University News

Uneven Tougaloo exchange finds favor

Contributing Writer
Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tashyana Thompson ’12 has only one word to say about the Brown-Tougaloo exchange program: “Go.”

Since 1964, over 200 students have participated in the program, which allows students from Brown and Tougaloo College, a historically black liberal arts college in Jackson, Miss., to switch schools for a semester or year.  Despite the partnership’s long history, the program remains a little-known secret among Brown students, though it has expanded to include faculty and graduate students.

“I think there’s a question of how much students know about the application,” said Maitrayee Bhattacharyya, associate dean for diversity programs and the Brown coordinator for the program. In recent years, about one or two students per semester have studied on the exchange program.

“The program has seen some fluctuations,” Bhattacharyya said. When the program was established, there was high participation, but it has declined in recent years, she added. “We want to raise awareness,” she said.

But at Tougaloo, interest in the program has been rising. The exchange program reserves seven spots per semester for Tougaloo students interested in studying at Brown — five for regular semester exchange spots and two for the Early Identification Program in Medicine, which offers early admission to Alpert Medical School to underrepresented minority students in medicine and requires that they spend a semester studying at Brown in their junior or senior years. In the past two years, all seven spots have been completely filled.

“There’s been a significant increase in applications” from Tougaloo, Bhattacharyya said.

For Brown students, studying at Tougaloo has been an eye-opening experience.

“Being in the deep South for a semester is really a different world. We are in the Bible Belt. There are a lot of conservative people here,” said Jenny Li ’14, who is studying at Tougaloo this semester. “You learn a lot more about life than anything else.”

Li attributes some of the experience to the different pace of life.

“At Brown, life was very rush here, rush there, this meeting, that meeting,” she said. “Here, things naturally slow down. There’s not as much to do, but it gives you time to get things in perspective. It’s a different way of looking.”

Thompson said she had a similar experience when she studied at Tougaloo last spring.

“I had never been to Mississippi in my life, or that deep in the South,” she said. “The Southern hospitality is real — everyone was sweet and willing to help you and show you around. I got a lot of help, and that was something I really appreciated. I don’t think I would have adjusted so quickly without it.”

Both Li and Thompson attributed their decision to study at Tougaloo to the desire for new experiences.

“I just wanted something different — I wanted new scenery, and I’m so happy it worked out for me,” Thompson said.

“I really wanted to get something from the college experience that was different,” Li said. “Something just really told me I needed to come here, that there was something here that I was looking for at Brown.”

Perhaps the most lasting impact of the exchange program is the “very supportive community,” Bhattacharyya said.

“Whether someone participated 40 years ago or now, students share an understanding.” Students in the program are challenged to “think differently and reflect on who they are,” which she said “shapes the nature of the community.”

“I still have people that I keep in contact with,” Thompson said.

Li, who has just a few weeks left at Tougaloo, shared the sentiment.

“People here call me Jenny from the block. Everybody knows me here, and they don’t treat me like I’m a foreigner just because I’m from Brown,” she said. “(Tougaloo) is almost like my second school now. I feel really at home here.”