Labor Studies Commencement Speaker Spotlight: Sherrod Session

On a mission to ‘foster a culture of genuine care and understanding among people’

This story is part of our 2024 Labor Studies Graduation Stories series. Sherrod Session will be one of the graduating student speakers at the upcoming Labor Studies Commencement Celebration on Saturday, June 15.

By Michelle Miranda | June 7, 2024

Stability and a brighter future have always been Sherrod Session’s main priorities. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Sherrod took a leap of faith by coming to UCLA after he and his mother faced homelessness. Initially admitted as a business economics major, he soon discovered the Labor Studies program and became its 79th declared major. His passion for organized labor grew, leading him to establish the Labor Studies Student Union (LSSU) to unite the labor studies student community to build awareness about local and national labor campaigns and shared professional goals. As Sherrod’s time at UCLA concludes, he looks forward to the next chapter at the University of Houston, where he will attend law school.

We sat down with Sessions to discuss his labor studies journey and future plans. The interview was edited for length and clarity. 

What made you join the Labor Studies program?

Initially, I was admitted to UCLA for business economics with the intention of going into finance, perhaps investment banking. However, I soon realized that it wasn’t the right fit for me. I wanted something that stimulated my mind beyond the conventional finance job. I sought a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating history, sociologyand more. The Labor Studies program provided that, with a significant emphasis on history, which is one of my passions. I discovered the program through a friend in my freshman year, and after learning more about it, I decided to switch majors. I reached out to the program, and Gloria, one of the staff members, promptly responded. After a brief conversation, I became the 79th official Labor Studies major.

How has being a Labor Studies major influenced your life?

It has made me more attuned to history, as most histories have a labor component. Understanding the critical role of labor in economic systems and everyday life has broadened my perspective. This awareness can lead to more efficient workplace organization and the development of hybrid models that incorporate both competitive and cooperative elements. The Labor Studies program has motivated me to spread this consciousness and promote organized labor.

What do you feel is the most pressing labor issue today? What has Labor Studies taught you about how to address it?

Union density is at its lowest in U.S. history. When union density was higher, regular people had more bargaining power. Now, labor movements are less organized and sophisticated, largely due to opposition from wealthy business interests. We need more labor leaders willing to take risks and negotiate for workers’ rights. Organizing workplaces and creating robust unions are essential to addressing this issue. 

On a more personal level, you’ve shared that you experienced homelessness before coming to UCLA, how have those experiences shaped who you are now?

It has taught me never to take anything for granted and to live humbly. It’s made me more determined to achieve stability and more willing to accept help and reciprocate kindness. I want to help others as I have been helped, fostering a sense of community and support.

How did the instability you faced at UCLA affect you personally and academically?

The instability has increased my stress but also strengthened my resilience. I’ve faced financial difficulties and taken on more responsibilities, but I’ve managed to maintain my academic performance. I’ve had some slip-ups, but overall, I’ve stayed focused. 

Was moving from Houston to Los Angeles a difficult decision, and what made you say yes to UCLA?

I didn’t have much choice. My senior year of high school, I was living with a friend’s family after being evicted. When the pandemic hit, it made my situation even more precarious. I committed to UCLA without visiting the campus, driven by the hope of finding stability. Thankfully, it worked out, and I received support that helped me through my journey.

As the founder of the Labor Studies Student Union (LSSU), what are your hopes for the organization in the future?

The idea came up during a meeting about student organizations. I was surprised that there wasn’t an official Labor Studies Student Organization and felt it was necessary to have one. Over months, I worked on refining the idea and garnering support. My vision is for LSSU to be a platform where Labor Studies students can engage with both the theoretical and practical aspects of the labor movement, becoming well-rounded, competent organizers. I hope to see our membership grow and for the organization to play a significant role in shaping our curriculum and departmental activities.

If you could have a conversation with freshman-year you, what would you tell him?

I’d tell him to read more, take certain classes sooner, and possibly switch to Labor Studies earlier. Also, save more money.

What will you miss most about UCLA and the Labor Studies program?

I’ll miss UCLA’s library system, especially YRL (Young Research Library). It’s efficient and robust, and I’ve checked out numerous books over the years. I’ll miss the dedicated faculty. They are committed to creating a strong, practitioner and activist-based enclave in the academic sphere. With their expertise and dedication, I believe our program could become a leading [program] in the country within five years, producing competent community organizers and making significant contributions to labor analysis.

What are your plans or goals after graduating?

I’m starting law school this fall and will be interning at a law firm to get my feet wet. Ultimately, I want to blend my legal profession with my vision for community organizing. I aim to help create sustainable, autonomous communities that can source their needs locally. I’m passionate about transforming city landscapes into more welcoming environments and fostering a culture of genuine care and understanding among people.

The Labor Studies Commencement Ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 15. UCLA Labor Studies is an interdepartmental major and minor. The major is the first of its kind at the University of California.