Seanna Leath. Pomona College Class of 2013. First-generation, low-income, student of color…first year at college. Oh, wait…scratch that…it’s sophomore year.
I’m now back on campus in sponsor training, already moved into my single, making connections with new people and excitedly reconnecting with “old friends”. Just as a heads up, the sponsor program at Pomona College is (in my own words) one of the foundational mentoring bases available within our community, which focuses on integrating first-years within the campus atmosphere. As a sponsor, I have thirteen first-years in my hall, “under the wing” of me and my Co-Spo, Martin Barrera (an amazing guy).
As I helped the new “kids on the block” move in, I absorbed the awkward looks and silent moments during uncomfortable conversations between harried parents and students. While some “fit” right in, others remained hesitantly in the background…more at ease with blending into the scenery of tall trees and mountaintops (not literally, no one was THAT tall) than reaching out to others. And that was where I came in. I knocked down the trees and eroded the mountains, leaving those anxious students bare and seemingly unprotected. Okay, I need you to continue reading before you form the hasty assumption that I’m a psychologically scarring first-year mentor.
After removing them from the scenery, I created conversation, made horrible jokes, and included them with others in our group. During icebreakers, I didn’t hold back. Not even the most silent could refrain from laughing a few times, and soon, everyone was participating. Back in the hallway that night, I knocked on doors and banged down barriers. Even if they don’t realize it yet, the stories they can tell other students about their “extremely excited and overly welcoming sponsor” will easily start more than one conversation.
Coming back as a sophomore, my role on campus has shifted. Ready or not, I realize that some students may look to me as a mentor—a guide-line—someone who has “been there and done that”. Over the summer, I frequently contemplated the impression I wanted to give off to others. Do I want to seem haughty and overbearing? How can I refrain from seeming too available? How does my personality come off at first-encounter? What legacy will I put into effect as I continue my education at Pomona? Is it possible to balance my life, while also serving as a student leader…and should those two items even exist separately?
I walked into the dining hall today. One of my quietest kids was showing another student a pamphlet and laughing. More than likely, I had nothing to do with that. On the other hand, if I had allowed her to remain part of the “scenery”, would she have been laughing and talking? In the minute chance that my outgoing and animated personality on the first day helped at all, I’ve successfully started the year as I’d hoped.
So in summary…my kids feeling unhappy or alone on campus this year due to a sponsor or mentor absence…?
Not a risk I’m willing to take.