Aspire Student Scholars

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What’s the best part of living in the Village? “That’s a hard question,” responded Rader Francis, sophomore resident in Market Square South. As a recipient of the Hendrix Aspire Scholarship, Francis was able to secure his single dorm in one of the Living and Learning Communities (LLC) along with thirteen of his fellow Aspire scholars.

Francis emphasized the community aspect of the LLC: “It’s really nice just being able to walk out of my room and have people to hang out with or talk to”

Cameron Thomas, one of Francis’s neighbors, also noted, “Here, you just know everyone.”

Fourteen students are calling the Village home thanks to a pilot program for the Aspire scholars. The program was initiated by Dr. Dionne Jackson, Mr. Charnley Conway, and Mrs. Leigh Lassiter-Counts. These three faculty and staff members have been tasked with welcoming and supporting the three cohorts of Aspire scholarship recipients.

“President Tsutsui’s goal is for our campus to better reflect the nation’s diversity,” says Dr. Jackson. The Aspire Scholarship, which is offered to Federal Pell Grant-eligible students from central Arkansas, has helped diversify Hendrix with regards to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. “When you look at Aspire currently, it’s about 70 percent students of color,” said Dr. Jackson, “which is very much different from campus diversity as a whole, which lingers around 20 to 21 percent.”

With the added element of community living, students with Aspire Scholarships have an opportunity to form friendships with each other. These scholars have inevitably grown closer.

Of her fellow Aspire scholars, sophomore Hanna Detar said, “Getting to see them daily, I feel like it really does bring us together.” Detar added, “Last year, we had monthly meetings, but I feel like I didn’t really get that close to everybody.”

When comparing his freshman year to living in the LLC as a sophomore, Cameron Thomas agreed that living together has had a considerable impact. “Last year, I only connected with about two or three of the Aspire students, but now I know who’s who and what they like.”

Mr. Conway, an academic advisor to the Aspire scholars, notes the unique opportunity that the LLC has provided them. “Students have an opportunity to get to know each other beyond academics,” says Mr. Conway.

He also sees these students benefitting from the relationships they are forming. “We want to create the connections between a group of people that could potentially be friends or resources for each other beyond college,” says Mr. Conway.

Though a time “beyond college” isn’t far ahead for the sophomore scholars, the Aspire program will continue to grow and hopefully, campus diversity will grow as well; however, the College is also considering how the broader number of minority students can feel more welcome.

“It causes us as a campus to look at our procedures and policies,” says Dr. Jackson, “and think about the needs of students based on the diversity that they represent and how we can better support these needs.”  

One way for the Dr. Jackson noted that Hendrix can support the needs of racial minorities students who represent racially diverse background is by increasing faculty of color.

“Students of color should see themselves represented in those that are teaching them,” said Dr. Jackson, an alum of color herself.

Though welcoming and supporting students of color is the ultimate priority of diversity efforts, Dr. Jackson also noted secondary benefits of increasing campus diversity. A scholarship program that makes it possible for Federal Pell Grant-eligible students to attend Hendrix College increases the need for respectful consciousness in discussions of race relations and socioeconomic statuses.

“It provides an opportunity for non-students of color to be exposed to curricular opportunities, experiences or contexts that might differ from their own,” said Dr. Jackson, “and it allows them to engage in dialogues.”  

The Living and Learning Community is a space for students to have these discussions and to to study, watch TV, and form friendships with each other. It is also a way for the Aspire scholars to feel valued. “We wanted to provide an opportunity that wasn’t readily available to all students,” said Mr. Conway.

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