In preparation for my first year at Mount Holyoke, I asked a lot of alums about their residential experience. Though many said that they had a mostly positive experience, some students mentioned that they wished their dorm halls felt like more of a community. I quickly realized that I would not enjoy living in a dorm where I felt as though I would not know my neighbors.
I was fortunate to arrive at Mount Holyoke just as the Shirley Chisholm Living-Learning Community (LLC) was beginning its second year on campus. The “Shirley” was created to provide a supportive space for students of African and Caribbean descent. As a black girl coming from Ghana, I was not sure I would be able to find a community well-suited for me. Even as I moved into the Shirley, I had my doubts about whether or not I would find my people.
It took approximately half a day for me to realize that I had nothing to fear. Not only were the other incoming first-years all great, but the upperclassmen were extremely welcoming and took us under their wings. Through the strong black sisterhood that exists within the Shirley, I know that I have made friends for life.
Most first-years have to find extra time outside of their schedules to eat or hang out with their friends. I, on the other hand, need only walk a few doors down to find friends with whom I can study, eat, laugh or hang out. Not only have I found friends, but I have found mentors and “older sisters” that I might not have had the chance to bond with, had I not lived in the Shirley. They give me advice about classes and majors and provide tips on how to best navigate the 5-College system to benefit my education. I can say with ease that my Mount Holyoke experience thus far has been made complete because of the family I have found in the Shirley Chisholm LLC.
When you support Student Life through The Mount Holyoke Fund, you help students like me to explore our passions with like-minded peers and cultivate a home away from home. You enable us to create connections and form friendships that last a lifetime.
Your gift. Your choice. Choose your destination.
Learn more about Aretha:
Name: Aretha Nimira Nelson ’22
Hometown: Accra, Ghana
Why did you choose Mount Holyoke?
I chose Mount Holyoke because of its amazing reputation for creating strong, independent women who are well-equipped for their jobs after college or for grad school, should they choose to attend.
What do you value most about your Mount Holyoke education? How has this community helped you thrive?
I value the rigor of the courses. I think the reason that I am thriving, and will continue to do so, is because none of my classes are “easy.” I am constantly challenged and asked to go above and beyond what I am used to, and I think that this is a valuable aspect of the Mount Holyoke education.
What do you hope to do after you graduate from MHC, and how do you think your MHC education will serve you in this pursuit?
I hope to go to grad school. Since I am still a first year student, I can't speak much on how, specifically, my MHC education will assist me, other than by educating me. But from numerous statistics, I believe that having gone to MHC will greatly increase my chances of both gaining admission to and succeeding at grad school.
What is one thing you would want to say to an alum who donated to MHC?
I would thank them for allowing me to have the little MHC luxuries that I value so much — from the Dining Commons and Community Center, to dance and theater performances, to the Art Museum. Your donations make the Mount Holyoke community stronger by enriching student life — socially, culturally and academically.
What cocurricular activities or organizations are you involved with on campus?
I am a member of both the Association of Pan-African Unity (APAU) and Mount Holyoke African and Caribbean Student Association (MHACASA). In these organizations, I help to plan social and cultural events, and I spend time bonding with the other black students on campus.
Which of your cocurricular activities has been most impactful? What skills have you learned from your experiences?
Both organizations are equally impactful because while I am building deep connections with my fellow people of color, I am learning about the struggles and history of African-Americans in the United States. I have learned a lot of valuable social skills, and I would say that my communication skills have improved overall. Neither of these organizations have impacted my academic work aside from the fact that, with all the members of the group, there is always someone I can go to if I need help with an assignment.
How has living in a Living-Learning Community added to your MHC experience?
I chose to live in the Shirley Chisholm LLC, which is for students who identify within the African diaspora, because I thought it would be an interesting experience to go to a predominantly white institution but live with only black people. It has added to my MHC experience by helping me build bonds very quickly and deeply, and it has also given me some great role models to look up to.