By: Priscilla Wiltshire-Bland
Author’s note: I was born and raised in the twin Island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago, which is English speaking, is the southernmost Caribbean Island. On a clear day, you can see the outline of Venezuela from the Northwest of the country. Trinidad and Tobago consist of people from many different cultures and races. My love of interacting with people of different cultures and backgrounds stemmed from my childhood home.
I moved to the U.S. as an adult. I first lived in Orlando, then my husband and I moved to Seattle where my family grew. Currently, we live in Melrose, Massachusetts. I have been living in Massachusetts for six years and in the same town. I see the benefits of living in each state. The one main opportunity I gained living in Massachusetts is finishing my education.
When I first walked through the doors at Simmons and by the time the Dix scholar informational session had ended, I knew I wanted to finish my last two years of college at Simmons. Little did I know by making this choice how much I would grow and be challenged, and what an enriching college experience I would gain.
I chose to attend Simmons because it was a women’s-centered college. Gwen Ifill, a prominent Black woman, attended the school and had a great experience; and the 2016 election solidified my decision. I felt an urgent need to be around like-minded people.
My first day of classes at Simmons went smoothly. I was open, ready to learn, and even though I was much older than the other students, I was not going to let my insecurities get the better of me. However, after two months at Simmons, something happened to me that I never experienced before: “culture shock.” It was the strangest feeling. Feeling out of sorts, non-verbal cues, attacks as though you didn’t exist. Not knowing what I was experiencing, I thought I was going crazy. And since I was a commuter, I went to class and left. I had no one to talk to. I was the only Dix Scholar and one of the only Black students in my classes. I had never been in a predominantly white space before. I went home in a panic, not understanding what was happening to me and why. I was doing everything that I was supposed to do. That first semester I nearly transferred to another school.
Meeting other Dix Scholars was hard. The school catered to traditional students and did not provide many resources or events for Dix Scholars. I felt like an outsider. Fortunately, I met another Dix Scholar in one of my classes. From then on, my life at Simmons became easier. Our experiences were similar. Having a trustworthy ally early on made my transition easier. I gained more confidence and I had an enriched college experience.
Being a non-traditional student at a traditional school was challenging. I learned to navigate the expectations of the professors while simultaneously taking care of those dependent on me. My brain was like a highway and I was forced to be intentional when choosing what road to go on depending on where and what situation I was in.
I majored in communications and minored in Africana studies, which I can confidently say was one of the wisest decisions I made for my educational journey at Simmons. I was fortunate to have professors who were aware of the nuances, the disparities, and differences in people. They took time to listen to me, saw the potential in me, and encouraged me and pushed me to go beyond the limitations I set for myself. I met one of my biggest supporters, Prof. Theresa Perry, from taking an Africana Studies class and my world opened up.
I was selected to go on a communications study abroad trip called Globalization on a Shoestring to Kenya for 11 days. I never thought I would be chosen for this opportunity because I was an older student. My advisor and my Prof. Erica Moura, who taught me most of my courses in communications, never steered me in the wrong direction throughout my time at Simmons, suggested I apply and I did. It was an amazing experience and I am grateful for the opportunity. One of the most important lessons I learned in Kenya is that it does not matter what age someone is, they can still teach you a thing or two. I also learned that I can hold my pee for 12 hours straight on a bus.
My classmates and I were required to produce a multimedia project on what we wanted to highlight. I chose to create two videos that opened a new world of video editing to me. It was what I ended up enjoying the most during my time at Simmons. In addition, I became more connected to my fellow classmates, which helped me feel at home.
While I was trying to live my best school life, I was still juggling home and school–which was difficult. Multitasking was a balancing act and was a job in itself. There were times I had breakdowns but I had a choice to pick myself up and go at it again. There was the challenge of not knowing up-to-date lingo, jargon and computer programs. I remember taking a class and I did not know certain terms. Some fellow classmates thought it was funny. I ignored their snickering and refused to feel sorry for myself. I had to keep my eyes on the prize and not allow unnecessary distractions to take up space mentality.
The following year, I became the first recipient of the Gwen Ifill Award, for which I will always be grateful for. I was humbled that I was chosen for this award. That following summer I attended the National Association of Black Journalist (NABJ) conference in Orlando. Oh my god. It was an educational and uplifting experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my last year at Simmons.
I am forever grateful for my time at Simmons and for those who I came in contact with and who played a part in my success.
Editors’ note: The Dorothea Lynde Dix Scholars Program is designed for undergraduate applicants 24 years or older or students pursuing a second bachelors, the program provides unique services and support for adult women and participants comprise approximately 14% of the Simmons undergraduate student body.
Made by the 2020 senior communication students at Simmons University