According to Phayme, 7.3 percent of the incoming class of 2016, comprised of 602 students, is African American. Nearly half, 45 percent, are students of color, and 1.5 percent identify themselves as multiracial. There are “multiple identities that students are bringing to the table,” Phayme says, from gender identity and sexuality to race and socioeconomic background. “A part of my job is to help student unpack those identities and help them understand what those identities mean to them. How is the experience at the school enriched by that background? Everyone, no matter your background, is contributing to the fabric of the campus.”
A quick check of the websites shows that six of the colleges (Radcliffe is a different animal) have offices or organizations dedicated to diversity.
“The Diversity and Inclusiveness missions of the college certainly do not end with creating demographic or statistical diversity but it is essential to begin there, and it is essential that hiring and recruitment in all constituencies of the college remain attentive to the goals of creating and maintaining a truly diverse community,” says the Mount Holyoke website.
Phayme says she has four main parts to her job as director of diversity initiatives — coordinate multicultural events, such as the happenings for Black History Month; advise the cultural clubs and organizations on campus; provide diversity training and workshops; and to provide LGBT support. Among the black students, she says the problem she most encounters are feelings of “isolation in the classroom, residence hall and in the overall environment.”
“I help students understand that they have as much entitlement here as other students,” she says. “I’m monitoring to make sure they’re not stretching themselves too thin” by joining too many clubs and activities, Phayme adds. And, she says, she looks out for first-generation students; students who are the first in their families to go to college, which certainly doesn’t only include African-American students. She helps all of these young women understand the lay of the land, and encourages them to seek help when they need it, emphasizing that everyone wants to see them succeed. From faculty members to the offices of deans, administrators and the medical and mental health staff, her message is get to know the community and turn to them when you need it. There’s no shame.
“They need to know, ‘I have a voice. I need to use it in this space,’” says Phayme. “It’s not just prove, prove, prove. You’ve already proven yourself. You’re here.”
Do note: These schools aren’t cheap, though other women’s colleges are more affordable. Barnard lists the cost of tuition for a full-time student at $41,850 per year (ouch!) with other fees and expenses tacked on. But there are scholarships, grants, federal aid and loans that can help. I’m proof of that.
And, Phayme suggests going to a community college for the first two years and then transferring, one of the suggestions we’ve offered as well. There are programs that will even guarantee your spot at a four-year college after completing an Associate’s degree.
“It’s not how you start, but how you finish,” Phayme reminds us.
So I’m going to climb down off my soapbox and let you give it some thought. Are you convinced? And if you have any questions about the experience, feel free to let me know about those too.