Being in a college setting as a minority is very difficult and complex. I, myself, am a first-generation and working-class student, a woman of color, and come from a family that immigrated to the United States. I am proud of these identities that I hold, but in spaces like an elite institution, I find it difficult to be successful due to the fact that I do not have the financial agency and knowledge to help me easily navigate this environment. When I started applying to colleges, the first thing I thought about was how I was going to afford college. I based a lot of my college decisions on how much financial aid they would offer me. Not only did I think about the financial aspect, but I wanted to attend a college that I knew valued me and my identities by investing in me and a campus that made efforts to create an equitable environment for students like me. I found that to be true at Whitman when I was invited to attend a summer fly-in program the summer before my first year started. The program is free of charge to the participants and so I, of course, took the opportunity to visit campus and came with the hopes of becoming more educated about the college life.
Right when my plane landed in Walla Walla, I was greeted by the student leaders that seemed eager to get to know me and support me throughout my time in the program. Right away I felt a little overwhelmed, but I quickly realized that all of these student leaders also identified as being first-generation and/or working class and that made me realize that I am not alone. In addition, all the participants were accommodated in Jewett Hall which was great because we all got to experience what it would be like to live in the dorms and what it would feel like sharing a space with a roommate we did not know. Throughout the program, we got to explore campus and got to know a majority of the offices and resources available like the Intercultural Center, Student Engagement Center, Financial Aid, etc. While we were going to each of the offices, I noticed that even the people at the offices were passionate about making Whitman a more welcoming environment, and ensuring that we are knowledgeable of the resources at our disposal. This demonstrated to me that Whitman was an institution that wants me to be here. An integral part of this program was the relationships I built with the student leaders and with the other participants because it gave me a sense of community and belonging, which is important to have when entering a new environment and especially as a student that comes from a marginalized background. Beyond the education aspect, the Fly-in also incorporated free time where we got the chance to go to the gym, walk around campus, and explore downtown Walla Walla, all in efforts to get us accustomed to not only Whitman but a little bit of the community we will be occupying.
Overall, the fly-in program prepared me for college in a way that made me more familiar with campus resources and gave me a community of people that I knew understood me and my experiences, and people that I knew supported me and my success at Whitman. After my time with the fly-in, I realized that I wanted to share my great experience with other students, so I became a fly-in student leader for two summers in a row! I truly believe that the fly-in program is what really shaped my experience at Whitman and is a step towards combating inequities on campus.