily increasing on a less diverse campus where graduation rates for students of color were far below those of white students. I saw an opportunity to use my legal and leadership skills and my life experiences to help restore trust, integrity, and pride to MSU.
In honor of Women’s History Month, what woman has inspired you the most and why?
Many great women have inspired me, but if I had to single out one as the most inspirational, it would have to be Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery and found a means of escape with the help of her abolitionist neighbors. She then formulated a plan to liberate the rest of her family by way of the Underground Railroad, a system that involved moving slaves from one safe house to another under rigid secrecy. She was able to free her family and numerous other slaves throughout the years, taking them as far as Canada and helping them find safe jobs. She later worked as a nurse during the Civil War and was a proponent of both women’s suffrage and the abolitionist movement.
Harriet Tubman’s story teaches the fundamental life lesson of never forgetting where you came from and always reaching back to your community to help others. She was courageous and strong, despite all the obstacles facing her. I want to be that woman!
The above is a continuation of an interview published in both electronic and print formats. The following disclaimer applies to all variations and mediums: Paid for by the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee. michigandems.com. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.