Chetara Knight: A Welcoming Face for New Students on Campus
a peer mentor who has been trained to help new Scots navigate their transition to campus during orientation and over the course of the first term.ALMA — When incoming students come to Alma College, they are assigned a First-Year Guide:
Chetara Knight is one of those First-Year Guides — and she takes her job really, really seriously.
“I do whatever I can to make new students feel welcome here, like a big brother or big sister,” said Knight, a junior who has been a First-Year Guide since her sophomore year at Alma College. “I tell them, ‘Call me, text me, let me take you around campus for a tour, let me answer the questions you don’t want to ask your professor or your parents, let me introduce you to people. There’s a place for tough love, but this isn’t it — this is all love.”
Knight is originally from Chicago, which she acknowledges is a long way from Alma, both in terms of distance and culture. But in addition to work as a First-Year Guide, she has done a lot to cultivate community in her new hometown, and is dedicated to helping other students like her find their footing.
Knight is the president of the Black Student Union (BSU) organization, which is dedicated to providing a safe, enriching space on campus for students of Black and African descent. Working in conjunction with Alma’s Diversity and Inclusion Office, Knight and the BSU have put on a number of different, well-attended activities on campus, including a series in February focused on Black History Month.
“Black Student Union is one of my favorite activities to take part in on campus, because it builds a foundation for Black students to express who we are outside of our race. When we come with issues that we have socially, educationally, or otherwise, we’re able to help each other understand where we’re coming from.
“It’s an organization that is open to everyone — not just Black students. We have about 15 students who regularly take part, but we’re growing all the time. We have a lot of support here.”
Knight originally chose to come to Alma to study Mandarin Chinese, but has since switched to double-majoring in art and psychology. With a new focus on going to graduate school and someday working as an art therapist in under-represented communities, Knight said, she is grateful for the opportunity to double-major in two seemingly disparate subjects.
“I was originally a little nervous about pursuing a double major, and I didn’t know if I could do it. But my academic advisor, Sue Deel, told me she thought it was a great idea, and that if I wanted to do it, she would help me get it done,” Knight said. “She gave me a lot of confidence and helped me come up with a plan.”
Knight is fond of her professors in both subjects, pointing to Lynzee Harrison, an instructor of photography, Jillian Dickson, an assistant professor in the art and design department, and Natashia Swalve, an associate professor and chair of the psychology and sociology departments, as examples.
“At my Spring Term course with Professor Dickson, I truly wanted to wake up every morning to go to class! It was a safe place to get out, try something new and learn from your mistakes,” Knight said. “Dr. Swalve is amazing for the way she listens to students and says things in a way that helps you understand them.”
Plenty has changed for Knight from the time that she stepped foot on Alma’s campus for the first time. The changes, she said, have only solidified the attachment she feels for Alma College.
“I think if I hadn’t come here, I would be a completely different person — but I really like the person that I am now, and the future I have lined up for myself,” she said.