Finding Their STRIDE: Program Helps Davidson Students Thrive
By: Mary Elizabeth DeAngelis
Genesis Bernadin ’23 didn’t want to cut her last summer vacation before starting college short but opted to anyway.
Her cousin, Nahomie Exantus ’20, who’d urged her to go to Davidson College, told her she should also participate in the STRIDE program there. Bernadin signed up and arrived at Davidson a few days before first-year orientation began.
At STRIDE’s pre-orientation, she met other students as nervous about starting college as she was, and older student leaders who gave them the low-down on everything from professors to studying abroad to the best dining hall dinners.
She says it helped set her up for a successful college career.
“Getting involved with STRIDE was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. “I’ve made so many genuine, lifetime friendships, and it opened so many opportunities. I’ve met professors who suggested what turned out to be some of my favorite courses and met some wonderful human beings on staff who’ve been so kind to me. It’s been great.”
STRIDE stands for Students Together Reaching for Individual Development and Education. It began about 20 years ago to help Black first-year and transfer students navigate and succeed at Davidson. Today, it’s open to all students.
Former Associate Dean of Studies Ernest Jeffries started the program to address the difficulty students of color—some of whom are the first in their families to attend college—had adjusting to life on a predominantly white campus. It’s a peer support program, with older students mentoring newcomers.
Chris Clunie ’06 was an early student mentor for the program. He’s now director of athletics at Davidson and sees its impact on a regular basis.
“STRIDE was a wonderful experience,” Clunie said. “It was a great way to not only build relationships with incoming freshmen of color but also a great way to build relationships with and learn from upperclassmen of color.
Clunie recommends the program for students and scholar-athletes alike.
“The experience for people of color at Davidson is unique and, in many ways, can be challenging,” Clunie said. “This program helps alleviate some of the stress and anxiety by building a community within a community.”
STRIDE starts students off with a two-day pre-orientation in August. Throughout the year, the program includes activities such as study sessions, workshops, off-campus outings and weekly drop-ins with participants catching up over afternoon snacks. In fall, some 40 STRIDE students enjoyed dinner and the movie Black Panther.
With the nation’s neighborhoods and schools often segregated by race and socioeconomic status, attending a predominantly white college can be difficult for students of color. They often feel extra pressure to prove their right to be there, says Yolanda Gilliam, interim director at Davidson’s Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion. She remembers that dynamic from her own college days.
“STRIDE gives them a sense of community before they even start college,” Gilliam said. “When you make these early connections with people who can relate to your life experience, that helps you become connected to the larger college community.”
Many students start out as mentees and then become mentors.
“Most of the students who go through the program end up being campus leaders by the time they graduate,” Gilliam said. “They get out into the world and their professions and that carries over, and they reconnect with Davidson to offer their time and experience to current students.”
Bernadin, a Posse Scholar from Miami and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, is a first-generation college student. She remembers feeling that “did I make the right choice” apprehension as she and her family made the 12-hour journey to move her into her Davidson dorm room four years ago.
At STRIDE’s pre-orientation, she and her family met other students and families, and her mom, Jasmine, left reassured by the comradery and kindness they found. “You’ll be fine here,” she assured Genesis.
By the time STRIDE pre-orientation ended and first-year orientation activities began, Genesis felt the shift from outsider to insider. She became a STRIDE mentor the next year. Today, she’s a confident economics major planning to graduate in May and enter the finance world.
“STRIDE has been a truly meaningful part of my college experience,” she said. “I met these incredible people who’ve been there for me from the time I got to Davidson and will remain my lifelong friends.”
Note: It’s been about 60 years since the first Black students entered Davidson College. Ten years later, the Black Student Coalition was born. Today, Davidson is better because of those early leaders and the following generations they inspired to build a more diverse and equitable college community. In February, we commemorate Black History Month with stories of the past and present.