BackgroundInterview Date:November 2018
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: I went to a public charter school in New Orleans with a graduating class of about 31 students. The focus of the program is to get students good scores to get into college. Most students at my high school attended at least one semester of college after graduation.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Political Science
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in multiple singing and music groups here, such as a jazz ensemble, and I have my own band. I’m on the Student Educational Policy Committee for the Political Science department, which is responsible for professor reviews and making sure the major as a community is cohabitating and building community. I’m a member of the debate team. I’m also involved in the Concerned Black Students Group.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
I think the one that had the biggest impact on my experience was the jazz ensemble. Being from New Orleans and a music student at home, that was a chance to have this little bit of home comfort in a place that is starkly different from where I’m from.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
It depends on the class. I don’t do problem sets or any of the more economics-related stuff, but some of the Political Science courses here do take on that stuff. For me, my coursework consists of large readings and following those with essays. Some professors will do in-class debates and presentations. This particular semester, I had a class where for seven weeks straight we’ve just been doing presentations on our topics and research on foreign policy.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
I think the diversity of thought is something they do especially poorly. The coursework is still Euro-centric, but I think that is more of a Political Science issue overall than something that is specifically a Grinnell issue. I also think there is a bit of a problem with the diversity of professors and students, but, again, that is a whole other story.
Something they do well is they do a great job with professor-student relationships. The professors are very approachable and knowledgeable and are willing to help students.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I’ve experienced a combination of both. I think Grinnell, in general, has a competitive nature because it has students who are really, really strong academically. Everyone is used to competing to be at the top of their class, so there is that competitive nature. There are also the students who after a while recognize that the experience is about enjoying themselves, so collaborative work comes into play. The professors also include collaborative opportunities, so it’s a good combination of both.
What is your favorite class that you’ve taken for your major?
I took a class at Grinnell-in-London that was studying British Politics. The professor they brought in was particularly engaging and we had the chance to do a lot of cool stuff. I also liked how the class was still in the Grinnell design and set up how a Grinnell class would be set up.
What is your least favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
Statistics. I hated that. I was not a fan.
Do you think that people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
In some regard, I think they are. I think some students are open to listening to opinions, but I have no idea whether that listening turns into transformative work. I tend to think that some students come in with more conservative views of what Political Science means, some come in with more of an Economic based view of what it means for people in society, but there is a good push and pull. I think professors do a pretty good job of navigating that push and pull of offering one argument and a counter argument and allowing both perspectives to be aired.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice so far?
I chose Political Science because I want to go to law school. As far as how happy I am with my choice, I’ve tried to double major twice so I can’t say Political Science is the only major I wanted to do, but I’m happy that I chose it because I got the chance to do a lot of work that I have enjoyed.
How did the fact that there are no core requirements at Grinnell impact your experience?
It impacted me because I got the chance to take a bunch of classes I never thought I’d take. I tried to double major twice and that was due to the fact that there were no core requirements. It was really cool to take all these classes that I never had opened my mind to before and learning that I actually loved them.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Cowles Hall with one roommate
Sophomore: Rawson Hall with one roommate.
Junior: First semester I was abroad in London and when I came back I lived in Younker Hall
Senior: Off-campus on High Street with three roommates
What has been your favorite living situation?
Probably when I was in Rawson because that room was ideal for when I needed to get around campus. It was also a really spacious and comfortable room. The off-campus house is a very close second.
How was transitioning from New Orleans to Grinnell, IA?
Rough, because Grinnell is a very small town in the middle of a very homogenous space. [The population of the town of Grinnell is about 87% White.] In my high school there was one White student, and this was one of the first times in my life where I was confronted with being a minority in a classroom and this was one of the first times I’ve seen what being a minority in a town really feels like. The diversity is different here. There’s also the restaurants closing earl and the [lack of] accessibility to common things like stores. If you want to get anything you have to go to Iowa City or Des Moines, which is troublesome if you don’t have a vehicle. There also isn’t a bus system here.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
For myself, I’ve felt very safe. For students who look like me, there have been confrontations and issues with safety regarding that. [Editor’s Note: No news articles about Grinnell students experiencing confrontations because of their race or ethnicity could be found.]
What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
Currently, my house because I live off campus. When I wasn’t living off campus, I like to go to the lake in town. It’s really beautiful in the fall and I really enjoyed going, talking with friends, and looking at the leaves.
Pros and Cons of being in Grinnell, IA?
Pros: (1) Small town. It’s a pro because in a small space you have opportunities to make an impact on the community that you may not have seen in larger spaces. Sometimes that can be very motivational for what you do with your academic work. I got a chance to teach students in the community. Being able to work with the students and their parents has been really nice.
(2) Grinnell College has a big history of activism within the town itself. It was a position on the Underground Railroad. You get to learn a lot about the history of the town and how small towns can have a big impact on history.
Cons: (1) It’s a small town so it lacks resources and accessibility.
(2) It’s in the middle of Iowa. To be fair, no one wants to move to Iowa. One of the key problems is it’s in a space that not a lot of people want to be in.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Grinnell?
None really, unless you are 21 and want to go to a bar in town. As far as what happens on campus, there are on campus parties and concerts basically every weekend. I’m more of an inside person. If I do go to a party or an event it’s because I’m working. On the times that I do want to relax, I’ll go to a bar with my friends and play pool on occasion.
When you were under 21 did you go to parties on campus?
Yes, my first semester I went to parties but then I stopped. Students on campus hosted those parties in the student event centers. There were also off-campus parties hosted by students as well, and those would happen basically every weekend. I stopped going because they started feeling the same and I also got in a new relationship, so I wasn’t really feeling them.
How happy were you with the nightlife options at Grinnell? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I would change it all. I wish there were more options. I’m not particularly a party person, but if there were more options I would definitely go out more than what I do. If there were more clubs oriented towards younger people or people of color, that would be really nice. I’d like there to be more options than three bars that only have pool tables. When you’re in your early 20’s you want more things than just playing pool.
What have been your favorite times at Grinnell so far?
Performing here. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities I’ve gotten to display my music. I’ve also really enjoyed presenting my academic work. Grinnell is very nurturing towards people’s academic interests when you present them forward and put in the effort to have something presented forward. I’m also a Posse Scholar, and it was really nice to come up here with a family unit from New Orleans and have that moment. It was a really beautiful moment to see us all here.
How did you meet your closest friends?
My closest friends at Grinnell I met just through socializing. A lot of them I met through other people as well, like community-based events, common interests, or extracurriculars.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
It can be tough depending on where you come from. Grinnell’s a very liberal place and is very open-minded, and if you are coming from a background that is not as liberal then getting into that social network can be hard. I didn’t have that problem, but I know several people who did and it was difficult for them.
There are several hierarchical dynamics that exist here that sometimes can make getting into the social atmosphere kind of difficult. I feel that if you’re looking for a space, there is probably a space that you can find, but I can’t say that everyone can find the space they want because it can be difficult here. What plays into the hierarchical dynamic is that certain groups aren’t going to have the number of group members in order for that group to participate fully in the social scene. That makes social life less accessible to everyone in that because there are not as many of that group of students in the space. Also, students who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds may have difficulty adjusting. As a poor student, it was really weird seeing students who had the newest cars and that was new for me. But, as a student I can’t control that, that is more about who Grinnell is letting in. [Socioeconomically, 24% of students come from the top 5%.]
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think both exist in the same groups. There are plenty of people who identify them as trans or bisexual who are also in the black community, so I don’t think there is an issue of mixing in that regard. I see plenty of students of color who have White friends. But, there have been incidents so I can’t say that it’s always kumbaya all the time.
How strong is the Black community on campus?
I’d say it’s pretty weak because there’s so few of us. [About 6% of the student population is Black.] For us, it’s strong because there’s solidarity in the few of us who are here. In terms of overall impact in activity in the space, that is weakened due to the lack of numbers.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Grinnell? Do you think people leave loving Grinnell?
It depends. I know a lot of people who love it and I know a lot of people who hate it. I think it depends on their personal experience. There’s also a group who hated the experience but are appreciative of the diploma.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
I’ve met with them several times and they’ve been pretty helpful with getting my resume together and helpful getting me connected with the community and giving the opportunity to go visit other law schools in Iowa.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
I knew some programs coming in and I haven’t gotten any more proficient in them since I’ve been here.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Grinnell before entering as a freshman?
I wish I had known about incompletes and the ability to get extensions at the end of the semester in order to give yourself a little extra time if you’re having a bit of a rough one.
What is something a prospective Black student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
Every time a Black student comes here I always tell them that if you want an opportunity to do something amazing with your work after college you can definitely do that, but this is not the only place to do it. If you think this place isn’t going to make you happy or that it’s overbearing it’s okay to leave because I understand that feeling and how it can be difficult to stay in a space that doesn’t feel like it wants you all the time. Also, once you put in the effort to get a degree from here the opportunities are almost limitless, but self-care and maintaining your mental health are far more important in my opinion.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Check out the Bear [Recreation Center]. I personally use the basketball courts all the time. There are beautiful facilities, so I recommend going to check it out.
Reasons to attend Grinnell:
1) The academic challenge. If you enjoy being challenged, this place is definitely it.
2) The open curriculum. That gives you the opportunity to explore things that you wouldn’t have explored and an opportunity to find out what your other passions are.
3) The sense of community that you can find once you do find it. I think it can be difficult to get there, but once you find that community it sticks together and stands strong because there are so few students here and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
Reasons to not attend Grinnell:
1) As a student of color, it can be very difficult. [26% of undergraduates are domestic students of color. About 6% are Black.]
2) Sometimes the academic challenge is overwhelming and there’s not much you can do.
3) The rural location. If you’re not in for the small town, it just doesn’t work for you.