From Washington Heights to Vestal Parkway (BEP 2003's 20th Anniversary!)
Before the month ends, I want to share the story of my first month as a college student in an institution I hadn't even toured prior to attending. Fortunately for me, it all worked out divinely. I am eternally grateful to Daisy, the college counselor at my High School who encouraged me to apply-- because it all fell into place thereafter.
I am compelled to share this story for many reasons, but most importantly because this month marks the 20th anniversary of that life-changing experience. Additionally, I want to share how important EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) was to my success as an undergraduate and also in my fourteen-year career in the Social Work field all thanks to my Sociology Degree. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to ban affirmative action in the college admissions process, I've decided to express how much affirmative action worked in my favor.
On July 5th of 2003, a large group of inner-city kids gathered on 34th Street to embark on a journey that would forever change their lives. These recent High School graduates were headed to their month-long orientation session required as a contingency of their acceptance into Binghamton University. Whilst I was one of those accepted, I, unfortunately, was not on that bus. It was a sweltering 4th of July weekend, so it was only right for my friends and I to venture out to Jones Beach in Long Island. Sort of like a Bon Voyage since I was leaving the pack for college the next day. The plan was to have a last hurrah at the beach and be dropped off at the chartered bus meeting point the following morning.
However, our designated driver went AWOL on us when it was go-time. She was nowhere to be found and wasn't answering her phone either, which led to me missing the bus. And when she finally resurfaced, long after the bus had departed, she made it up by offering to make the three-and-a-half-hour trek to Binghamton, NY. So, we used the opportunity as a bonus hurrah by road-tripping to a part of New York none of us had visited before. We already had a rented Nissan; we may as well have put it to good use.
Sunburned to a crisp from hours under blistering conditions the day prior, and slightly nervous but also grinning from ear to ear, I introduced myself to the counselors that had been awaiting my delayed arrival. I stepped onto BU's campus for the very first time and immediately felt the change in climate and atmosphere. The air in Binghamton felt less congested and perhaps less polluted all thanks to the abundance of greenery. The humidity and stickiness were not quite as overwhelming as it felt back at home. By then, my peers had become acquainted with one another and had also settled into their temporary dorm rooms. My longtime friends, the girls I grew up with and experienced life with up until that point, transitioned me into my new life and drove off shortly after. It was all bittersweet because I knew that from that moment on things would be different and I’d be missing out on familiarity.
Binghamton's Enrichment Program or BEP for short, is a mandatory pre-freshman orientation that provides intensive academic development among other enriching experiences throughout the four-week program. Moreover, it helps students transition into the university's community. For many of us, college was a culture shock, so BEP helped ease our way into higher education. Hence why the purpose of this post is to honor that journey and to shout out the school, the staff, and the lifelong friends that played a role in that chapter of my life. Therefore, BU and my fellow Beppies will forever have a special place in my heart.
I'll start off by saying that I've known for some time that my enrollment at Binghamton University was meant to be since I only applied to two SUNY schools. I believed I had a pretty good chance of getting accepted to both, but I didn’t bother submitting the supplemental material for the second school (which was New Paltz if anyone is wondering). Therefore, my odds of living college life a la 90's TV sitcom as I'd dreamed of were slim to none, even though deep down I really wanted to go away. In hindsight, I acknowledge how I may have been self-sabotaging in the name of “love” because I didn’t want to be away from my boyfriend of two years at that time.
Whenever I reminisce on those four years I am filled with joyful nostalgia. I am reminded of laughter, friendship, love, family, and of a comforting home away from home. I am especially reminded of the curvaceous drives through the Delaware Water Gap mountains that were filled with the orange, green, yellow, and red leaves of Autumn. Brief visuals of new beginnings and new semesters. Adjusting to life on campus was not difficult, especially because I'd been looking forward to dorm life since the days of Saved By The Bell- The College Years. Ironically enough, that summer I was nicknamed Turtle, after Lisa Turtle. What I can't recall is how that joke even came about.
BEP is a program designed for inner-city kids with prominent potential due to decent grades but a lack of funds or necessary resources to succeed. Basically, a program for kids of marginalized communities that needed a crutch to "catch up" with their regular-admit counterparts. Therefore, had it not been for EOP's summer program, my friends and I wouldn’t have made it to or through college. BEP prepared us for college life and offered us the opportunity of making connections prior to the arrival of incoming Fortunate Freshmen. EOP/BEP gave us a space to claim as our own within an institution where much of its student population is white and most likely, financially stable with an overflow of resources.
I'm sure none of us were fond of the fact that we had to cut our summer in the city short but to me, BEP turned out to be better than what I was already accustomed to in the Heights. During orientation, we caught a glimpse of what was to come the following semester. We went to parties hosted by Greek/Organizations and Upperclassmen that lived in off-campus housing. We had early morning classes and curfews, tutoring sessions and campus tours, resource fairs, as well as welcome conferences, and fun events like pajama parties and talent shows. The counselors even got as creative as naming each floor in the residence hall after city terms we would recognize—Downtown, Midtown, & Uptown.
I was living one of my dreams and [mostly] enjoying every second of it. I left the city because staying home would have most likely resulted in my becoming a teen mom. And staying home for a boy was not an option-- even if I self-sabotaged by applying to just one SUNY school. However, I chose to heed my mother’s advice because as someone who was a teen mom with an 8th-grade education, she always said to me, "Get an education so you never have to depend on a man." Those words stayed with me, and I refused to let her down.
In hindsight, if there's one thing I wish I would have done differently, however, was to have dumped the zero and been my own hero. Had I been single, I would have savored college by taking more opportunities to explore and expand my horizons. But my unhealthy attachment to having a long-term relationship kept me limited (to learn more about this relationship and how it kept me trapped read my published essay here). My years at Binghamton were wonderful but were clouded and heavily influenced by control and manipulation. Therefore, I didn’t party as much as I could have nor did I participate in events or join as many organizations as I should have. And although I was independent, I wasn't psychologically free. Thus, my biggest regret is not ending that relationship as soon as Binghamton accepted me. But enough about that because this post isn't about that.
This is a celebratory post, a shout-out to the school and friends that became a haven when I needed it most. This is about remembering that twenty years ago we all left behind the lives we knew and returned a more evolved version of ourselves, with a bunch of new friends in tow. While there we met students and staff of various cultures and backgrounds. We were inspired, motivated, and guided by our academic/peer counselors. We were shown the ropes and given tips on how to survive the snowy winters and challenging classes.
Summer of 2003, I temporarily said goodbye to the Heights and embarked on the path of fulfilling a dream while also making history within my own family-- the first to go away and graduate college. I will forever be indebted to the people, policies, and institutions that granted me access to a place now considered the best public university in the Northeast-- SUNY Binghamton.
Much love and appreciation to Binghamton University, EOP, BEP , and the Class of 2007! Although I didn't get a chance to mix and mingle on the bus drive up, I quickly caught up and like a magnet gravitated towards the comedians of the group-- some of which remain an essential part of my life even if we don't see each other frequently. Regardless of time lapsed, the loving bond and energetic vibes are still there. We all took the road less traveled and accompanied each other through the highs and lows of that path. And it was all truly worth it...so...