Near the end of the fall semester, a student in her first semester at Suffolk reached out to me. Let’s call her Jane. Jane is a transfer student from Bunker Hill Community College. She is 46 years old. She had an excellent experience at BHCC and looked forward to her time here at Suffolk. As expected, Jane attended transfer orientation prior to the start of the fall semester. It was not the experience Jane hoped for, nor what we as a community should have provided.
In Jane’s words, “during every pre-school year event that I attended, people offered to help me find my lost child/student or direct me to where other parents were congregating (this happened four times during the daylong transfer orientation day) even though each time I was wearing a lanyard indicating that I was an incoming student. On the first day of school, I was not even inside of a building yet when someone pulled me aside (not physically, but politely tried to block me) and asked if I would ‘like to find the other parents’. On that occasion, I was dressed in cargo shorts, a t-shirt, and a backpack for my new books–a regular student look.”
“Throughout the semester, people have asked me whether I am lost, need help finding ‘a student’ (child), and have asked for my ID…While I understand that anyone can be asked for ID at any time within a building, I never see anyone else ever being asked for ID. All of these interactions have been with other students, student representatives from offices or groups, or Suffolk faculty and staff. I am not referring to the security guards or police on campus.”
I am sorry that Jane has had these experiences. And unfortunately, I am confident that they are not unique to Jane. We can do better. The stereotype that Suffolk’s undergraduate students are all under the age of 22 is not only false, but that idea diminishes the inclusive environment that we strive for as an institution. There are actually more than 1,700 students at Suffolk University who are 25 or older. Many of them are graduate students, but more than 250 of those students are undergraduates. That’s about five percent of our undergraduate population. It goes without saying that all of these students are equally important members of our community. And like all of our students, they must feel and truly be welcomed, respected, and appropriately connected to the University.
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m., in the Stoll Room, 410, Sawyer Building, the Office of Student Affairs will hold a welcome lunch for undergraduates over the age of 25. This will be a time for students to learn about resources that are available to them, and also to share ideas on how we can better support them.
As we begin the spring 2020 semester, I hope you all will join me in trying to be more aware of our own age assumptions and biases, and committed to doing a better job of ensuring individuals of all ages feel seen, heard, and included here at Suffolk.
Marisa J. Kelly