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Young Alumni of Color Share College Transition Advice

Four alumni of color from the Class of 2017 returned to campus on Tuesday to speak to current students of color about their college experiences, from academics to social life and from dorm choices to scholarship opportunities.

Twenty current students from all class years attended the panel discussion in the Nee Room and listened intently to the advice and anecdotes from the recent graduates.

The sixth annual event, sponsored by the Pelican Support Network, gives students a chance to "chat, ask questions, and hear from alumni who have been in your shoes," Dean of Students Patricia Sasser explained to the gathering before the panelists introduced themselves.

The panelists were Kiayana Downer '17, a sophomore at Stony Brook University; Shanelle Jones '17, a sophomore at UConn; Ramal Rauf '17, a sophomore at Tulane University; and Sydney Steward '17, a sophomore at University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

Prompted by Patricia, the panelists talked about being students of color in predominantly white institutions. Although this experience was not new for these alumni, they said there are differences — some positive, some negative — between being a student of color at Loomis and being a person of color in the larger community of a college or university. Despite sometimes feeling isolated, they offered reassurance to their listeners that they made friends and built connections at their new schools.

And on any number of issues, they said, the critical thinking and discourse skills that they developed at Loomis have proved valuable in standing up for themselves and sharing their views. Ramal used to be shy, she said, but at Loomis she learned to speak up and advocate for herself, skills she now uses in college.

"Loomis really taught me to have the confidence and to speak up and not worry about what other people think of me" when she hears someone say something she disagrees with, Ramal said.

The panelists also offered general advice for managing the transition to college. Among their messages:

Block out time for school work. With a more flexible and open schedule than in high school, college life can mislead you into thinking you'll easily find time to keep up with reading, papers, and other assignments. Schedule homework time so you don't let it slide.

Advocate for yourself. If you need help, ask for it. Attend professors' office hours if you have questions about an assignment. Seek the help of your dorm resident assistant if you are struggling with a roommate issue. Research housing options, financial aid policies, and course credit requirements so that you know what you want and how to ask for it.

Take care of yourself. College can be overwhelming at times; don't be afraid to ask for help. Make decisions that you are comfortable with. Recognize toxic relationships and avoid them. Do what you know is right.

Trust your preparation but don't expect college to be easy. Panelists said they felt well prepared academically for college, particularly with their writing and time-management skills, but they still needed to adjust to different ways of studying, the larger size of some lecture classes, and the academic expectations of college.

Respect your roommate(s) and vice versa. Communicate with your roommate about any issues that arise, even if they seem small, and remember to consider their needs as well. And don't let problems fester if you can't resolve them between you. "Your room is your sanctuary," Kiyiana said. "Your room is supposed to be your happy place. If someone is poisoning your happy place, you need to tell someone."