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Thriving or Suriving

Addressing the common but often overlooked feelings of alienation and being on the outskirts of one’s college experience, a recent event examined this phenomenon, dissected why students feel this way, and offered real and attainable solutions for students to be able to not just survive, but thrive.Moderator of the “Thrive or Survive: Making the Most Out of Your College Experience” event on April 20, Venus “Zuhura” Noble, a social worker and former teacher, explained the distinction between thriving in one’s college experience versus just surviving. “To thrive is to grow, become, find your creative niche, grow into what you are meant to be,” Noble said. “However, I knew that a whole bunch of students were not doing that. Instead they were merely ‘surviving’, just sitting there with no purpose, not knowing why they were there.”Having experienced both sides of the “thrive or survive” lifestyle, junior Rozena Harten felt that it was important to organize the event. With the support of campus groups, Harten orchestrated the event, featuring speakers who all shared their personal experiences and suggestions on how to make the most of your college experience. After an introduction by Harten and a poem by senior Ophelia Stringer, the keynote speaker of the night, Rev. Cheryl D. Ward, came to the podium. Ward, a writer and owner of the Liberation Press publishing company, chronicled her personal battle with getting through college and graduate theology school. With honesty and humor, she proposed a formulaic approach for students who want to thrive, suggesting tools that anyone, regardless of sex or race, could use to excel. Beyond the important task of making connections with the faculty, Ward said that in order to thrive, “one must learn to transform their education into something that will work for them, and that will impact the community where they plan to serve.” In closing she said, “Tap into your creativity; the resources will come. If they don’t have what you need, create what you need, you don’t have to go through the educational process without having your needs met. You have everything before you – use it!” Ward’s speech was followed by a huge round of applause and an occasional “Amen!” creating an open atmosphere for the question and answer session that followed.The Q&A session raised many complex issues that affect college students, specifically students of color. The questions alone reflect the nature and mission of the event. Noble, who moderated the Q&A session,asked panelists for their thoughts on what is needed for students to thrive in college, whether students of color need more support and what the term “structural vulnerability” means. The panel, diverse in age, sexuality, and profession, provided distinct responses and reflected upon their own personal experiences. Panelist Tina A. Zaman, a senior at Mills College, responded to many of Noble’s questions, but in particular she addressed the concept of “structural vulnerability,” and its impact upon an individual’s potential to truly thrive in a college institution. She explained, “Structural vulnerability in an institution is the idea that marginalized minorities are much less likely to be understood by faculty and administration because there are less resources within that institution in terms of being validated with our experiences.” As the event closed, emotions were running high, as students tearfully gave roses and expressed their gratitude to visiting Women’s Studies professor Margo Okazawa-Rey, one of the night’s sharpest panelists, whose contract was not renewed for the fall semester.One of the main points made at the event was the importance of creating a support system. “You are not the only one who is feeling that they are losing it,” Ward said. “Get people together and start talking about how you are feeling. So many negative consequences can result from not feeling accepted or connected.”This was the first event of its kind at Mills, but Harten plans to hold the event again in September.