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A Seat at the Table

Though the University of Connecticut is diverse in a myriad of different ways, and offers a number of different resources for minorities, it can still be difficult for minorities to adjust to this environment. I attended a high school that had predominantly minority students. It was definitely a challenge for me to adjust to a predominately white campus during my freshman year. I was curious as to whether or not other minorities on this campus felt the same way as I did. I sat down with a group of my peers to discuss their experiences as minorities here on campus.  

“Underrepresented, unfair, interesting, annoying,” are just a few of the ways that the women I spoke with described their paths at UConn. K.C. (of Haitian American Descent), spoke about how the common “stereotypes about African Americans can cause additional pressure on students.” For instance, it is a common misconception that minorities are only on this campus as a result of Affirmative Action. Some people even believe that minorities are incapable of producing the grades to earn a position here at this University, just as any other student. UConn’s position of 18th on a list of top public schools proves that acceptance into this university is no small feat. K.C. describes this undermining of minorities, specifically African Americans, as “unfair.” This is not only an issue on this campus but throughout the nation, such as the Fisher v University of Texas case.

“Minorities are not represented in many of the student activities.”  S.E., a Jamaican student, expressed how the lack of representation affects how much our voices are heard. Whether it be through faculty members or our student body, issues that pertain specifically to minorities are often ignored as a result of this underrepresentation. “Our voices are not heard; we do not receive the equality.” One issue S.E. spoke about was how some campus programs that all students could potentially benefit from are not properly advertised to the entire student body; specifically minorities. Thus, lack of representation can cause missed opportunities for minority students.

Many of the issues that my peers spoke about resonated with me and my experiences as a Jamaican American student. I find myself being one of the few minorities, and/or the only black student in the programs that I’m involved in that aren’t specifically geared towards people of color. And in most of my classes I am the only black student. The intersection of lack of diversity, misrepresentation through the media, and lack of exposure, has often put me in a position where I represent my entire race. In everything I do on campus, I think of how I represent Black people, and Jamaicans, to all my peers, some of which have only experienced minorities though the media. Though this is a role that I have long played, it still adds a certain level of pressure on me as a student in these situations.

My experiences as a minority student on this campus have been trying in some ways; in contrast, I’ve been exposed to so many valuable experiences and people as a result of it. I have personally gained from my participation in the African American Cultural Center, the Women’s Center, and the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center. These centers have connected me with students and faculty members that understand and have faced similar issues as I have. In these safe spaces, I have a voice and I am represented. Through involvement in academic programs such as The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), I have been connected with a community of STEM scholars that are all underrepresented on campus. Through LSAMP, I learn about valuable opportunities that I may have otherwise missed, I am connected with other STEM majors that face similar challenges, and I have gained mentors and have had the opportunity to act as a mentor to other students. As a member of the National Council of Negro women, I have found a safe space to connect and develop with other black women on campus. Though many of the members come from different walks of life, and have different experiences on campus, we are all able to bond over a shared culture, and uplift one another through the challenges we face specifically as black women on and off campus.

Like me, many of the minorities that I’ve interacted with on campus have faced similar issues; on the other hand, we have also found solace in similar programs geared specifically towards the culture we identify with. For this very reason, the cultural centers, the programs they house, and other academic programs specifically for minorities are vital at UConn. There is a need for more diversity in all aspects of campus life at UConn.  Though the resources that I’ve touched on have a powerful impact on many students, there is still much to be done. It is incumbent upon those that hold positions of privilege on this campus to step out of their comfort zone, communicate, listen and take a seat at the table with minorities, to understand and help foster true diversification at UConn. I believe that through education, and more exposure, UConn can begin to alleviate some of the challenges minorities face on campus.

A Foreign Perspective on College

Singapore
Singapore

The idea of “home” has always been an ambiguous term for me. Before arriving at UConn, I had lived in four different countries, attended five different schools, and was basically always on the move. The thought of making yet another move to college did not intimidate me in the slightest, which in hindsight, was extremely naïve of me. As every high school student does, I had a preconceived notion of what college should be like, and some may say, very unrealistic expectations of what the next four years of my life were going to look like.

I made the move to America alone, with my family being 10,000 miles away in Singapore, and suddenly it all hit me. I didn’t know a single person in this country, I hadn’t decided on my major, and I most importantly, I didn’t have any winter clothes for the upcoming frost.

First Winter in the US
First Winter in the US

Although the first few weeks were without a doubt miserable, I slowly started to find myself, and I realized that the “college experience” doesn’t just happen on its own, it is something you have to build for yourself. It became very clear that putting myself out there and talking to as many strangers as I could was a necessity if I was ever going to meet people that I liked. I realized that I had very little interest in any of my Economics classes (the major that I had intended on pursuing), but rather that I was truly passionate about the Environmental courses that I was enrolled in. Being on my own helped me discover my passions and helped me figure out what kind of people that I want to surround myself with.

College is what you make of it. As cheesy at it sounds, I have found this to be the most accurate representation of my past two years here at UConn. Put yourself out there, meet as many people as you can, and take as wide a variety of classes as you possibly can, because there is no way of knowing what you’re truly passionate about if you do not let yourself explore the options.