College: University of California – Berkeley
Major: Legal Studies and African American Studies
Year: 2018 Scholar
Tell us a little about yourself and why you decided to attend the University of California, Berkeley.
I grew up in a single–parent household and my mother has always worked to support us. I leaned on my teachers to accommodate for her absence and developed a meaningful relationship with education over time. I’m a firm believer in the idea that “some kids go to school to learn, while others go to school to be loved” — and education loved me back. And because of that, I feel that I am forever in debt to those who’ve come before me, and to those who’ve taken me under their wings as their own.
I’m very passionate about social and restorative justice and activism. As I’ve navigated this university as a disabled, Black, first–generation, low–income student, I haven’t experienced Berkeley as the liberal campus it’s portrayed or known to be. While the campus didn’t culturally live up to my expectations, I’ve found joy in being a member of the Black community at Cal, taking up leadership roles in student government, leveraging my network, and creating access to opportunity for members of my communities.
What is your advice for students who may be facing challenges in college?
For many students who come from the financial reality that I do, pursuing higher education is viewed as a way out of poverty. The journey of earning a degree becomes a pathway, symbolic of economic freedom and mobility. However, when it comes to transitioning from high school into college, I wish someone had told me about the challenges ahead. Looking back on my experience, here’s what I would share with other Dell Scholars:
Tip #1: Be kind to yourself
It’s common among first–generation students of color and Black students to question whether they belong at their colleges. I feel that because our realities and achievements are tokenized, there’s a pressure to perform within those narratives. Many of us are uncomfortable with failure because it invalidates how we may view ourselves as agents in socio-economically liberating our families. I’d hope that students like me are kinder to themselves, with the understanding that the system itself wasn’t historically built for us.
Tip #2: Things don’t happen to us, they happen for us
I think the hardest part about growth is accepting failure. Last summer was my worst summer because I didn’t have stable housing, moving three times while being enrolled full-time as a student and working two jobs. All of this happened as of consequence of failing my first year at Cal, being under unit count and having a 1.66 GPA.
Failure is inevitable, and it’s essential to our growth. When you find yourself in an unexpected situation, understand that it is an opportunity for you to become a better version of yourself. When times were hard, I was able to build a support network and learn about the resources available to me on my campus. Because I’ve been on academic probation and have gotten my appeals approved, I now help students write their appeal letters for free. I know what it took for me to get approved and appreciated having help, especially as a first-generation student with little to no understanding of institutional policy and practices. Sometimes we go through things to be able to help other people.
Tip #3: Keep in touch with your advisers and mentors
I have learned that it’s important to stay in touch with my network, even if I don’t have an issue. To continue these conversations, I visit my college adviser every few months and my major advisers at least once a semester to ensure I’m fulfilling all of my requirements and to remain a familiar face.
Could you share your experience changing majors?
I was originally a sociology major but decided to switch to legal studies and African American studies. Sociology felt bleak to me and inconsistent with my own personal experience; I didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to learn about poverty, racism, or all things wrong with the world because as an intersectional Black person, I disproportionately live and experience these realities. Legal studies and African American studies align more with the work I see myself doing in the future.
With the onset of COVID-19, this spring was difficult for many college students. How have you managed your way through it?
I’ve moved back home for a few months to be with family and initially found it difficult to concentrate, as my learning environment became chaotic and less controlled. I found myself working later in the evening because it was quieter in the house, so I shifted my schedule accordingly. I stayed motivated by writing down my long-term goals. I have found that I am a visual learner and I need to see what I’m working towards in my journey, so it helps me to be able to cross off what I’ve completed. I have big plans for this upcoming year and hope to achieve all that I have set out to do, as I am hoping to attend law or graduate school following my education at Cal.