This year, new Emerson College students of color were invited to attend a pre-orientation weekend, where they will learn about campus resources, begin transitioning to life on a college campus, and start to build a community with fellow students.
More than 50 first-year and transfer students registered for the event, which will feature ice-breakers and bonding activities like movie nights and an intercultural tour of Boston, and more directed activities, like candid conversations with people of color at Emerson, and Project I.C.O.N.I.C. (Intercultural Creation of New Ideas Confab).
For Project I.C.O.N.I.C., students working in groups will be asked to come up with and present ideas for how to advance representation of people of color in the media, said Christopher Henderson-West ’20, who helped organize elements of the pre-orientation, including Project I.C.O.N.I.C.
“For me to have a program like [the pre-orientation], I would have personally appreciated it. To know more people and know resources were available and to strengthen those roots,” said Henderson-West, a Political Communication major and a student of color. “The first couple of months [of my first year] I think a program like this would have definitely helped a lot.”
Emerson hopes that by introducing students of color to the College, community members of color, and to each other from the very beginning, they will feel more at home and eager to embrace everything the College has to offer.
“While Emerson is working to increase the diversity of the student body, there’s more that needs to be done to support students of color who are entering the current reality—where both in the classroom, and in the city of Boston immediately surrounding the campus, students of color may oftentimes be the only one or few from their background,” Director of Intercultural Student Affairs Tamia Rashima Jordan said. “Programs like these have been shown to minimize isolation and other hardships many students of color experience [on campuses] such as ours.”
A number of colleges and universities offer similar programs for incoming students of color, including the University of California, Berkeley; Harvard Graduate School of Education; Cornell, Brown, and Yale universities; and Berklee College of Music.
Henderson-West said leaving home and coming to a campus where you don’t know anyone can be nerve-wracking for anybody. To arrive at a place where most people don’t look like you and don’t have similar life experiences adds another level of apprehension.
In addition to helping plan Project I.C.O.N.I.C., Henderson-West also researched and organized an intercultural tour of Boston for students—an activity he said he is really excited about.
The tour will introduce students to a Boston they won’t necessarily find in tour guides or by hanging around the Emerson campus and will include stops at places like multicultural restaurants and music venues. Henderson-West said that while doing research for the tour, he learned things about Boston that he hadn’t discovered in his two years at Emerson.
“I look forward to sharing that with people because so many people, not just students of color but all students…don’t often go beyond Tremont and Boylston [streets],” he said.
Jordan said Emerson students of color spend so much of their time at the College engaged in social justice work to make the campus and the wider world better.
“I deeply admire that, but I also want these students to look back and to say they’ve had fun, that they’ve enjoyed their college experience and enjoyed each other,” she said. “We want them to make this campus their own.”