Breaking barriers to help all students feel at home

In the hope of fostering a sense of community on the Hill, Alexis Atkinson ’15 started a new initiative, the Colby Community Enrichment Program (CCEP), pronounced “seep.” With the help of the club’s faculty advisor, Associate Professor of American Studies and Christian A. Johnson Associate Professor of Integrative Liberal Learning Margaret McFadden, along with a team of dedicated members, CCEP tries to “break barriers and build bridges,” Atkinson said.The idea for CCEP came to Atkinson during a Posse meeting last winter, when she was confronted with surprising statistics of how many college students, regardless of involvement in clubs, societies or sports teams, still felt lonely and disconnected on their campuses. “For a lot of people, college is the first time living at school and it becomes your home,” she said. “Home is really a construction of people you are comfortable with.” Various studies show that having a strong support system during late adolescence and early adulthood (typically the period when people establish their personal identity) makes the process of adapting to new environments less challenging. For Atkinson, CCEP is an important avenue for students to interact with people that they would most likely not encounter in their daily campus routine and begin to feel more at home on campus. Especially in light of recent SHOUT! Week and Reclaim Colby, CCEP is dedicated to encouraging conversation about campus culture and stereotypes.CCEP has received positive feedback from the College community and there is a clear interest in wanting to engage in conversation and offer this support system to students. So far, CCEP has worked closely with the Office of Campus Life and hopes to collaborate with Pugh Center clubs.According to Molly Hodgkins ’15, the events coordinator for CCEP, the best part of CCEP is that it allows students to participate in events without worrying about being invited. “While this is great for me now to have such a support system and close-knit group that I feel I belong to, I remember what it was like to be a freshman and not have a ‘group’ while it seemed like everyone did,” she said. “CCEP puts on events that you can come to without having to be invited, without having to a have a ‘group’ that is going, and you can have fun and feel like you are included.” CCEP also encourages activities and strategies that facilitate stimulating interactions in which students step out of their comfort zones and begin to build new relationships with their peers. One such activity Atkinson explained would involve altering your regular route to class in the morning or changing where you sit in the dining halls with the goal of changing the groups of people you come into contact with. “You don’t want to get to senior week and realize that there are so many people you don’t know,” Atkinson said. “You don’t want to miss out on your Colby experience.” By joining CCEP, Ramon Arriaga ’16 wanted to facilitate interactions and make it easier to expand friend-groups and build meaningful relationships. “I am very privileged,” he said. “I am Hispanic but I can pass as white and I am male. Why should I be so lucky and not everyone else?” Arriaga is a first generation college student from San Francisco whose parents encouraged him to get a higher education degree. As a prospective student, Arriaga visited the College as part of ColbyLive, an initiative that brings prospective students of color to campus. But the learning opportunities outside the classroom were not what he had expected. “I imagined Colby as a place where ideas were always flowing and conversations were dynamic. I imagined it as a community-oriented college,” he said. In his work with CCEP, Arriaga hopes to foster the kind of community he had envisioned.For CCEP Vice President Victoria Falcon ’15, coming to college involved the same kinds of concerns typical of most first-year students. “Transitioning to college was very difficult because I didn’t know anyone,” she said. “I basically grew up with my friends [throughout school.]” But as a Pugh Center Scholar, Falcon also had a mentor who helped her navigate the campus. “In an ideal world, I would want every first-year student to have a mentor so that they wouldn’t have to be confronted with the thought of transferring because they felt excluded. Feeling alone is not a good feeling,” she said. There should never be a question about whether the smiling faces on the Colby web page are genuine or not, Falcon explained, and she is dedicated to making the campus a more cohesive community. “My brother is my inspiration,” she said. “He was diagnosed with cancer last summer and chose to go to Stanford during his treatment. The way my brother approached and responded to instances of exclusion and alienation, taught me the importance of finding people who value you for who you are regardless of your differences. CCEP wants to help students realize that there are people who care at Colby.”According to McFadden, “CCEP has great potential to make a big difference in students’ lives and the sense of community on campus. The students who have founded the club have been very thoughtful in analyzing the current state of the campus, and in developing creative and fun ideas to bring people together in new ways.”

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