Orientations for new students of color focus on building community

Taylen Inthisane is a first-year student from Grand Haven. While he plans to commute to campus for classes, Inthisane was among 40 students who attended the first Asian Student Orientation.

The mostly virtual orientation was held August 24-25. It was one of four orientations held for diverse student populations to help build community and introduce campus resources and services.

Inthisane said he enjoyed meeting Asian students, faculty and staff members, even virtually. "It's been nice to get to know a few other people before classes start," said Inthisane, who plans to major in finance.

Ajalin Sinshaw is a native of Montana and said she chose Grand Valley to join the Laker swimming and diving team. She chose to attend orientation, she said, because her home state is not very diverse. "There is not an Asian community in my hometown and I want to learn about different cultures," Sinshaw said.

two people in masks talking at Asian Student Orientation
Stafford Smith, associate professor of photography, talks with Connie Dang at Asian Student Orientation in Loutit Hall.
Valerie Wojciechowski
Kin Ma at computer, wearing a mask
Kin Ma, associate professor of geography and sustainable planning, serves as co-chair of Asian Student Orientation.
Valerie Wojciechowski

The co-chairs of Asian Student Orientation were Connie Dang, senior inclusion and equity officer, and Kin Ma, associate professor of geography and sustainable planning. Dang said the students were invited to participate in a retention program, Asian Student Achievement Program (ASAP), which will build on the community formed during orientation with year-round programming geared toward supporting academic progress while offering student holistic development.

It's a similar model to Laker Familia, which started seven years ago with an orientation for students who identify as Latino or Hispanic and grew into a year-round program. Seventy-five students attended that orientation; Black Excellence Orientation, in its fourth year, welcomed 90 students who identify as Black or African American. 

Two peer mentors stand next to each other at Black Excellence Orientation, they are wearing masks.
Shantiera Carprue and Paulasia Sims served as interns for Black Excellence Orientation.
Image Credit: courtesy photo

Lin Bardwell, program coordinator for the Native American Student Initiative, virtually connected new Native students virtually to others on campus who identify as indigenous during orientation. 

"What Native students need most is a supporting and caring surrogate community while they are away from their home community," Bardwell said. "Native people move about in unfamiliar spaces poorly, so the purpose as we build this program is to create a familiar and safe community both on campus and in the local community."

With an eye on retention, Bardwell said research shows Native students leave higher education because of family, mental health and financial issues. Programming throughout the year for Native American students, she said, will center on relationship building.

"There is a lot of research out there stating that the more a Native/indigenous person identifies with their Native community, the lower their retention rates are," Bardwell said.