Just a month after the fall 2019 semester began, first year students gathered at the Student Union to take part in Tar Heel Talks: A Guide to Conquering Your First Year at Carolina, a program designed to assist them as they transition as Carolina students. This offshoot of the University Office for Diversity & Inclusion’s highly regarded Achieving Carolina Excellence (ACE) program allows students to converse with established students about relevant issues they may be facing, both inside and outside the classroom. Because navigating the campus and its myriad resources can be challenging, it was important that the session was a collaborative effort and included a partnership with CAPS, Office of the Dean of Students, Housing, Student Life and Leadership, and Student Wellness, all of which sent representatives to be on hand for any emergent issues.
As the doors to the Great Hall opened, students were ushered into the cavernous space by professional staff and greeted with departmental swag. Each student was then given the choice to participate in two out of the seven sessions being offered, which addressed well-being, academic success, financial literacy, the impact of social media, navigating the campus, homesickness and healthy relationships.
Led by student facilitators, including Diversity and Inclusion ambassadors and volunteers, orientation leaders and Healthy Heels ambassadors, the sessions were rife with resources and knowledge that allowed students to leave feeling more confident about navigating the journey of earning their undergraduate degree.
While the students enthused about this bounty of peer-to-peer support and information, the facilitators also found themselves enriched by the experience. “I really enjoyed the conversations and creating relationships and connections with first years and other upperclassman alike,” noted Excellence Perry, an orientation leader.
It is this sort of shared experience that breathes life into the program – and why D&I felt that it was a valuable one to offer. “The first year of college can be a challenge – from discovering who you are to how you belong and will contribute to the campus,” noted D&I’s Senior Director of Education, Operations and Initiatives, Gretchen C. Bellamy. “Having students who’ve been in the same position and successfully conquered all of the doubts and insecurities that can creep in was an instrumental part of the success of the program.”
The event’s “by the students, for the students” approach was key. “There was no lecture – it was peer to peer with “back up” from supportive offices. This type of programming – that includes faculty, students and staff coming together – is how Carolina will continue building an inclusive environment,” said Gretchen. “These students have been able to create a community of people who will support them through the highs and lows everyone experiences.”
Written by Adrianne Gibilisco, Diversity & Inclusion
Reported by Dway Stover