Surrounded by cotton candy and bouncy houses, my fellow mentees, mentors, and advisors and I gather at the Lower Division field to celebrate another successful school year and reminisce about the memories we’ve made. The STEPS ( Students Together Empowering People of Color Successfully) carnival gives the members of the program an opportunity, outside of the school environment, to make memories and say goodbye to the mentors who are off to college. As I reflect on my third and final year as a STEPS mentee, I’ve realized how much the program has impacted and changed my three years in the Middle Division in a positive and rewarding way.
Throughout my experience with STEPS, one constant feeling I took away from every single meeting was the idea of family. For me, STEPS is a safe haven where I can go to talk if I have an issue, joke with my friends, or receive great advice on how to navigate as a person who self-identifies as an African American and LatinX girl at a Primarily White Institution (PWI). At times I’ve had experiences related to race that made me feel uncomfortable, but because of STEPS, I have always had a space to be supported for my voice to be heard. The program advisors have always been accessible, and they’ve helped me many times when I had an issue or concern that I felt needed to be voiced immediately.
STEPS is a place I go where I feel I can be my authentic self. Not only does the feeling of family radiate throughout the community, but the learning and conversations are powerful. Every single STEPS meeting, I have interesting discussions with my peers where we share our opinions, experiences of being at a PWI and not identifying as white, and the ways we have overcome tricky racial situations that have arisen in classes, specifically in History and English. At times, the topics discussed in these two classes are sensitive, and can bring up unfamiliar and confusing feelings for the whole class. Generally, after we share our concerns during our grade check-ins, the mentors and my peers share stories and advice to help us find solutions to the problems we are facing. I find this helpful since it’s important to hear a perspective from someone you look up to and trust.
I have developed tools in STEPS that have been helpful at school and beyond. I have learned to be my own advocate, deal with uncomfortable and difficult situations, and share my voice in a constructive and powerful way. These tools can be difficult to learn, and it’s amazing how in the past three years I (and many of my peers) have acquired them through STEPS.
Over the past three years, I have built strong relationships with my peers, the program’s advisors, and my mentors. These relationships have been the most rewarding part of the program. It has given me the opportunity to meet members of the community who look like me from across the student body. The STEPS advisors and staff are also amazing. The advisors, specifically Mr. Taylor, have always been there just to say “hi,” listen to a problem that has arisen, or simply check in to see how I’m doing. Moreover, the three mentors that I’ve had during my time at STEPS have been great. My mentor is truly someone I can go to discuss any problem that I am working through, socially or academically. Mentors are especially important because they’ve walked the same halls as the mentees, and may have shared their experiences.
STEPS isan amazing space and I’m so grateful that Deveraux Mackey ‘19 created a community where people that look like me can feel supported and build long-lasting relationships within the community at the school.