Specialized Welcome Week events help students of color find connections

Andreana Lozano, Life and Arts Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the July 26 flipbook.

Three years ago, Rachel Dunkley moved to Texas to attend a university where less than 5% of the student population shared her racial identity. Although the experience seemed terrifying at first, Dunkley said she was able to find community and build lasting friendships by attending New Black Student Weekend, an event hosted by Afrikan American Affairs.

“It was really, really important to me to meet Black people at UT because I was really scared to come to a predominantly white institution,” said Dunkley, a human development and family sciences junior. “(New Black Student Weekend) was integral to my freshman year. I met my friends that I’m still friends with today, three years later. I learned so much from the upperclassmen and all the workshops.”

During Longhorn Welcome in August, New Black Student Weekend hosts a week of events meant to help freshmen feel at home at UT. The weekend is one of several Longhorn Welcome events intended to make the freshmen experience more inclusive for marginalized groups.

Dunkley, co-executive chair of New Black Student Weekend, said the weekend is primarily designed to help Black freshmen find community on campus, but the event also hosts student-led workshops on topics that include studying abroad, sexually transmitted disease prevention, things to do in Austin and local Black businesses.

“Everyone comes in super nervous, super hesitant. They don’t really know what to expect and they’re really nervous because meeting new people is scary,” Dunkley said. “By the end of it they always leave way more comfortable and feeling more prepared for starting at UT.”

Kayleigh Damphousse, transition coordinator for New Student Services and lead organizer of Longhorn Welcome, said it is important for freshmen to see themselves represented from the moment they arrive on campus.

“We basically want three different things,” Damphousse said. “We want people to experience the traditions of UT. We also want for students to develop their own sense of belonging at UT. The last thing is the Longhorn identity. We want them to feel like, ‘Oh, I’m finally part of this community.’”

One signature event that New Student Services hosts is the Multicultural Mixer where campus administrators can connect with students of color to inform them about resources and help them feel represented on campus.

Many student organizations also host their own events during Welcome Week. Latinx Community Affairs welcomes Latinx students with Adelante, a program that includes music, food and entertainment to help freshmen find friends and connect with Latinx organizations.

Bibi Macias, an economics sophomore and event director for Adelante, said she hopes that last year’s freshmen will also attend this year’s event, since they couldn’t experience a traditional Longhorn Welcome due to COVID-19. She encourages students of color to make it a point to attend events like Adelante and New Black Student Weekend, as it can be difficult for freshmen to find community.

“Just speaking from my experience as a freshman; I didn’t attend Adelante,” Macias said. “Eventually, I feel like I did find a good community within Latinx Community Affairs, but it certainly would have been nice to have had that relationship more from the beginning. I definitely think it would have been really nice.”

Damphousse also encourages new students to take advantage of opportunities to meet people similar to themselves.

“We want students to develop their own sense of belonging at UT,” Damphousse said. “So that they can say, ‘I know where my place is on campus and I know that I matter to somebody.’”