Building Stronger Bonds with BACES
A new mentorship program pairs students of color with alumni of color to build stronger connections.
Do you recall your first days on the Stonehill campus? Maybe it was your first time away from home, in a new town, surrounded by unfamiliar people. Did you ever have doubts about fitting in, making friends or feeling like you belonged? Now imagine being a first-year student of color at Stonehill—a predominantly white campus.
A recent diversity audit made it clear that being a new student of color at Stonehill can be challenging. So challenging that some students of color feel isolated and leave before graduating. To address these concerning findings, the Office of Intercultural Affairs, which had already been working on retention-focused programming for underrepresented students, teamed up with the Office of Alumni Engagement.
Together, they collaborated with a group of energized alumni of color to figure out how to build stronger bonds with students of color—to Stonehill, to each other and to the broader alumni community.
The result of their work is a program launched this past fall called BACES—BIPOC Achieving Connection and Empowerment at Stonehill. (BIPOC is Black, Indigenous, and people of color.) It works by pairing each first-year student of color who wants to take part with an upperclassman of color and an alum of color.
“When I was a student, I was the cofounder of the first student of color organization at Stonehill,” says BACES planning committee member Cicily (Roberts) Shaw ’97.
“I joined the committee because I wanted to give back in a meaningful way, and what an honor it is to help develop the first alumni mentoring program for students of color.”
Shaw was one of many alumni who expressed a desire to join the program. When the call for alumni mentors went out, the response was overwhelming, says Elizett Pires, assistant director of intercultural affairs. “We thought we’d start small and make maybe 20 to 25 matches total. We got over 90,” she recalls. In fact, Pires says the program didn’t get enough first-year student volunteers for all the alumni eager to be involved. Fortunately, alumni who weren’t matched with students agreed to give workshops and attend remote networking events.
Connecting with Community
Danielle (Teixeira) Medina ’05, a senior contract manager at Harvard Pilgrim, was quick to volunteer as a mentor because of her own first-year experience. “It was a bit of a culture shock for me when I first came to Stonehill,” she recalls. “It wasn’t very diverse, but I was lucky to have people I could talk to and clubs and activities to help me make connections and new friends.”
Medina’s mentees are Jaelynn Rodney ’24, and Melanie Barbosa ’23, both psychology majors. Barbosa volunteered for BACES because she didn’t have a good first year at Stonehill and wanted to help other students like her feel more at home. “When I came, I didn’t know where to get started,” Barbosa admits. “I didn’t have anyone I could reach out to about getting involved, and I want to change that. I want to make sure students know there are ways to get involved, and there is a place on campus for everybody.”
As a group, Medina, Rodney and Barbosa talk monthly over FaceTime. Many of their discussions are about things all college students worry about, like academic pressures and how to take care of yourself when you’re stressed. “There’s such a big age difference between us, at first I wasn’t sure if I could relate to them,” says Medina, “but we’ve developed a really close relationship, and it’s not all related to inclusion and diversity. We text back and forth about their day-to-day lives all the time.”
“I always wanted someone I can relate to and get life advice from,” says Rodney, “someone I could be real and vulnerable with...I’ve always wanted that type of bond with someone with life experience who could support me wholeheartedly. Because Mel has experienced campus life, I love going to her with questions about getting connected with the community or how to cope with school and friends.”
"I want to make sure students know there are ways to get involved, and there is a place on campus for everybody," says Melanie Barbosa ’23.
"It was a bit of a culture shock for me when I first came to Stonehill. It wasn't very diverse, but I was lucky to have people I could talk to and clubs and activities to help me make connections and new friends," says Danielle (Teixeira) Medina ’05.
"I always wanted someone I can relate to and get life advice from, someone I could be real and vulnerable with...I've always wanted that type of bond with someone with life experience who could support me wholeheartedly," says Jaelynn Rodney ’24.
Jay Tinsley ’02, assistant vice president of financial aid counseling at the University of Maryland Global Campus, felt a sense of responsibility to become a mentor. “As an established professional, I feel a proud sense of obligation to serve as a mentor, resource and sounding board for younger BIPOCs.” Tinsley has enjoyed discussions with his mentee, Sayvion Jones ’22, a sociology and criminology major and SGA executive diversity chair. “We’ve discussed our experiences with overt racism and microaggressions on campus, as well as the efforts we’ve made to combat them,” Tinsley says.
“We discussed everything from family, school and work life to being an effective leader,” says Jones. “These discussions have helped me in my leadership positions because I learned what I was going through was not uncommon. We also talked about racial justice on campus and in media. I learned that even as an adult, there are things that still come up that might take some learning, and I'm grateful to learn that now."
Journey of College
Mentoring is a key part of BACES, says Pires, but the program is also helping students of color build social capital, networks and career opportunities for life after Stonehill. “We are fortunate to have so many amazing alumni who are passionate about this and willing to engage and support this program,” Pires says. “They all wish they had something like this when they were students. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Plans are already underway to expand BACES next year, hopefully attracting even more students and alumni. Rodney says she’d recommend it to everyone.
“I feel like I’ve gained lifelong relationships with these two wonderful ladies,” she says of her mentors. “I appreciate their knowledge and support. I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing. Mel has connections that can help me inside of college. Danielle is a strong woman who has connections that can help me outside of college. This program is an advantage in life.”
If Medina, Barbosa, Rodney, Tinsley and Jones are any measure, the first year of BACES has been a success, not just for students but for alumni mentors as well. “To be able to mentor another student of color is amazing,” says Medina. “The opportunity to help a student understand and go through the journey of college is life changing.”
Tinsley agrees. “Honestly, I feel like I’m learning a lot more from my mentee than he is from me, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve learned that as bleak as things occasionally feel, there is a generation of individuals getting ready to head out into the world that is smarter, more thoughtful and more enlightened than the last.”
BACES would not have happened without the enthusiasm and hard work of the dedicated alumni planning committee. Here’s what a few had to say about what inspired them to join the effort.
Cicily (Roberts) Shaw ’97
“My hope for the program is that as the years progress, it will gain more traction. I hope that more people will join to build stronger relationships between alumni and current Stonehill students of color.”
Janna (Stanke) Naraine ’11
“BACES is providing great opportunities for students and alumni of color to build a stronger foundation for this community within Stonehill. It’s been an amazing experience, from hearing it as a concept and being part of its creation to watching it flourish in ways I did not imagine.”
Elyssa Feliciano ’12
“The opportunity to create additional support for our students of color was something I felt passionate about, especially since historically there’s been a lack of connection between our alumni of color and students of color. This program is a great way to strengthen that connection.
Randy Jose ’12
“I was motivated to build a thread of community between current BIPOC students and alumni. I hope the program recognizes and celebrates BIPOC student and alumni success.”
Jason Watts ’13
“Stonehill is truly a special place. Strengthening the community and building a more diverse and inclusive student experience through a tiered mentorship will benefit students in ways we can’t fully begin to articulate. I wish there was a program like this while I was a student. I hope BACES becomes a bedrock at the College and helps attract a more diverse student body, knowing they will be supported in a unique and special way.”
Tyler Williams ’13
“I was motivated to join BACES after reflecting on my college experience. Stonehill is surrounded by diverse and unique cultures and communities. Still, you do not often get the opportunity to interact with these communities as a student on campus. I saw BACES as a way for me to reconnect with the College and add value to the experiences of current students.”