By AUDREY JOHNSON
Transitioning into college can be intimidating for anyone, but some students have a bit more on their plates than others. Minority students (those who belong to one or more disadvantaged social groups, such as racial minorities, LGBTQ+ identities, religious minorities, and others) often have questions that aren’t covered in the traditional “Top ten tips for college freshmen!” articles, such as: Will I be discriminated against? Will there be any other students that share my identity? Where can I find support systems that will recognize and validate my differences? Below, UNH students address some of these questions and share their own experiences being a minority student at UNH.
From a Latina student
“I decided to come to UNH because I thought it was going to be a place where I could grow personally and professionally. Well it [was]. Thanks to UNH I [found] a passion and … longtime friends. It help[ed] me to [be] comfortable in the most uncomfortable situation and to speak up for myself … I think it was one of the best decision[s] that I have ever made. Here I found the support that I needed and the help that I was looking for. My advice is [to] go out of [your] comfort zone!” — Anonymous
From a transgender student
“Living life as an openly transgender student can be very difficult. A few good ways to cope with challenges while at college is to find people on campus who share the same struggles, find someone who you can confide in, and find good friends to spend your time with. Be yourself. People will be rude and people will not want to accept you, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t worth it. You are worth it. If you find the right friends, your college experience will be some of the best years of your life.
There are many LGBTQA+ groups on campus where new friends can be made including Trans* UNH, Alliance, OSTEM, Safe Zones, OMSA, the DSC (as well as the many groups in the DSC) and Stonewall Grads.” — Landon Krandall, ‘17
From a Jewish student
“As a Jewish student on campus coming from Pikesville, Maryland, which has a very large Jewish population, I quickly realized I was a minority at UNH. However, there are still resources available on campus for students like you and me. Hillel is a Jewish organization on campus, which provides a wonderful environment where a Jewish or non- Jewish student can feel at home with other people interested in the Jewish culture. Hillel is in contact with the dining halls to provide kosher food if necessary and during Pesach. Also, Hillel is connected with a local temple in Portsmouth. You are welcomed to come to [their] Shabbat services. Plus, Hillel has parties during the year to celebrate Jewish holidays. All are welcomed to attend.” — Marla Gordon
From a student of size
“It seems like no matter where I am, I’m constantly hearing people talk about how they wish they were thin or how fat they are (in a negative tone). Being surrounded by these comments on a daily basis especially at school can be isolating especially as someone who recognizes their weight for what it is. I am fat and that’s okay! I’m thankful to have connected with students and faculty on campus through People Opposing Weightism and Office of Multicultural Student Affairs that have really helped me to feel confident and find my voice when it comes to combating fat phobia and body policing.” — Shannon Alper, ‘17
From a low income, first generation student
“To get to UNH was hard for me. My dad was on disability and my mom could only find seasonal work, making well under $10,000 a year. I had to apply to scholarships left and right, and on top of all that, I commuted an hour and a half from school to home, five days a week, and gas was out of pocket. I got work study to help pay for it, but even then it was really hard. A family emergency came up in my second semester that required me, the only driver of the family, to be available often. It was hard for my mom to understand my schedule for classes was sporadic and I couldn’t be around much, but communication was key. We made it work.
Sophomore year I commuted again. We had been evicted, so I stayed with my boyfriend’s family. Commuting was the same but I couldn’t find work to fit my schedule; I was beyond broke. Good grades and sanity seemed impossible, so I contacted financial aid, asking if they could help me out. If I never contacted them, I don’t think I would have made it to the end of sophomore year. The options they gave me made everything so much easier.
In January, my dad passed. Being next of kin, I handled all the paperwork following his passing. I had to juggle academics along with personal responsibilities, which I had to often apologize for being late …on due to my schooling. A lot of my family hasn’t gone to college, so they had no idea how hard it was to plan a funeral while at school. My professors were more forgiving. I was given breathing room to deal with personal things. Thanks to their understanding, I did well in all of my classes. Being a low income, first generation student can be really difficult, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but it really is possible.” — Sabrina Meriano, ‘17
From international students
“Are you scared to move into a new environment? Are you nervous that you won’t make enough friends? I know how that feels; I felt that a year ago. Being different from the majority can be scary, but being different is what makes you unique. I might just have the words that can change your college life, so read carefully.
1) Keep yourself involved. Get involved in activities on campus that make you happy.
2) Be open and thoughtful with people around you. Remember many of you are on the same boat.
3) Surround yourself with positive people and things.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask. You can seek advice from other upper-class international students.
5) Finally, enjoy the American life (especially the food, trust me the food is heavenly). I repeat: Enjoy the American life.” — Sriyaa Shah, ‘18
“My experience at UNH as an Asian American has been amazing. I was frustrated about my identities when I confronted cultural conflicts. OMSA was the greatest support I could find and all the people there was an inspiring part of my self-identifying journey. I became more confident about myself.” – Mondi Lam, ‘15
From an autistic student
“I have had a wonderful experience at UNH. The people at Disability Student Services have been very good about getting me the accommodations I need to succeed in class. Also, because UNH is a big school, you’re likely to meet someone with the same or a similar disability as you. It’s a nice feeling to be part of such a diverse population after spending so much time in a school system that made me feel like the odd one out. As long as you remember to get the accommodation letters at the beginning of each semester, that tell your professors what you need from them, you should be just fine.” — Leah Santone, ‘16
From a student with a chronic illness
“For three and a half years, as a student at UNH, I struggled with undiagnosed chronic Lyme disease. I had to make the hard decision to take a medical leave in spring 2015 when I was supposed to graduate. The most important lesson I learned during my time at UNH was to be my own best advocate. I have had some wonderful, understanding professors and I have also been met with skepticism, even from kind and well-meaning people. If you need something, ask, and always follow up. You deserve to be valued for your abilities. Be kind to yourself.” – Amanda, ‘16
From Muslim students
“Being a minority at UNH, a predominantly white school, has been easier for me than I expected. People here seem very curious to learn more about people that are different from them, and I’ve had nothing but good experiences here so far! My advice to incoming freshman is to put anything you’ve heard about UNH in terms of (lack of) diversity aside, push your boundaries, join different clubs, and meet different kinds of people. You’ll be surprised at how accepting people can be. Put yourself out there. This school is a lot more diverse than you would think!” — Basmah ElFaramawi, ‘16
“You know you being an ethnic woman probably carried the most weight in your admittance here, right?’” This excerpt is from a conversation with a fellow graduate student during my first semester at the University of New Hampshire. Immediately following this statement, the student asked if they could use my resume as a template for an application they were submitting without recognizing how this request conflicted with their previous sentiment. I gladly lent them a copy of my resume. Prejudice has followed me throughout my life, but I refuse to let it negatively impact my success. I am a scientist.” — Sabah Ul-Hasan, Biochemistry MS, ’14
From an asexual student
“I didn’t realize I wasn’t ‘normal’ until I got to college. Everyone talked about hooking up all the time and I just wasn’t interested in that. I had never dated before college, and even after finding an awesome boyfriend I still wasn’t really into the whole sex thing for a long while. I am so happy to have found support in my partner and friends, and Alliance, which I only just joined last year, has quickly become a group where I feel welcome and normal and understood in an environment of sex culture. People are so accepting on campus, and it’s important to find those who will treat you like the awesome human you are.” — Emily, panromantic demisexual student, ‘16
From a black student
“My experience at UNH as a black man within COLSA has been a complicated one. I can make friends easily, but the cultural isolation in the classroom and around campus was a very mentally and emotionally exhausting experience. But what made my experience so much better were the programs like CONNECT/CONNECT STEM where I found my closest friends today. OMSA gave me a place to go to and be free to be me. Mostly the orgs around campus like BSU, MOSAICO, and MOSDEF gave me that cultural home that made my college experience all the better.” — Spencer Littles, ‘17
From student allies
An ally is someone who supports and stands up for people in minority groups like the ones above. There are many ways, big and small, for fellow Wildcats to be allies to their minority classmates. Molly and Doug share what they’ve learned about being an ally at UNH.
“In my opinion UNH is not diverse and there is a lot of racism against the diverse and international populations – so be extra friendly to international students and people of color because they do get a lot of hate and ignorance. Smile, eye contact, good vibes! Also, not assuming that a black person is an athlete, an Asian [student] is international and doesn’t speak English, or those dressed differently do not need American friends. People assume that they don’t want to be friends with us because they have their own community, but that’s not necessarily true.” — Molly Biron, ‘16
“Being involved in social justice at UNH has been the greatest experience of my life. I’ve met some of the most amazing people, and I’ve learned how to be a better ally to others. I’ve been trying to be a good ally to all communities on campus. But the truth is, the people I’m trying to serve have helped me much more than I’ve helped them. They’ve made me a better person and have taught me about being human. My best advice to people who want to be allies is to listen. If you don’t listen to people’s concerns, you can’t truly fight with them in the pursuit of justice.” – Doug Marino, ‘18
NOTE: Each student’s description that appears above is depicted exactly as how they self-identify.