BackgroundInterview Date:April 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Graduation Year: 2019
Sexual Orientation: Straight
High School Experience: I’m from Boston but was part of METCO so I went to a public high school in Westwood, MA with a graduating class of about 300 people. The demographics of the school were pretty similar to Union and there was a strong culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: Yes
Major: Political Science
Extracurricular Activities: I play club basketball and I am part of Greek life but de-brothered last year. I also do some volunteering around Schenectady, I lead an S.A.T. prep session at the Kennedy Center with high schoolers from Schenectady and I’m part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative where we mentor some teens from Schenectady High School.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Greek life has been a pretty big advantage to me. Although I am no longer a member, I created some pretty good connections while I was a brother. Also, some of my closest friends are on the club basketball team so I like seeing them a lot. Teaching S.A.T. prep has helped advance my career because I am [going into education] next year.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
I’m probably reading for about six to eight hours a week and then working on papers for four to six hours a week. It’s pretty heavy reading and writing but it’s manageable. The major graded assignments are essays.
Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or especially poorly?
The Political Science department does a really good job of identifying what you’re interested in and pushing you to take those courses. I’m really interested in U.S. politics and not as much global politics, so early on my adviser steered me into some pretty good courses. I can’t think of anything they could do better right now.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I think it’s competitive. I think Union’s a very competitive school overall. I don’t know if that’s just the culture here, but I would like to see it become more collaborative in the classroom. I feel that people aren’t as willing to work together on things outside of class, even if it’s just a group study session or brainstorming for an essay. People work individually in all of the courses I’ve taken in the social sciences.
How accessible are your professors?
They’re super accessible. They’re always available, you just have to send them an email. I don’t want to say I’ve become friends with my professors, but a lot of them have become really great advisors and mentors as I’ve been looking into career options.
Do you feel people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
Union leads very heavily liberal with the professors, but that doesn’t stop other people’s opinions from holding weight and value in the classroom, which I think is good. I think people are open to having conversations with people along different party lines.
There’s a pretty clear distinction that a lot of our professors are pretty liberal, but a lot of our students are pretty centrist or right-leaning, but that hasn’t caused any issues or anything. Being a student during the last election cycle was really interesting because a lot of people were emboldened by that and I think a lot of constructive conversations happened because of that.
What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for Political Science?
Public Opinion. That was really good because it was during the 2016 election cycle and it was about how the public formulates their ideas surrounding political candidates and policy.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I chose Political Science because I eventually want to go on to law school. I’m very happy with my choice. I got exposed to a great crop of professors and they’re definitely going to help me with connections in the future.
How was transitioning academically as a first-generation college student?
It was relatively easy for me because my high school was so competitive. I’m part of a scholarship program called Posse and am one of ten Posse students in my grade. We get a mentor here and get good support from the Posse Boston office and they stay in touch. It was a pretty smooth transition for me having that additional support.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Richmond Hall with one roommate.
Sophomore: College Park Hall with one roommate
Junior: Wells House in a single
Seniors: ARTS House in a single
What was your favorite place to live?
My single in Wells because I had a huge room and could have my friends up for parties.
How was transitioning from Boston to Schenectady, NY in terms of location?
Really difficult because I’m from the city and I’m used to being able to take the train downtown to hang out with friends. Comparatively, Schenectady is a really slow-paced place and is not the biggest city so there’s not really a lot going on. I was bored my first couple of years, especially being under 21 because I couldn’t explore the bar scene. That was definitely an adjustment but I got used to it through volunteering and doing other activities.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I definitely feel safe. I think Schenectady gets a bad reputation from the students about being unsafe, but I’ve never felt afraid. Any city you’re in can have crime, but as far as I can tell, nothing bad really happens to Union students.
Pros and cons of being located in Schenectady, NY?
1) It’s a thriving community. The downtown area has been rebuilding over the last few years and offers a lot of good activities to do.
2) There’s a casino near Schenectady which is fun to go to every now and then.
1) Schenectady is small and, being used to a big city, that was difficult. [The population of Schenectady is about 65,700 and there is a 21% poverty rate.]
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I go out pretty often with friends to frat row or off-campus house parties. Now that we’re 21, we go to bars sometimes. I’ve never felt pressured to go out a bunch, but, because there’s not much to do, I definitely feel like I party more. I normally go out Friday, Saturday, and I’ll go to bars on Wednesday nights every now and then.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
It’s kind of where you have to go. Now that I’m a senior, I know a lot of guys across different fraternities. Having connections make getting in the door of fraternities easier. Freshman year was definitely tough, and it still is for a lot of guys who don’t know a lot of people because most party options are going to be Greek life-related. You don’t necessarily have to be part of Greek life to go to parties because if you have connections with people in Greek life through class or whatever you’ll be fine, but I think that people who never make those connections have the hardest time even into senior year.
What’s an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a night out or weekend option?
We go to the movies a lot. Student Activities gives $5 movie tickets so I can go to the local theater just for something to do. There will also be one-dollar bowling at a bowling alley up the street. There are things to do in Schenectady that don’t require a lot of searching.
How happy are you with the weekend options at Union? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m relatively happy. The school’s in a bit of a transition period. Like a lot of schools across the country, Union is trying to figure out what to do with Greek life but Union is foundational for a lot of fraternities. I think that makes it difficult for people who don’t love Greek life because there are other things to do but they aren’t super well attended.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Playing pick-up and intramural basketball.
If at all, how did being a first-generation college student affect your social transition?
It was difficult because not only am I a first-generation student but my family is a working-class family. That makes the biggest difference because I’m not able to do all the same things as my friends sometimes, but it hasn’t negatively impacted me too much.
How would you describe the overall social scene at Union?
It’s a little exclusive based on your connections or what social scene or fraternity you’re a part of. But, I would say that it’s fun. Being a senior, I have it pretty good and am able to go anywhere I want. The social scene is also very dependent on your friend group. No one in my close friend group is part of Greek life, but we’re still [friends with lots of different people and have fun].
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientation mix socially?
I would say they’re pretty socially interactive. That’s partially because Union is such a small school that you can’t not interact. Racially, as far as the Greek life and party scene, although I don’t think there’s a tangible negative impact, there is some discomfort being out and the song that’s playing has the n-word in it and you look at people around you sing along and that’s super awkward and does happen. Other than that, I don’t have any complaints. I would say that the LGBT community is a group that I could see feeling excluded from Greek life events, I’m not sure why, but I can see some frustration on their end.
How would you describe the Black community on campus? How strong is it?
Union’s so small and the percentage of us is small but we stick together and it’s a pretty supportive group. Because I’m in the Posse Scholarship program there is a community of us, so having people from a similar demographic and city as me makes it easier. [About 4% of students are Black.]
How do you like the size of Union in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [There are about 2,200 students.]
I think there are pros and cons of there being such a small school enrollment. The pros are that you learn better because the professor is more willing to do a little extra for you and go out of their way to help you out. I would also say that because it’s so small some small demographic groups, like the LGBT community, feel ostracized, not because they don’t get enough support, but because their social role isn’t as prevalent. Because it’s a smaller community, there are fewer people in the lesser represented communities on campus.
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
It would mostly happen through an intramural sport. If you play intramural basketball with people in a certain fraternity, you create pretty close connections with them just because you see them so often. Outside of intramural sports and in class, there’s not much interaction.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of Union by senior year? Do you think people leave loving Union?
Yeah, I think Union is a lovable school. People have fond memories and enjoy their time here for the most part.
Has the alumni network helps you find internships or jobs?
Not me personally because I had a really clear idea of what I wanted to do with my career. But, I know a lot of friends that reached out to alumni through the career center and they have offered them a lot of support and guidance.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I asked them for help with writing a resume and doing interview prep. They also helped me find an outside scholarship for doing some teaching work in the inner-city of Boston with some vulnerable students that helped with my living expenses. The career center is definitely very helpful. I’ve brought my resume in there four or five times to help me specialize my resume for the job I was applying for.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be especially helpful professionally?
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Union before you entered as a freshman?
I wish I knew how cold it is up here. I’m used to the cold of Boston, which is pretty cold, but here it’s very cold. It affects people’s attitude and temperament to a pretty tangible degree.
What is something a prospective pre-law student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
If you’re a prospective pre-law student, I’d say to reach out to the professors who are teaching you as soon as possible. You’re going to be interacting with them so much during the course of four years and it’s important to be comfortable to have conversations with them and be honest with them with where you are as a student. They will help you figure out what methods are best for you and what additional or supplementary help you might need.
What is something a prospective Black student may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
Just be comfortable stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s really hard. It’s really easy to stay with your cohort of students that are like you demographically, socially, and racially. But, being able to step out of that and experience how other people think and view the world is really important and is what’s made my experience at Union so good.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I would stop by the library. I spent a lot of time there socially and also to get work done. Walk up to the second or third floor because you’ll spend a lot of time there. I would also check out the Wicker Wellness Center because [you may need that]. I would also eat in the dining hall. The food’s getting better, but during my freshman year it was really bad.
Reasons to attend Union:
1) There are great professors. You will learn a lot here.
2) It’s really easy to establish a really good cohort of friends through intramurals, classes, and Greek life if you choose to do it.
3) It’s so beautiful in the fall and spring that it almost makes up for how bad the winter is.
Reasons to not attend Union:
1) It’s kind of a bubble. People tend to come from the same background. If you’re from a very different socioeconomic background, it can be difficult to adjust.
2) The winter is so cold and depressing.