Standing Out Blending In
A pioneer group of college scholarship students reflect on adjustment and success during their first year away
(Page 3 of 4)
Older students offer a variety of reactions to the recent changes in the makeup of the 1,600 students. (The freshman class of nearly 18 percent minorities is up from about 13 percent in previous years.) Junior Krista Thomas, a white Maine native, spent a semester at Amherst College in Massachusetts and was impressed that "there are a lot more different types of people there ... When you look around here, you just see preppy white kids." She's glad Bowdoin is trying to be socioeconomically diverse, instead of just recruiting minorities from elite private schools.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Her friend and fellow junior Rebecca Dawson comments that the school's approach seems a bit like "forced diversity," but over time she thinks it will build on itself and become more natural.
Tackling academic challenges
Something became immediately apparent to most of the posse students as classes started up last semester: The warning that they would have to work hard was an understatement, but so was the assurance that they would get all the support they needed.
"We were all kind of struggling toward the middle [of the first semester]," Lauren says. Some even worried about failing.
Danielle trudged her way through a classic all-night writing session after the posse entourage (along with her boyfriend) persuaded her not to give up on a particularly difficult sociology assignment. "I finished at 7:00 the next morning for an 8:30 class. I went to breakfast and I went to class in the same clothes as I had worn the day before," she says with a laugh.
Wil Smith, their mentor and the coordinator of multicultural student programs, made sure they visited all the support offices at the outset. "I used all of the resources," Omega Roberts declares.
Facing a demand for different kinds of writing, and more of it, than they were used to in high school, they flocked to the writing-support office. Academic services even began to feel a strain as posse students talked them up to their friends. "The posse members kind of took the stigma away, and the mystery," Mr. Smith says.
They also took the concept of "office hours" to heart, checking in with professors regularly. Marie Jo got her first anthropology paper back with the comment that she had wonderful ideas, but needed to put them in an anthropology format. "And I'm like, what is that?" she says. Writing has always been difficult, she adds, but posse gave her the mind-set to seek help, "so in a way, I wasn't scared by the fact that there's a 10-page paper due."
Kency, who moved to Boston from Haiti and started to learn English just three years ago, says some of his professors were so nice that he felt at home. "Even when I don't have any problems, I just call them to say hi to them. I felt like they were people that really care about me being successful in the classes."
But his computer-science class didn't click. After talks with his professor and Smith, he decided to drop the class.
Danielle describes the stages she went through academically this way: "I didn't really understand what I was doing [in sociology] while I did it, but after, towards the end of the class, I finally understood everything I was supposed to get, and I ended up doing pretty well."
They all did, says Shani Jackson in the Boston Posse office. After the first term, several of the students' grade-point averages topped 3.0, and one made the honor roll.
Smith says the posse has earned accolades from the faculty. But he's like a parent, pushing them to an ever higher level. Indeed, a number of them have signed up for classes with Prof. Eddie Glaude, who has a reputation for exacting standards.
Danielle, Ginette, Omega, and Lauren are all in his Introduction to Religion class this semester. They sit up near the front of the large lecture hall and say they're among the majority who often stare blankly as they struggle to keep up with his rapid-fire pace.
Professor Glaude throws his whole body into his lectures, at times bringing his voice down to a whisper. He offers an occasional "You following me?" Only a few people nod. But there are discussion sections, reading assignments, and lots of paper-writing to make the ideas jell.
"I set the bar pretty high," Glaude says after class. "They know that's what's going to happen." He teaches Africana studies and philosophy as well. Even students who got Cs last semester have come back for more, he says. That's largely because he helps them clarify their thoughts at the rewriting stage. "I try to model my excitement about ideas," he explains.