Beyond the First-Year Blues

How Chaniece Jefferson ’19 learned to thrive

By ARVIN TEMKAR, USF NEWS Posted Fri, 09/22/2017 - 14:50

Chaniece Jefferson ’19 had a tough first year at USF. She’d moved from Chicago, and felt isolated and far from home. She had a hard time acclimating to life at USF and only left campus for rare outings to dinner or a movie.   

Today, the art history major is an active and outgoing Don. She connects fellow students with off-campus volunteer opportunities to fulfill their service-learning requirements; is a member of the Black Student Union (BSU); and is a sister in Delta Sigma Theta, a historically black sorority. She’s also president of Sister Connection, a student club that aims to empower women of color on campus. 

She talked with USF News about her journey from being a timid newcomer to a thriving advocate. 

Can you tell us about your first year?
My first year was really complicated. Moving from Chicago to San Francisco was a big change, I didn't know anyone at all. Also, I was so used to being a part of a community that was at least 50 percent black, being the only black student in a class was new to me. I began to feel isolated because I rarely saw anyone who looked like me on campus or in the classroom. So I was always in my room.

What changed?
I started going out more with the friends I did make. I found community when I started attending the Black Student Union and it made me branch out more and become more involved. Some of the members of BSU recommended I join the Esther Madriz Diversity Scholars (EMDS) Living-Learning Community, so I did. Being a part of EMDS helped me build more community and make more friends. I got to know program director Professor Stephanie Sears, who was very supportive and was always there to be one-on-one with me.

What’s the Ester Madriz Diversity Scholars program like?
It’s a great program and fun to be in. One of the elements of the program is studying the culture of hip-hop and how it’s used as a political and social movement in America and different parts of the world. I also discovered how passionate I was about being involved in the community. Service learning is built into the program. We worked in the Western Addition neighborhood tutoring students at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center.

I learned that in service learning you're not there to "save people." It's about helping the community help itself. You're learning from the community and applying what you've learned in the curriculum to the service that you're doing. So it's almost like an exchange of knowledge. 

What’s your advice to incoming students?
Say “yes” to things, get involved, and don't put pressure on yourself to be the perfect college student. Everyone needs to adjust to the world around them. You’re 18 coming to another place — it’s definitely not high school.

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