By Kayla Williamson
When Lal Zundei was a junior at a Nashville high school she decided to join the YMCA Black and Latino Achievers program. She was looking for a mentor and some advice. She didn’t dream the program would help her attend a private Christian university.
“If I didn’t get the scholarships or the mentor that I had from the Black Achievers, I wouldn’t be at a private Christian university,” said Zundei, a freshman and biology major.
She recalled panicked phone calls to her mentor when she worried about the financial challenges of higher education. With three sisters in nursing school, she didn’t want to burden her family with expenses. But her mentor encouraged her to keep trying, and “to have faith.”
Zundei is one of several students at Trevecca who participated in the YMCA program during high school.
“The week that I started it was activities upon activities,” said Zundei. “We went to movies that held meaning, such as racial discrimination. We had speakers who were minorities, who would come and talk to us about their field.”
For six years, Trevecca has been in partnership with the Black and Latino Achievers YMCA program. The Black and Latino Achievers programs provide students with mentorship, help setting personal and career goals and help gaining access to higher education.
Michael Newland, associate director of admissions, is the link that connects the YMCA programs to Trevecca. According to Newland, partnerships with the Black and Latino Achievers programs are why Trevecca has grown to be increasingly diverse in the last five years.
“Trevecca really values its partnerships with the YMCA Latino Achievers and YMCA Black Achievers,” said Newland.“They do phenomenal work in terms of preparing students for the rigors of college, and they do great work in terms of helping students gain access to universities like Trevecca.”
Unlike some partnerships, Trevecca and the YMCA do not share a contract. Newland meets with the staff at a central YMCA office to discuss the different programs and scholarships that Trevecca offers. He speaks directly with students during college panels, where students can ask questions.
Some of the MNPS schools that Trevecca actively visits include Antioch, Cane Ridge, Glencliff, McGavock, Hunters Lane and more.
“Our hope is that we can continue to partner with other community organizations, which have a common goal of providing college access for diverse student populations,” said Newland.
After students of color arrive, they can find many forms of support in the Bud Robinson building. Brodrick Thomas, director of community engagement and reconciliation, says coming to Trevecca can be hard for students of color, considering that Trevecca is 70 percent white.
“That’s a huge change,” said Thomas. “If you went to an MNPS school, you have been around a significant amount of people that either look like you or have somewhat of a similar skin tone. That’s just not the case at Trevecca.”
Thomas factors in music to the equation. He says that some students of color may enjoy rap music, but when played aloud, could be faced with ridicule. They can overlook the language and the words, because it tells their story and they hold a deeper meaning to it. According to Thomas, they learn to negotiate these things, and resolve to switching between who they are.
Another thing that can be difficult for students of color is the lack of diversity in teachers. According to Thomas, having mostly white teachers and mostly white students can create a power dynamic.
“We can train and have teachers that are nice, and kind as can be, but there are uncommunicated messages that occur when you’re in a class room,” said Thomas.
That’s also why Thomas says programs like the Black and Latino Achievers are a good idea.
“They emphasize calling the groups Black and Latino,” said Thomas. “In a lot of ways, African American and Hispanic students hear a lot of terrible things said about them. [The Black and Latino Achievers programs tells them] that it’s okay to be black, it’s beautiful. It’s okay to be Hispanic, it’s beautiful.”
Zundei said that she feels pressured at times to change who she is. Particularly the way she dresses or the way she talks. But whenever she feels that way, she remembers the words she was taught in the Black Achievers: “Don’t worry about them, just worry about you.”