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Embracing discomfort

Miss Black and Gold 2016 Jillian Solomon on the value of a UD experience

Last fall, then-freshman Jillian Solomon found herself on Alpha Phi Alpha’s pageant stage wondering how, exactly, she had gotten herself into such a situation.

The self-described softball player from Brooklyn had recently arrived at the University of Delaware by way of Destination Delaware, an overnight experience designed to encourage students of color to consider UD.

Throughout the past year as she has searched for a sense of home, Solomon pursued friendships and opportunities that have led her not only to become one of the Alphas’ youngest Miss Black and Gold scholarship pageant winners, but to gain a greater understanding of all that a UD experience can offer to those willing to embrace their own discomfort.

As the Division of Student Life continues to explore the complexity of the student experience, Solomon provided insights on her personal journey and thoughts on how students can thrive during their life at UD.

Q: What has your UD experience been like, compared to what you expected or were accustomed to?

Solomon: The schools I attended in New York were very diverse. My fellow students didn’t just make friends with people who did not look like them — they embraced diversity as a reality of life. I first considered UD because of its proximity to my brother at the University of Pennsylvania and I loved visiting the campus, but it was difficult to find myself in a predominately white environment. It’s still challenging to create diverse situations here, as my white friends often avoid attending something that I’m doing with my black friends because they don’t want to be in the minority. They do not realize that minority students often don’t get the luxury of choosing comfort, or that diversifying their experiences could be beneficial.

Q: Where do you encounter diverse situations on campus?

Solomon: I have studied issues facing diverse groups in my disability studies and education courses. In the classroom, we talk more about the challenges of difference rather than about how diverse individuals contribute to society. If a student does not voluntarily engage with difference, it is possible to leave here believing that diverse communities and individuals are problematic and that their contributions are an exception rather than the rule.

The first time that I ever addressed race in mixed company was in training to become a resident assistant for Harrington with Residence Life and Housing. We need to stress to people that they can’t always be comfortable in life, but they can learn to engage with difference in a safe space and Res Life has provided that environment for me.

Q: What other experiences have been valuable to you during your first year?

Solomon: When I first arrived here, I didn’t know anyone and I signed up for the Center for Black Culture’s Each One Reach One (EORO) mentorship program. EORO gave me a safety net that made me feel like I belonged here, and made me feel comfortable to try other things. The CBC staff also became mentors as I navigated my first year and considered whether to stay at UD. I now serve as a EORO mentor to two students who are also feeling out how they can engage in ways that honor their identities and make them feel like they belong. Everyone’s experience is unique, but I do think that students who belong to a majority population can easily forget the comfort that comes with being around people who look like them. The CBC and its programs are great because I can be around people who look like me while enjoying opportunities that are open to the entire UD community.

Q: What advice do you have for students who want to make the most of their time at UD?

Solomon: I am taking advantage of anything and everything at UD because this degree is expensive and I want to enjoy its full value. There are so many events on this campus that are literally open to everyone and it’s weird that this even needs to be said. And yet, you would swear at many MGC or CPAB events that the flyer said “Black Only.” I would love to see more people commit to even a single instance of stepping outside of their comfort zone: enroll in a class, introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t look like you, or just pick literally any event and go have fun. No one is going to laugh at you or reject you, and you might learn more about yourself or others in the process. An inch of experience sitting around eating pizza could go a long way for you in the future. It could also benefit the overall community — I serve in a lot of roles and attend a lot of programs that stretch me a bit thin, because the black campus community is too small not to support one another. It would be helpful to have greater campuswide interest in cultural offerings so that we don’t always have to give people a recap after the fact.

If you are of a minority, becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is an absolute necessity so that you can attend classes, have a social life outside of UD’s small black community and finish your degree. If you are part of the majority, you can often avoid engaging with difference, but if you do you could gain self-confidence, invaluable experiences and connections, and a greater understanding of the world you will live and work in once you graduate.

About the Center for Black Culture

Currently celebrating 40 years of service to the UD community, the CBC serves as an informational resource center for a range of University and community constituents; assists students with transitioning to University life; provides a supportive environment that encourages identity and leadership development as well as belonging; advocates for the needs and interests of Black and other underrepresented students; and develops and implements a full range of diversity programs and services.

All Blue Hens are invited to join in the anniversary celebration, including the Black History Month Extravaganza featuring Danny Glover on Feb. 23. Students are also welcome to contact the CBC for more information on the EORO mentorship program.

About the Division of Student Life

The Division of Student Life includes the Career Services Center, Center for Black Culture, Center for Counseling and Student Development, New Student Orientation, Office of the Dean of Students, Office of Student Conduct, Residence Life and Housing, Student Health Services, Student Services for Athletes, Student Wellness and Health Promotion, and the University Student Centers. For more information about Student Life, visit the new website.

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