When Daphnee Napoleon came to Buffalo State four years ago, much was weighing on her young shoulders. Near the end of her senior year in high school, her older sister died of complications from epilepsy. Prior to that, Napoleon’s father suffered a stroke and had to take time off from his job as a chef to recover. Her mother was struggling to adapt to the family’s new reality.
“I had to become an adult pretty quickly—find a job, take care of my family, and pretty much pay for everything myself,” said Napoleon, a senior psychology major who immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, from Haiti when she was five years old. “I’ve always wanted to go to college and study psychology. But as a freshman, I was in shock.”
What she found on the Buffalo State campus were lifelines—the Counseling Center staff whom she could share her grief and her guilt, the Student Life Office staff who helped her get involved, and Psychology Department faculty who offered support. Soon, she found herself deeply immersed in campus life.
“I am an overachiever. By my sophomore year, I had a list of goals I wanted to accomplish,” said Napoleon, who carries a 3.64-grade point average and has a double minor in legal studies and deviance. “I put Post-it notes throughout my room with everything I wanted to do.”
Each semester she was able to peel off more notes as she accomplished her goals. These included working as an assistant in the Student Life Office, participating in the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) and the SUNY Model Senate Program, working as a resident assistant, and serving as a student ambassador during orientation.
Being a student ambassador, where she gave campus tours to high school students, ranks as her favorite extracurricular activity.
“It’s messy but it’s fun. While it’s hard to wrangle 15 to 30 students who are transitioning between sessions, it helped me work on my communication- and public-speaking-skills.”
Napoleon is now using those skills in two important roles—resident assistant (RA) and Residence Life Judicial Board member.
“Being an RA pushes me to be a role model,” she said.
In addition to her numerous campus positions, Napoleon has remained committed to her academic studies. She’s a McNair Scholar and is working on her honor thesis, “The Underrepresentation of African American Men in Professional Psychology.”
“During my junior year, I took the course History and Systems of Psychology and was bothered that I did not see enough people of color developing ideas and theories in psychology,” she said. “So I decided to do a study that addressed the issue of diversity in the field.”
Ultimately, Napoleon decided she didn’t want to pursue a career as a psychologist. However, the major did help her create a roadmap for her future—which is heading toward a career in law.
“I’ve met great people here who have guided me along the way. I’ve been able to form relationships with faculty members who will give me recommendations for law school or for whatever field I decide to go into.”
And she added that finding the right peers contributed to her success.
“The primary people I have in my life are my fellow psych majors, my co-workers, and my close friends,” she said. “It’s important to surround yourself with dynamic, goal-oriented individuals.”
Following graduation in May, she plans to volunteer with an organization such as the Peace Corps and then apply to law school.
“I want to go into immigration law. I’m not fond of the rhetoric that is being spewed right now,” she said. “I feel like all immigrants have a unique story, and I want to be a narrator to those stories.”
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