An Interview On
Macalester College

Background

Interview Date:April 2019

Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: African-American
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Private school in Minneapolis, MN with a graduating class of about 128 people. I went on scholarship. There was a culture of going to college at the high school.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: International Studies
Minors: Economics and International Development
Extracurricular Activities: The biggest one I do is I’m part of student government because I was just elected to a [higher up position]. I’m a Bonner scholar, which is a community service-based scholarship so I have work-studies outside of Macalester where we engage with community partners. I’m also on the alumni board.

Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
All of them have impacted me in different ways, but student government has had the biggest. It’s really cool to see the inner-workings of Macalester and see how staff and professionals at Macalester get things done. As a student, there are a lot of minor things that I appreciate and things that I think could be done better, so it’s really interesting to see the bureaucratic system of the school and see how I can help my community and classmates.

Academic Experience

Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
There are a lot of essays. The classes are very discussion-based, and outside of class it’s heavy writing and reading.

Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
Comparing my minor in Economics to my International Studies major, Economics does a really good job of connecting us to our community partner and different internships. We get daily emails about things that are going on in our community and alumni emails, so I think they have a really good relationship with the alumni office and the career development center. I think International Studies could do a better job of that. But, the International Studies department does a really good job of bringing in a bunch of different alumni and from all around the world to lectures.

How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I don’t think it’s competitive at all. I think everyone really, really wants to do well and are extremely passionate about whatever they want to do, whether it’s investment banking or getting into human rights work. International Studies especially has a lot of collaborative work.

How accessible are your professors?
Extremely accessible, which is really interesting. My advisor checks up on me every week and sends me emails about different fellowships and opportunities available. It’s really cool that they have their own things going on but are still extremely willing to help and reach out to people.

Do you feel that people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Yes, to some degree I think that, especially in discussion-based classes, a lot of people do a good job of playing devil’s advocate and understanding the other side of nuanced and complex issues. I do think that there is a huge intolerance towards intolerance to some degree, which I think makes sense because we don’t anyone with specific identities to feel unsafe. But, I think we could do a better job of making people feel uncomfortable and asking tough questions about things that relate to what’s occurring nationally and internationally.

Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I’ve always been interested in international affairs. I was born in [Africa] so I’ve always been interested in that section. I fell in love with the International Studies department overall because the professors give you a lot of tough love. They push you a lot but they’re very nurturing and very helpful. I’m very happy with my choice.

How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student? Were there any resources that helped you adapt?
Outside of the community service-based, the Bonner Scholarship is for people who are low-income, first-generation, or people of color and most of the students, including me, are all of the above. They do an amazing job of inviting financial aid officers to come and talk to us about different things, such as living off-campus, etc. That’s been the best resource I could imagine. The other thing is the professors are very willing to constantly reach out to you and make sure you’re okay, the hard thing is you have to be willing to be vulnerable to some degree and let them know where you stand. Not to say adjusting hasn’t been really hard, I think people here are trying their best which is really important to me.

On and Around Campus

Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Turck Hall with one roommate

Sophomore: Kirk Hall, which is suite-style. I had one roommate but we each had our own rooms and a common space.

How do you like going to school in your hometown?
It’s interesting. I’m really happy that it’s not the exact same city, but it’s really nice to go home when I miss my family or when I need a break from college or just some good food. Plus, I’m also interested in going to graduate school one day and then I can expand my wings a little bit.

Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
It’s pretty amazing. Macalester’s in a pretty unique setting because on one side is a very high-income neighborhood and on the other side it’s a pretty low-income bracket. However, I think that does a good job of bringing in a diverse culture to Macalester. I don’t think we’ve had any security issues on campus that I’ve known of whatsoever.

Pros and cons of being located in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota?
Pros:
1) The biggest pro is that it’s in a city, which is cool for so many reasons. You have good food around and it’s nice to have the option to get off campus and go into the city.
2) Being in the city is great for internship opportunities and community service engagement. It’s great to be able to connect with so many different types of people.
3) There is public transportation accessible.

Cons:
1) It is a college campus, but it’s not as big as other college campuses.
2) There is a road that’s a public road that buses come through and other people come through.

I like the location a lot.

Social Opportunities

What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in at Macalester?
It really depends. We have a couple of theaters nearby, so we really like going to theater performances. I also really like going to eat. We don’t have a frat environment whatsoever, but there are parties around for people who want that. Usually, the parties are hosted by sports teams in off-campus houses. There are also popular events called Kagin Balls that are held every two weeks by clubs. They’re usually pretty tame depending on who’s hosting them. I usually just go out Friday and Saturday nights.

What’s an alternative to going to a party that you like for a night out?
Definitely, a lot of people go to the city because we have both a bus that takes you to Minneapolis and a train line that takes you from downtown St. Paul straight to downtown Minneapolis. There are also so many organizations on campus that there are events going on from Wednesday night to Sunday night so you can always do that. It really depends on what you like and the community you’re in.

How happy are you with the weekend options at Macalester? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I do think that there is an environment of work hard play hard in that you grind it out until Friday and then party really hard that night. We’re also next to the University of St. Thomas that has a lot of parties. I think that people could take better care of themselves in that work hard play hard balance.

Campus Culture

How did you meet your closest friends?
I met a lot of my closest friends pretty early on through the Bonner Scholar pre-orientation group. Your first-year dorms are structured so you live with people who are in your First-Year Course. It’s really interesting to live with everyone and also studying with them. We got pretty close through that. Those are the two primary groups I’ve made friends from.

How would you describe the overall social scene at Macalester?
It’s really laid back. Academics comes first for everyone. I don’t think it’s cliquey. People are really supportive. It’s a lot of studying. People make friends through classes and sports primarily. The social scene is really chill.

To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I think to a really good degree. Macalester’s identity groups are strong overall. I’m part of Afrika! and Black Liberation Affairs Community and they both do a good job of putting on events and creating a community space for people. A lot of times you’ll see a group of Black people sitting together on campus, and it’s not always that way, but I think that’s because people like that community. Then, because it’s such a small school, people wear a lot of different hats so it’s common for somebody to be part of a cultural identity group and also be part of a sports team or a social justice movement. It’s common to see people interacting with each other in a lot of different ways.

How would you describe the Black community on campus? How strong is it?
I think it’s pretty strong. It’s nice for me because I am an African immigrant and there are a lot of people who are second and third generation African immigrants. I think that may be hard for people who are specifically African-American because there’s a different type of need for those spaces and communities. For the number of people we have, I think we have a really good community. [In the Fall of 2018, there were 74 Black/African-American students on campus, making up about 3.5% of the student population.]

How would you describe the student body?
Very social justice centered, extremely intellectual and thinking about different concepts a lot, and very passionate. I think everyone has a different thing that they’re really interested in and go all in.

How has the size of Macalester influenced your social experience? [Macalester has about 2,200 students.]
I really like it. I went to small schools my whole life so it was nice that it was not too big and overwhelming. It’s interesting to recognize everyone’s faces. It’s been a really nice transition for me.

If at all, how did being a first-generation college student impact your social transition?
I had to learn to ask a lot of things that were really dumb questions just because nobody had ever said those things to me. That’s been the biggest thing. You don’t know what you don’t know, so I’ve tried to be okay with that and see how things go. It hasn’t impacted me as much as I thought because I knew that I wanted to go to college but the idea of college did scare me. It’s been nice to be surrounded by other people who are also first-generation and to have professors who are completely fine with me asking a bunch of questions.

Careers

Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Yes. I’m on the Alumni Board currently and I’ve met a lot of alumni whose primary concern when they were undergraduates at Macalester was that it wasn’t strong communication between the alumni network and the Macalester student body. The career development office has been extraordinary and completely changed that. You can contact them and they will connect you with somebody in a specific field who can give you advice. Through being on the Alumni Board, I’ve also spoken to a lot of alumni who are very engaged with the community which is really cool.

What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
They’re extremely helpful with interview prep, resume review, and connecting with people. I’ve talked to them because I’m not completely sure if I want to continue on the finance route or go to a graduate school of some sort. They’ve always been willing to talk me through that both from a general perspective and a Macalester alum perspective. They have a lot of people working there considering the size of our student body so you can always meet with someone.

Have you learned any computer programs or computer languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
I took a couple of Computer Science classes and they have a few Excel workshops on campus here and there.

Financial Aid

Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful and responsive are they?
Yes, I have used financial aid and they are very responsive. I actually emailed them like an hour ago about living off campus and how my financial aid would transfer over and they already responded about it. We have a lot of graduate fellows who might not be able to answer your questions all the time, so you sometimes have to go a couple of times to get the full benefits. In general, they are always able to talk with you and go through your financial aid package. Financial aid also tends to be a big reason why students go to Macalester because they tend to give good packages. [Macalester meets 100% of demonstrated financial need.]

Advice for Prospective Freshmen

What is something you wish you knew about Macalester before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I wasn’t so scared to ask a bunch of questions. The professors are really impressive, so I was scared to ask them questions. But, they are there to teach too and be in advisory positions, so I wish I was more open to asking questions.

What is something a prospective Black student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
Macalester is not the perfect utopia without racism or microaggressions, but there are many communities for Black students. That is in part due to Macalester but also in part due to older Black students that have gone out of their way to make different communities that can support you and have your back no matter what. Try to talk to as many people as possible and create links to find support networks because it’s really nice to have that support.

What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The food gets boring, that’s my big problem on campus. The other thing is Macalester is a pretty small college community and I think a lot of people might underestimate that. If you feel claustrophobic in your high school, Macalester is about the same size and you would probably feel pretty claustrophobic.

Reasons to attend Macalester:
1) No one is super competitive or negative. Everyone is extremely passionate and, especially the older students, are able to help in any way.
2) You have an amazing alumni network.
3) Even though it’s really small, there are many communities within Macalester where you can find support networks.
4) The professors are ridiculously talented and always willing to help.

Reasons to not attend Macalester:
1) It’s a pretty small community. There can be situations where it’s a Macalester Bubble and people don’t interact with the community as much as they should.
2) I wish Macalester was a bit more open to different opinions, although they do a very good job of making sure everybody feels safe. There is an intolerance of intolerance.

Notice: Macalester College is a trademark. Induck uses it for descriptive purposes, not to imply affiliation with, endorsement from, or sponsorship by Macalester College.

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