Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 6, 1995

MAP Mentors Buffer Effects of Freshmen's 'Culture Shock'

Leslie Rice
Homewood News and Information

     Growing up in upstate New York, there was never a time when
Hopkins sophomore Adriana Izquierdo ignored her Mexican roots. At
home her family spoke Spanish and found pride in honoring the
traditions of their past. For Izquierdo, her heritage is a joyful
thing; and the music, art, food and language of Mexico have
perpetually been wrapped around her like a warm blanket.

     So when she entered Hopkins last year, Izquierdo wasn't
prepared for the isolation she would experience or how she would
ache for home.

     "I missed being able to speak Spanish, and I felt like there
was no one here who could relate with my past," she recalled. "It
was a lonely time. Eventually I got involved with cultural groups
here like OlE (OrganizaciĦon Latina Estudiantil) and I began to
make friends. Now I do things like drag people, Latin American or
not, out to Mexican restaurants." 

     But those lonely first days at Hopkins are not forgotten.
They are what drives Izquierdo's determination that this year's
minority freshmen will not experience the type of alienation she
felt as a freshman.

     Izquierdo is one of 30 minority Hopkins students who
volunteer in the new Mentoring Assistance Peer Program through
the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. Each MAP volunteer
works with five minority freshmen, giving them advice, guidance
and unconditional support during their first year at Hopkins.

     Only two months old, MAP is still finding its way as it
tries to address the emerging needs of the freshman students. Now
that the academic year is in full swing, peer counselors and
freshmen alike have found the biggest obstacle to the program's
success is scheduling conflicts. And some peer counselors have
found a few freshmen plunging all their energies into academics
at the expense of pursuing friendships and getting involved in
campus life. The peer counselors try to gently nudge freshmen
into directing some of their energies into co-curricular

     "How to juggle academics seems to be the focus of a lot of
our conversations lately," said Hopkins senior and peer counselor
Yvette Burke, who is Puerto Rican American. Burke offers her
freshmen suggestions on time management as well as practical
advice on what to expect from different faculty members and
courses. She often finds herself throwing ad hoc study sessions
and resurrecting her old study notes to lend to her mentees. And
during midterms, she'll send notes of encouragement and small
care packages to frazzled freshmen.

     "It's a nice feeling to help someone else find their way
around here," she said. "No one helped me. I would have loved to
have the counsel of an older, more experienced student who also
knew what it was like to be a minority in a predominantly white
campus. I don't think I met one other person who was Puerto Rican
American until this year." 

     Ralph Johnson, director of the Office of Multicultural
Student Affairs, said Burke echoes a sentiment held by most of
the students who signed on to volunteer. 

     "They all want to be there for these freshmen in a way they
wished someone had been there for them," he explained.

     Volunteers went through a tough selection process--some 60
students applied--and are required to attend biweekly peer
counselor meetings, contact each student once a week and plan
events with them.

     Periodically, MAP volunteers and their freshmen get together
in groups. Last week a few mentors and their "MAPees" gathered in
a volunteer's apartment for ice cream and a movie, and another
peer counselor organized a Sunday afternoon study-a-thon,
offering free tutoring, pizza and study breaks.

     "I love it when a group of MAP volunteers and their freshmen
get together for socials and things," Izquierdo said. "We all
talk about our traditions, and everyone is interested in learning
about each other's heritages. And we've found that all of us may
come from completely different cultures but we share a lot of the
same issues." 

     Johnson created MAP based on a similar peer counseling
program he started as director of minority student affairs at the
University of South Carolina. With MAP he hopes to improve the
minority retention rate at Hopkins and improve the overall
quality of life for minority students.

     "Coming to Hopkins can be a culture shock for any freshman
student, and that shock is often exacerbated for minority
students," Johnson said. "The issues minority students face can
best be discussed with someone who's been there. I think the idea
of peer counseling is pretty universal; utilizing students to
help other students usually works."     

     The average graduation rate of African Americans and
Hispanics in four-year universities nationwide is roughly half
that of their white and Asian American counterparts, said Bob
Massa, dean of enrollment management. 

     At Hopkins, however, the difference in retention rates is
only a few percentage points between African American and
Hispanics and their white and Asian American counterparts.
Nonetheless, Massa said, Hopkins would like to see no difference
in graduation rates between races and cultures at all. 

     Although it's too soon to gauge how successful the MAP
program will be in increasing the minority retention rate,
anecdotal evidence strongly suggests it is working, Johnson said.

     "I consider myself lucky. My older sister is a senior here
so I felt pretty comfortable from the beginning," said freshman
Vanessa Laquinte, who is Haitian American and one of Izquierdo's
MAPees. "But aside from my sister, I didn't really know anyone at
Hopkins. I've met so many people through the MAP program and the
Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. And Adriana is so nice.
We have lunch together every now and then and talk. She's the
kind of person that would put everything that she was doing away
and talk to me if I needed her."

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