Campus Life

Stockton holds panel discussion about diversity for Black History Month

On Thursday, February 25 the Admissions Office held a student panel about diversity for Black History Month. The panel included Amanda Noel, Janet Martin, Jonothan Colon, Deon Davis, Jazzlyne Muniz, Wilhelmina Kennedy, and Roy Cook with hosts Dr. Maya Lewis, and Jessica Grullon.

The first topic of discussion was about choosing Stockton, especially when many students of color consider a historically black college and university (HBCU) or a hispanic serving institution (HSI) over predominantly white institutions (PWI).

“So, for me, it really came down to cost.” Janet Martin answered. “I think a lot of black students, when they’re looking for a college, are like ‘let me at least look into an HBCU,’ and I did the same thing. My major is social work, and it’s difficult to find my major at any school for undergrad.”

Martin continued. “That just wasn’t going to work for what I wanted for college, and I didn’t want to go far. Also, some of the admissions requirements called for me to do a little bit more work than I was willing to do. I chose Stockton because it was close to where I live.”

Despite the good she saw in Stockton, Martin struggled to find her place at the PWI. “I was not sure where I was going to go. I didn’t get to come here, like some other people get to do, and they’re like ‘I’m in love with this place!’ I had to take a minute. It took me meeting Amanda, and meeting other admission ambassadors, and deciding, ‘okay, I can see myself here. I can make a community for myself.’ ”

For Jazzlyne Muniz, it was similar. With a concentration in forensic investigation, Muniz found an extremely small pool of colleges and universities offering her career path. 

“I believe Stockton is the only one in New Jersey that actually has this concentration. That was definitely one of the main aspects,” Muniz said. “I feel like the professors, when I came to the open house, were really nice, and they were really cool, and they really wanted me to succeed. I feel like that’s the best part of everything.”

“I’m from Elizabeth, New Jersey,” she continued. “So, I obviously come from a very diverse community, and I come from a good sized town where I know everybody, and I wanted to get away from that. I wanted to stray away from my community, and get out in the world, and see how it would be just me.”

The next topic was community, and finding a safe space for inclusiveness Deon Davis answered first. Prior to attending Stockton, Davis participated in a mentor program that had strong ties with the university. He met two presidents, multiple professors, enrolled in the EOF Program, and took part in service learning projects. His community was built at Stockton long before attending due to his community engagement so he wasn’t alone like some freshmen.

“That gave some kind of solace,” Davis said. “That’s actually the reason that I chose Stockton. I’m from Atlantic City, and we actually have a campus in Atlantic City now, but prior to that campus being built there was only the Galloway campus. I kind of wanted to stay close to Stockton because I didn’t have a solid foundation in my educational experience yet.”

 “EOF gave me that support to build that stamina as far as being a student,” he continued. “After the EOF Program, I joined the student senate. I felt a sense of responsibility to my community at that point because people were looking at me.”

Wilhelmina Kennedy answered the question about community next: “I was also looking for a home, I was looking for a community of not just like-minded people, but people who could help me grow and figure out my identity moving forward. For me, those two spaces were F.E.M.A.L.E.S., and ASO.”

F.E.M.A.L.E.S. stands for Focused Educated Motivated Aspiring Ladies Empowering Society, a feminist club with a large focus on community service and sisterhood. ASO stands for the African Student Organization, which spreads and educates others about African cultures. 

“I was born in Liberia, my mom is from Sierra Leone, my dad is from Liberia,” Kennedy said. “I kind of had to come into that cultural background. Growing up, of course I had cousins, but I didn’t really have friends who were in that. Stockton’s really great because there’s so many cultural clubs where you can find your people, and build on your background too.”

The next topic was about feeling marginalized.

“I definitely did feel marginalized,” Roy Cook said. “I find that being at a PWI, it’s easy for us to feel marginalized since we are the minority here as people of color. So, for me, this specific incident, I was in a Rhetoric and Composition class my freshman year. During the course, we went over literary works, and the n-word was within the literary works that we had to go over as a class. Sometimes, the professor took it out of context.”

Cook explained that the professor did not censor himself when saying the word, saying that the students weren’t in elementary school anymore. 

“Being a freshman, a young African-American male, the only African-American in the class, it was hard trying to navigate the experience on my own,” Cook added. “I was able to get through just by reaching out to other communities that looked like me like Sankofa. They helped me feel more at home. Sankofa, UBSS, and a few upperclassmen took a liking to me so that really helped me feel safe here.”

Sankofa is the black male retention initiative at Stockton. This allows students to connect with faculty, staff, and other people of color on campus. 

Kennedy, on the other hand, did not have any experience where she could pin-point racism or a feeling of marginalization while attending Stockton.

“Being in the sciences, there’s not many of us in the sciences, not many of us looking to become doctors,” she said. “There are times where you leave a conversation thinking, ‘huh, that didn’t really make me feel good,’ or ‘why is this professor questioning me? Am I internalizing this? Am I being too sensitive?’”

“I think it’s really important to have these conversations with people that look like you to just run to them in these times, and be like ‘okay, this is what happened,'” she continued. “Also, get validation from them because there’s a lot of gaslighting that happens, and it will happen everywhere.”

Kennedy said Stockton tries it’s best to create an inclusive environment. However, students must enter the real world at some point during their career and these experiences will be encountered.

The next topic of discussion was about the initiatives Stockton has taken to become diverse, and what initiatives Stockton could take to achieve that goal.

Jonothan Colon is the former treasurer for Stockton’s Pride Alliance, a residential officer, and a current student operations assistant, which makes him the first person visitors see when they enter the Atlantic City campus. He is also a member of Los Latinos Unidos (LLU).

“One of the things I’m always doing is finding a way to keep different groups interested in different things going on at Stockton,” said Colon. “Always figuring out a way to keep them engaged.”

Martin gave her response as well. She said she was thinking of creating a physical space for students of color to come, relax, and gather. Much like the Women’s Center’s lounge in F Wing, this physical space would have comfortable seating, friendly faculty and staff, and would promote an inclusive and diverse space for any student looking for their community.

“Stockton doesn’t have an area, a physical area where students of color and minority students can feel like, ‘oh, I can go there and I can be around people who look like me,'” she explained. “When you come to a PWI, and you’re a student of color, you know when you’re the only one in the room. If we had a safe space for minorities, for racial minorities, for ethnic minorities, we wouldn’t feel that way.”

Dr. Lewis talked about Stockton’s plans to make this space exist: “It’s coming! It’s called the Multicultural Center, and it is coming! We have the main guy that does all the stuff in Atlantic City, that builds these amazing buildings. They are scouting spaces, they think they found a space.”

Dr. Lewis also explained that a designer firm is coming to help make the space warm and inviting, a place to celebrate oneself.

One peer asked the panel about the Black Lives Matter presence on campus, and about community involvement. Martin mentioned a protest that happened on campus in the fall.

“It was a really interesting experience to be on our campus, our predominantly white institution, and see so many people together with one main cause,” she said.

“Also engage your community that is surrounding the campus.” Davis added. “Don’t just get stuck on the campus because some students can tend to get stuck on the campus, and only look for opportunities there. There are opportunities right outside the gate of the institution. Make sure you stay tapped in.”