Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Open House Showcases GU Diversity

Her story resonated through Gaston Hall: She spoke of her home neighborhood, of the suffering, of the dreams deferred. “Where I’m from the English is broken / So sometimes words go unspoken / But I was born into this I wasn’t given the choice / Why not stand up for my people? I can be that voice.””Where I’m From,” by Ramonita Jimenez (COL ’13) was part of a Diaspora Evening program held on Friday to highlight the distinct backgrounds that current students bring to the Hilltop. For Jocelyn Hernandez, a prospective first-year, the poem epitomized the appeal of Georgetown.

“I think it’s the perfect example of how people bring a bit of themselves and their world into Georgetown,” said Hernandez, an accepted student from Los Angeles.

Hernandez was one of 70 students visiting campus for Hoya Saxa Weekend, from Thursday to Saturday, an annual program that brings underrepresented minority students to the university to experience life on campus. Overlapping with the Georgetown Admission Ambassadors Program, the program aims to encourage attendees to commit to Georgetown as the May 1 enrollment deadline looms.

The university pays the visitors’ travel and accommodation expenses, housing them on campus with current students. Because of funding limitations, the program is capped at 70 students each year, with spaces offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Prospective students enjoyed a bus tour of the District of Columbia, a reception with students and faculty, and a closing banquet on Saturday evening. They consistently described Friday’s performance event, titled “Diaspora,” as the program’s pinnacle, and not only because of what they saw onstage.

Araceli Vazquez, from Edcouch, Texas, was struck by the support that different ethnic groups offered each other.

“There was different dancing, hip hop, salsa dancing, drums. Everybody just got along. Everybody clapped for each other,” Vazquez said. “The Georgetown students who were there supported each other so much.”

It is exactly the message organizers want to send to the students, in the hopes that more minority students will choose Georgetown for their undergraduate studies.

“It’s targeted to students of color, to show them what a sense of community can be at Georgetown. Its focus is on `How do we increase the yield of these students?'” said Aeriel Anderson, program coordinator at the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access.

Jheanelle Brown (SFS ’10) said Hoya Saxa Weekend was the primary factor in her decision to enroll at Georgetown.

“I was immediately brought in the community of students of color, which has been my home community at Georgetown. It brought me into a support system,” Brown said. “I don’t know if I’d have come to Georgetown if I just went to GAAP.”

Brown, now one of the principal student organizers, said that the weekend is especially valuable in light of the bias-related incidents on campus earlier this year.

“For some people, this campus community is a little bit hostile,” she added. “The fact that there is a community for people to relate to it and have a support system is important. It continues to develop and maintain a support system for students who don’t feel comfortable in the wider Georgetown community.”

The breadth of different groups is what struck Marlene Lopez, a student from Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Over brunch at Leo’s on Saturday, Lopez discussed the importance in witnessing unity among minority students on campus. The groups forge a sense of community, she said, making her feel safe and at home.

“You know you have some group to fall back on,” she said. “You have some kind of support.”

Several other students visiting this weekend said they were surprised at the community’s diversity and acceptance.

Bisi Orisamulo, from South Windsor, Conn., said she did not expect the university to support organizations such as GU Pride and places like the LGBTQ Resource Center, simply because of Georgetown’s deep-seated Catholic identity. Before visiting, she was concerned that the university would be less accepting of other religions, she said.

This year’s Hoya Saxa Weekend was the first since the university Working Group on Admissions and Financial Aid published its recommendations to the university to boost yield for underrepresented minority groups. The working group, formed last year under the President’s Diversity Initiative, cited the weekend for its success in drawing a diversity of students to the Hilltop.

While lauding the great number of minority applicants, the working group noted that Georgetown fell behind its peer institutions in yield rates for students of color.

“Clearly the number-one reason for our recent lower yield rates concerns the new practice of peer institutions (most of which have much larger endowments) to reduce or eliminate loans for need-eligible students,” the report said.

Some students who attended the weekend, including Orisamolu, had not yet received a financial aid offer. Orisamolu said she loved what she had seen this weekend of the campus culture, but was not sure if the university would grant her the financial aid package that would make enrollment feasible for her and her family.

One indicator of Hoya Saxa Weekend’s success was the working recommendation that a similar weekend be held in the fall. CMEA is currently discussing the possibility of coordinating that program with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, according to Associate Dean of Students and CMEA Director Dennis Williams.

Hoya Saxa Weekend was established in the aftermath of the suspension the minority hosting program by the office of admissions in 2000. African-American enrollment dropped noticeably that year, Williams said.

What followed was a close examination among the office of admissions, CMEA, and the financial aid office of how the university could prevent another dip in minority enrollment.

“We had a series of conversations, and what came out of that was a kind of re-branded program that became Hoya Saxa Weekend in spring of 2001,” Williams said.

The program went through additional permutations until 2004, when it took the format under which it operates today. According to Williams, Georgetown has organized some form of a hosting program for minority students since at least the 1980s.

The 2000 case is the only negative proof of the weekend’s force in attracting underrepresented minorities. Additional proof, Williams says, is in the yield percentages for earlier years. Yield -the number of matriculants divided by the number of acceptances – has been historically quite high for students who attend the weekend. Last year, 43 of 70 invited weekend attendees chose to attend Georgetown, and many attributed their enrollment to Hoya Saxa Weekend.

“When Georgetown doesn’t offer something like this, students we admit will compare us negatively to other schools,” Williams said. “We are putting our best foot forward to try and persuade them to choose us. The more things that we can show them that might be of interest that might help them make that decision, that’s a good thing.”

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