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The Voices of Our Historically Underrepresented Students

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One of the best ways to learn more about the different students at Sierra College is to just simply ask. Over the past few years, a questionnaire was sent out to students asking them to first state whatever demographics they identified themselves with and then to write about what it is like to be a student with that particular background. The students answered anonymously, and wrote about their experiences on the campus and thoughts about getting their education.

Over 600 student questionnaires were received from students with different cultural backgrounds, ages, challenges and disabilities, and so on. Many of the students write about how much they have learned and grown here, how welcome they feel, how involved they are in campus life, how much they like the staff, faculty, and other students. Some of the students write about how overwhelmed or isolated or disconnected they feel on campus, how shocked they were at something unfortunate that happened in the classroom, how hurt they were by what was said to them or how they were treated by faculty, staff, or classmates. These students, more often than not, tend to be historically underrepresented students.

The New Legacy Committee is committed to increasing the success and retention of historically underrepresented students at Sierra College. Accordingly, the committee strives to ensure that the voices of the students it represents are heard—even when what is said is sometimes painfully honest, difficult to read, and critical of the institution—in the belief that such awareness is an essential step toward continual growth and improvement on the campus.

Voices of Our Historically Underrepresented Students presents a richness of excerpted perspectives, as expressed and shared by our historically underrepresented students: Chicano/a, Mexican American, and Latino/a students, African American students, and Native American/Alaskan Native students.

Being a student who is Mexican American gives me so much pride and motivation to keep moving forward because I want to be a successful Latina and prove statistics wrong.
—18 year old Mexican American

Well, I think being African American doesn’t affect me or anyone else. To students I’m just a person trying to get an education.
—African American 18 yrs. old learning disability and foster youth

It’s honestly not a challenge at all. I’m just a normal student going through college.
—Puerto Rican and Cherokee Female

Chicano/a, Mexican American, and Latino/a Students

I love being Mexican here at Sierra College.
—Mexican, female

It is a very weird experience. I feel as though there’s only a handful of students in our school that are like us and can relate to us as individuals. Every time I am at Sierra I could see it was mostly white people and when we walked the yards it was looks of astonishment we would have looking at us. I feel as though they target the Anglo community with the resources and the help.
—Mexican, 21

Sometimes I’ll be the only Latin student in the class, but I don’t mind.
—Mexican, 22, female

Being a Mexican American college student is a different path than regular college students. Most of the instructors respect your ethnicity. However, there are instructors that seem to be harder because of the student’s background. Personally, I have had a class with an instructor that chose the white race over other races.
—Mexican American college student

The students and teachers at Sierra College are very nice. Attending college has taught me to be more accepting of white people as they have accepted me as a friend.
—Salvadorian American, 22

It can be challenging at times because there aren’t many students in my class that I feel I can relate to.
—Mexican American young lady, 19 years old

I don’t like that there isn’t much diversity both in my classes and professors as well. Because they don’t understand what I have to go through and relate to. It is interesting that there isn’t many other students that are women and Mexicans going for higher education at this school.
—Mexican American woman

Being here at Sierra College and being the first in my Latin/Hispanic family to go to college is amazing. I feel proud to in a way represent them.
—Latina and 19 years old.

It is different being a Mexican in higher education than it was in high school. Most of the school is full of Anglos. At times, I felt we were a number. But it would be nice if we had more diversity to feel more accepted. This is California which is full of Mexicans/Latinos. I don’t like the rude teachers and staff. They give a hostile environment where people feel they aren’t welcomed if they’re not part of their inner circle.
—Mexican, 21 years old

Well, it could be the language and we are not many in here, so sometimes I feel alone. But some of the teachers are really great and make me feel like a friend or family.
—First generation with Mexican culture

I feel comfortable and accepted, especially being at a school that is very well diverse. I would like to perhaps meet more students that look like me with the same cultural values.
—22 year old, ½ American-½ Cuban female

Being a Mexican student gives me the perspective of being different than everyone else and having to strive to succeed to help my people and make a difference for them.

I don’t feel different because it seems as though this school is very diverse when it comes to cultures.
—Latina female

Since I’m the first generation to attend a community college I find it to be a challenge to me because there are times that school becomes difficult and I push myself in accomplishing my goals. I feel like more of a minority in school.

Being a 21 year old student, returning to school, and being Mexican isn’t a challenge. With so many different nationalities, the variety of people is fascinating. I like the diversity.
—Mexican, female, 21, returning to school

I find it difficult sometimes to keep up with both sides of my culture.
—Mexican, 19 year old female

It’s very challenging because we have a lot of racist people on campus like teachers, students, and staff. Sierra College would be a better place if we had more diversity and more staff willing to be more open-minded. An experience that I had here was that I had a class and the instructor was a racist. A friend and I were the only Hispanics in class and she did not let us do stuff that other students in class got to do.
—Mexican female, 20 yrs. old

What’s it like for me here at Sierra? Difficult, inspirational, empowering, overwhelming.
—Hispanic, male, older, returning to school student

It is nice to show that even people of different cultures and different ages can be accepted. I like how different people can come together and share something.
—21 year old Hispanic male

Everyone is respectful and helps with everything I need. I like having all the privileges that the campus has.
—Hispanic, female, 21

Honestly sometimes it’s a culture shock. But I do enjoy it, although sometimes it does have its complications. Sometimes faculty give me that look, it’s an uncomfortable feeling you get.
—Mexican, female, 22

I feel proud to be a Latina and going to college. I set an example for my community. Every year there is more Latinos attending colleges and that makes the Latino community better because this country is realizing that Latinos care about our future and our communities.

It is extremely challenging, especially being the first to go to college. My parents do not understand the challenges I come across and the process going to school entails. English being my second language and other factors I myself am unsure of have made learning a bit more challenging. I receive a lot of pressure from my parents.
—20 year old male student, eldest of four, first generation American, Mexican parents, first to go to college, working to pay for school (no financial aid), grew up in underprivileged neighborhood.

Being a student here at Sierra is very different because of where I’m from (about 360 miles south from here) and my race (Latino) and because of the popularity of whites not only in school but the community as well!
—21 year old Latino College Student

Being a Latina and age of 20 is ok at Sierra College. I’m getting an education, so I’m happy.
—Latina, 20 years old

I am very motivated to make my parents proud and be successful. They never had the chance to go to college and get a good job so they want me to have a better life.
—Mexican American, 19

I don’t see a lot of other Latin people up here. Coming from the central coast, my question is, where are all the Latino/as at?
—a 23 Latin male, learning disabled

It is hard sometimes to communicate and express my ideas to the teachers and students. Also sometimes it could be hard because my culture is different. But Sierra College staff and students are very respectful and kind.
—Hispanic 18 years old

It’s more at ease since Sierra College is diverse, it’s more accepting. However, there are some individuals who judge Hispanics. Nothing bad has happened to me yet.

It is very different. I am not used to all the different races and beliefs….
—Mexican half-breed, 19, grew up in white town, gamer, racer

It’s an accomplishment to be in college and a young age and as a different race.
—Mexican, 19, female

At times it is a bit difficult, because there isn’t many people of my race at this school. It is hard to find someone that understands the challenges of a Chicana trying to get a higher education. I don’t like that there isn’t a variety of races and cultures at my school like other schools may have.
—Mexican/Chicana, 18 years old

I love learning and am proud to be part of a school that is socially accepting and diverse.
—Hispanic-American 18 year old female.

The only problem is that because I don’t look Latin, people will say comments that they don’t think would affect me.
—Latina, 19 years old, Mexican/Spaniard

It is very different the way we are looked at when walking into a room full of white people. I don’t like how it is mostly white people…. I would love to see more Latinos going for higher education. I would also love to see the support of “ALL” teachers toward Latino students.
—Latino, 21 years old

Being a student who is Mexican American gives me so much pride and motivation to keep moving forward because I want to be a successful Latina and prove statistics wrong.
—18 year old Mexican American

African American Students

On a campus that is as organized and beautiful as Sierra, I myself take in a great appreciation of knowledge, learning, and creating experiences that will further benefit me in my future.
—19 years old, African American male, intellectual

Though Sierra College is growing and becoming more diverse, my experience here is a tad bit lonely, because I find it hard to fit in.
—African American

We have a lot of students that are looked down upon determined by the way they look, dress, and talk…. Because I was getting mistreated for that reason, I found myself wanting to do the same.
—African American

This is my first semester here at Sierra College but I’ve learned that when you go to a class you don’t see any, well maybe one, but very few African-American students.
—African American, 19, female, tennis player

People don’t speak to me, that includes some of the staff.

It is fun, I don’t really see any biased people yet.
—African American, 17

For me it is a struggle to connect with the school because it isn’t as diverse as my high school was. When I go to school I’d like to feel as if it’s a home away from home. I go to class and then back to my dorm because on campus there’s nothing for me. There’s just a disconnect from the school.
—African American, 17 yrs. old

At first, it was hard to be an African-American male at Sierra College because I felt like I was lower than everyone else. However, I soon realized that I’m just as intelligent as anyone else on this campus, so I began to work hard and last semester I received a 3.3 GPA.
—a 19 year-old, African American male who is determined to be SUCCESSFUL!

It is hard to be a student here at Sierra College because people tend to look at me differently because of my race and I have to work harder than most people to get respect. Whenever I am in a classroom and I am the minority I have to work harder to show that I am serious in the class. I like that the teachers want to help me out more because of my race. I don’t like the people outside of class.
—a young African American man (Umoja Program)

My experience at Sierra College has been an overall good one.
—African American male

It’s different because you don’t really see too many of “me” walking around campus. It’s definitely different I’m sure compared to a white 19 year old American female. I haven’t really had a racist problem…yet.
—19 year old African American female

To me it’s no big deal, I don’t care how people look at me or judge me. *Haters* I don’t like how the instructors make/think being black is a big deal.

Getting to know different people and races made it a positive experience at Sierra College.
—18, African American, Umoja Student

It’s difficult as a parent and being African American. The bar is set so high for us that it’s difficult to complete the task.
—African American, 24 and single parent

It gets lonely here.
—African American

It’s a bit difficult because I have to work a little harder than most to understand everything.
—African American, male, 18

Being a lady of color going to a majority white school, I do not feel alone, I enjoy the fact that I stand out. It is harder to make friends, the white kids aren’t as friendly to someone not of the same color of them, maybe they need a class or two to understand black culture. I like that Sierra College provides many opportunities to educate students on several subjects/events. I dislike the fact there aren’t many black teachers. It’s easier to connect with someone of the same race.
—Black Mormon

So far I have felt very welcomed in by the other students, my peers and my professors. I really have yet to find something I don’t like about Sierra. I love my school.
—A part of the Umoja community, returning to school

It is kinda hard to be black here at Sierra College because some white people be looking at us like “what are they doing here?”
—Black woman in Umoja

There are not many African-Americans here…. This is my first time ever going to a school for this long without making a friend.
—A younger African American female from the West Indies

Being a student here at Sierra hasn’t been any different than being a student anywhere else. I’m still kind of the minority so not much has changed. Whenever I walk past a white student they sometimes put their heads down like they’re intimidated. And that makes me feel . . . sad.
—19, African American, Girl

Life at Sierra is very strange because I feel like there is a lack of understanding about other cultures that are very different from the majority.
—African American

The challenges that Sierra College has presented has helped me become stronger in aspects of my character that I thought I couldn’t achieve. Everything has worked out for me thus far, thanks to my awesome classmates, teachers, and counselors as well.
—Male, African American and Guatemalan, age 23

It is something to get used to because it’s not a lot of diversity. But it’s calm and wellcontained and a positive atmosphere. I like the calm, not ghetto or rowdy environment. It is academically challenging and the environment is peaceful….
—African American 20 year old male

It somewhat is a culture shock if you didn’t grow up in this area. Not as welcoming. Being a part of the Umoja Project Unity Club…helps me feel more connected to people on campus. Helps me stay balanced because of the support system and meeting different races and learning different things. —African American

It is okay but I feel like we are looked upon and treated differently.
—African American

It began very difficult due to the culture shock I was undergoing, as well as observing other students of a different culture being a little uncomfortable with my presence. However, Sierra has grown in diversity over the two years I have attended. There is still some room for improvement in the service area. Besides the Learning Opportunity Center, other services have a blatant way of preferential treatment of one culture of students over the other. For example, a white student can go before me in a line and I notice how warmly they are greeted, then when it is my turn, the warmth disappears.
—African American

Being a mixed black girl going to college is hard enough…. I like the FYE Club and it works for me because I’m the first in my family to go to college.
—Black, 18, female

It feels uncomfortable being black around a high rate of white students but I express myself the best I can.
—African American, male, 18

I personally do not experience too much prejudice. However, sometimes I see it being inflicted on some other black students. But I must say that I see it less often as the years go on. When you receive a black student in your class, what do you expect of that student, and if it be negative and/or you are not expecting much of them (judging them without really knowing) is that reflecting in the way you talk to them and grade them?

Native American/Alaskan Native Students

I have had a decent time here so far, no problems yet.
—White/Native American, 18 year old

It’s honestly not a challenge at all. I’m just a normal student going through college.
—Puerto Rican and Cherokee Female

It is interesting. Nothing too exciting or anything.
—Native American, 24, male

I feel apart and separate. I do not relate to other students or faculty.
—22, male, Native American

I feel it is a great feeling. Everyone is friendly to me.
—White/Cherokee Indian

Taken from Listening to Students by
Donna Knifong, Adjunct Professor
Member, New Legacy Committee

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