Organization honors diversity

Created for students of color admitted to the Temple Honors Program, the Honorables of Color organization helps students who are of an ethnic minority at Temple to identify their struggles and strengths as they maneuver their college years.

HOC began in 2012 as an initiative for honors students of color looking for fellowship among other high-achieving students. HOC now works to provide not only a community of support among students, but a network of other individuals who can assist them.

“I take pride in fighting stereotypes about people who look like me. It’s OK to be black and smart,” said Monique Jenkins, a senior psychology major and coordinator of the organization. “HOC shows that being a person of color and being smart [and] successful do not have to be mutually exclusive.”

“We acknowledge the unique experience of a minority college student and hope to connect with peers, faculty, and staff, all while valuing the significance of surrounding yourself with a diverse group of scholars,” Jenkins added.

The organization meets biweekly on Mondays in the Honors Lounge, located on the second floor of the Tuttleman Learning Center. The lounge, which Jenkins describes as a “home away from home” for honors students, has also become a haven for honors students of color, she said.

The Honors Lounge acts as barrier, a protected place where the students can speak earnestly about their personal and academic experiences as a high-achieving student of color, Jenkins said.

“Sometimes we’re the only student of color in our classes, so knowing we have a community of peers like us that we can bounce ideas off of outside the classroom makes us feel comfortable speaking up in the classroom,” Bridget Amponsah, a senior psychology major and coordinator with HOC, said.

Amponsah and Jenkins said honors students of color tend to isolate themselves since racial boundaries can create a feeling of differentness and stigma, she said. Temple’s student body is 60 percent white, 13 percent African American/black, 10 percent Asian and 5 percent Hispanic. Though diverse, it can be difficult for students of all races to feel connected to their university, HOP members said.

“Our adviser [Musu Davis] once told us that when students feel connected to their university and feel welcome, they do better academically, and they’re happier with their college experience,” Jenkins said. “We hope that the connection people make with each other at [the HOC meetings] helps them learn from each other just as much as they learn from professors or texts.”

The meetings are a forum for conversation. Once a rapport has been established, the students are free to delve into the difficulties of being a minority in academia.

“It would be ideal to identify a certain race without having stigmas attached,” Jenkins said. “In America, race matters, but opportunity is not dependent upon race.”

Students in the group said they have struggled with the stigmas surrounding minority success.

Jenkins said that she used to feel uncomfortable in class. Other people judged her intellect based on the color of her skin, she said, as if race superseded what she could contribute to the class.

“For me, because of what I look like, people sometimes make assumptions about who I am or what I am capable of intellectually,” Jenkins said. “Temple is a diverse place, and students come from lots of different backgrounds here, but sometimes it’s challenging to be the only student of color in my classes.”

HOC looks to take this challenge and change the conversation so that all students feel free to succeed academically, regardless of skin color. In addition to connecting students to upperclassmen, alumni and faculty who can help a student navigate his or her path as a high-achieving minority student, HOC also points to successful minorities in the media to show how race doesn’t always deter achievement.

“We love ‘Scandal,’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ is showing a lot of promise as well,” Amponsah said. “But we think that visibility is not as important as how minorities are portrayed in the media.”

Anxious to see minorities in more affluent roles, HOC gathers its participants to discuss how, in addition to media portrayal, it is important to focus on viable progress when it comes to minority advancement.

“America is made up of so many different kinds of people, and although sometimes we all need to be more accepting of each other, in some ways the prognosis is much better now than it was say 20 or even 10 years ago,” Jenkins said. “In others it isn’t – just pick up a newspaper.”

HOC is currently planning an outing for members to see the new film “Dear White People,” as well as hosting a panel of graduate students of color in November. The organization also hopes to support minority-owned businesses in the spring and look into community outreach opportunities. As it moves forward in its endeavors, it hopes to instill a sense of belonging in all of its members.

“I’m proud of my heritage – being black is part of who I am,” Jenkins said.

Lora Strum can be reached at  lora.strum@temple.edu                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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